Friday, April 20, 2012

The Sidaway Bridge - A Chance to Communicate in Kinsman, March 23-25, 2012

The big headline here - if its "front page" is a tiny bit yellowed as I write this on April 20 - is in regards to an unexpected chance I had to talk at one of a number of at least seasonal meetings in the Kinsman neighborhood, on Sat., March 24, 2012. I felt it was generously offered and part of a positive time over three days of talking with people who live and/or work on the north side of the bridge. As the number of people with whom I spoke expanded, I also decided to venture into a side-bar to the Sidaway Bridge, of relating other stories, inspirations and causes in the "bridge area", and I hope - by the end of April if I can manage that - that you will read that part of my blog as well, under the heading of "So Many Stories".

Thanks to a chance encounter....

[As I begin this write-up, please bear with an initial "picture desert", partly because several important points come up in the paragraphs below!]

On Friday, March 23, I was at a rummage sale at the back of the Garden Valley Neighborhood House just off of 71st and Kinsman, partly because I wanted to find out more about what is happening at the front of "GVNH" as I have begun to refer to it, with there appearing to be historic preservation in the making, of a structure which happens to be six years older than the bridge (with a 1924 cornerstone within its Kinsman Avenue facade). In addition, I was dressed for an interview with a neighborhood leader that Friday, but I had not taken a more casual shirt which would be better for going down through the underbrush around the bridge.

I told a lady who was folding and arranging clothes at the sale why I was in the neighborhood and she informed me of the meeting I've noted, saying it would be at the community center of the Heritage View homes the next day and hosted by Burten Bell Carr (BBC), which you may recall from my first "bridge" blog of Sept. 2011 as the CDC (community development corporation) for Kinsman and at least two nearby neighborhoods.

To make a long story shorter, I was in the entry area of BBC shortly thereafter writing a note to its director Tim Tramble (also noted in my first blog), in which I said I'd like to meet him after my first meeting, when I received an audience much better than that. He came out, I said "I'm writing a note to Tim Tramble", and he said - "I am Tim Tramble".

Good enough, in a sense, but what followed was a half-hour plus with him prior to a deadline he had, including the possibility of my speaking to the community meeting the next day, and perhaps more importantly, a few key subjects, which I'll boil down here.

Welcoming dialogue on my interest in historic preservation, his main point may have been a wariness about introducing visions such as one of saving the bridge, without the tangible support to get them achieved. He bolstered this by saying that everything that BBC said it would do or support in an action plan in 2006 has been realized or is being started, including the building of much of the Heritage View homes to replace the Garden Valley projects and a repaving of Kinsman Avenue.

At the same time, I was glad that he was positive about the component that someone like me could bring to goals such as saving the bridge - in short, with no money and no active plan for that, but being part of a dialogue, which, if sufficiently positive, can help to create the political will for money and plans to be developed by citizens, foundations and governments.

An enjoyable and spirited neighborhood gathering

On Sat., March 24, while I did get an opportunity to speak to at least 60 area residents, I feel my time at the meeting, just off of Kinsman Avenue, would have still been upbeat without that.

One of the meetings' positives is that so much of it dealt with ideas and plans very much underway for a greener and more environmentally friendly city. While I personally am more interested in historic than environmental preservation, I would reiterate that both are hugely important and the more "natural" cause might literally be the main base for my main "cause" here, with the bridge crossing a real and potential green space as it does. 

The meeting agenda included an urban farm near 82nd and Kinsman and a cafe with that farm's produce and other nearby foods being planned for "Bridgeport Place", the development noted and partly pictured early on in my September 2011 writing here. An update was also provided on another farm at nearby 82nd and Otter (endnote 1) run by an organization known as the "Rid-All Green Partnership", whose representatives came attired in shirts with the phrase "green 'n tha ghetto". 

This brief green spurt reminds me of something Tim Tramble noted to me, that a number of people in Kinsman (and many other big-city neighborhoods I'll bet) want all of the present houses to remain, and new ones to be built in place of the old ones which have been lost, and that he would agree with that in the ideal situation, but as Cleveland has hemorrhaged population, that is sadly unrealistic and a positive adaptation is in large part one of greening the city.

My perspective, somewhat similarly, is a wish to save as many as possible of the houses of Cleveland's boom years (largely 1870-1920 for the north side of the bridge area), but - if to a different degree - I agree with Tim Tramble that that cannot be a reality, in a city which has shrunk from a 1950 high of 914,808 to a 2010 census figure of 396,815 (endnote 2).  In that regard, and hoping this is a useful paraphrasing of earlier comments here, if you have lemons, make green lemonade!

Returning though to the Sat., March 25 meeting, Tim announced towards the end of it that I would make a brief presentation, and he prefaced it with an idea of my passion for the bridge and the observation that I had come all the way from Philadelphia (!).

My sense of peoples' response is at the very least of an attentive listening, after a long but at times lively meeting.  In terms of opinions on the bridge, my general conclusion would be that four or more people freely voiced their feelings and that, with one exception, they were positive, including one lady saying that "that bridge" is as important as any church (or other landmark) in the neighborhood.

One resident with whom I spoke, Prisicella Fayne...
 living in what is at present the sole mid-rise of Heritage View, at 7230 Kinsman, definitely had an appreciation of history around the bridge, if in a form I had not heard before. She noted that she had become acquainted with the bridge as the "Hyanasac" Bridge, a name which I will definitely listen for in future talks with residents.

