Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Barriers to Preservation - a walk south of the Bridge on April 8, 2012

The Sidaway Bridge from the Rapid, April 8, 2012

While summer and fall work commitments have been among the bases for the delay in this writing, it is possible that my less conscious apprehension about being perceived as critical or negative was also a reason for my putting off this posting.

To counterbalance any sense that this article IS critical of the neighborhood that I am observing here, I realize what I will present is, in a sense, a small fraction of 1/365 of its annual life and I believe there is a large well of goodness there as well as - I'd like to think - in every neighborhood.

On Sunday, April 8, now over eight months ago - and not for the first time in the area - I received some of that goodness, whether it was in 8-year old De'Andre Taylor inviting me to visit the next time I came back, the renewed hospitality of Ms. Luvenia Hardges and of Lou a few blocks away (see my other blogs for past references :) ! ], and a man following up with a phone call to me that night - such follow-up being rare - and even if it was to say he would not want to be interviewed by me.

That day, I gave up a one-time paradise in Cleveland that I hope is still a paradise for many people - the Cleveland Zoo - turning down a visit there with my oldest friend, his wife and kids, when I felt a