The one attendee who was in part critical of saving the bridge - at present - was Cathy Parris, seen here on a later visit with the bridge as a backdrop...

and also a resident at Heritage View.  She said to the gathering that saving the bridge did not have her vote, at least as long as there would be security concerns with the overgrowth covering it during warm weather.  With that, while I was so appreciative of the community hospitality and with the handful of residents who approached me after the meeting, my main interest was meeting Cathy, partly to honor all viewpoints, and partly - quite honestly - because I always want the chance - as I assume others would - to present my total bases for any policy, proposal, etc., in hopes of people listening and considering different viewpoints.

Today's Anxieties, yesterday's fears and hopes for the future

On Sunday, March 25, during a friendly and leisurely discussion, Kathy clearly shared her concerns about security vis-a-vis the bridge, and it was easy to understand them in a somewhat tangible sense, since she lives RIGHT next to the lawn next to its north side, as underscored in this view from her house....

With scenarios of looking outside at, say "12:30, 1 o'clock in the morning" and wondering "why is these young guys coming across?", she concluded that "after certain times, shouldn't nobody need to be crossing that bridge".

In the end, though, she said that she would be in favor of renewing this landmark if there are definite safety provisions for its reuse, including a clear view of it heightened by lights, cameras and perhaps closure of the bridge late at night.

Our talk reminded me of the "charettes" pursued in many places by neighborhood residents, urban design students and the like - often theoretical but hopeful and solution-oriented as well, but Cathy moved on to another basic - and somewhat similar matter of "hearts and history" which still, decades later, might not be as easy to solve as common-sense security matters.

Here, her sharing of views came from her exact location, which not surprisingly has begun to prompt new visitors to her home to think and reminisce about the bridge, and one of them, a man who drives her son Octavius to medical services, "remembered when [people on Francis Avenue, south of the bridge] set it on fire during the [Hough] riots of the wee hours of the morning".

Once again, the 900-pound gorilla of race (both summarized and at times detailed in my September 2011 writing) entered the picture, and on this visit, my internal voice said "can you spell truth and reconciliation commission?" as I thought that such a group, which seemed to partly bridge a monumental gap in late 20th-century South Africa, may also be needed when stories are told of a dyed-in racism in Cleveland and other 20th-century Northern cities during the same general period.

Still, against the backdrop of anxiety that one side may be more to blame than the other for the bridge's long demise, the driver whose anecdote Cathy gave me was an older white man, and Lou, on the south side near 65th, also said that whites burned the bridge's planks in response to the riots (a repeat of brief histories cited in my first bridge blog).

A "north-side" echo of this came from Debbie Wilson, a life-long Kinsman resident currently living near 69th and Kinsman and seen here at the Harvest Day Care Center, where she has been an employee for 41 years....

Ms. Wilson said of residents from the south side of the bridge that "they used to burn the planks", and "we used to run out [to watch] when the fire trucks came" with her and other neighborhood residents not knowing "why they did it", but, again, this seemed to be delivered factually, with no recrimination, and was partly in the context of other, happy memories of the landmark.

Not as adventurous as Greg Wallace or as Lou (both noted here, at least in earlier blogs) - with her saying that "my mother told us not to go [on the bridge]", Debbie told me that "me and my sisters used to play on it" as "we'd go a little bit halfway", sneaking on to it, and "I'd talk with my boyfriend [on the bridge]".

As we spoke on Friday, March 23, we were joined by Ruby Alexander, the head of the center...

all of us there courtesy of Judy Johnson, who I hope will be remembered from my first blog!

Debbie Wilson was in agreement with Ms. Alexander's thought that a renewed bridge would strengthen the community now, giving another option, for instance, to get to the "Metro Health Clinic" - which Ms. Alexander mentioned, and perhaps two miles below the bridge on the key thoroughfare of Broadway Avenue. She also observed that if the bridge were still functioning in these last few years, she would have been able to easily walk to and from a building (noted in passing in my March 25 blog) that was until recently an active distribution center for the regionally famous "Dan-Dee" potato chips", when their food company made donations to an annual anti-violence march which will continue this year on Kinsman Avenue.

Both women cherished not just the memories of Kinsman but its special qualities today, with Ruby Alexander saying that despite decline because of drugs and other forces that the neighborhood "is still vibrant and wonderful". While Debbie Wilson has devoted her life to the area, Ruby Alexander represents part of the second generation of her family's long-term service to the neighborhood, and I wanted to debut an occasional segment of this series with a short account of that commitment, especially of her father and mother, under the title of "So Many Stories", seeing these coming accounts as brief journeys into a few of the memories and aspirations today, on both sides of the Sidaway Avenue Suspension Bridge.     

endnote 1 - 82nd and Otter is roughly 5-7 blocks northeast of 72nd and Kinsman, and pointed out here:,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&q=Otter+Avenue+-+Cleveland&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x8830fb1404897b25:0x7d757ebe5cd3868a,Otter+Ave,+Cleveland,+OH+44104&gl=us&ei=uMiQT8b5FsTM6QGMoIWABA&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CB4Q8gEwAA.

endnote 2 - Cleveland's 2010 figure is noted in a number of places, but confirmed here with a March 9, 2011 Cleveland Plain Dealer article "2010 census population numbers show Cleveland below 400,000; Northeast Ohio down 2.2 percent" at and the 1950 U.S. census's "Table 18. Population of the 100 Largest Urban Places: 1950" as reproduced at

The city's 1950 peak is based here on the above 3/9/11 "PD" article and on "State & County QuickFacts" for "Cleveland (city), Ohio" at

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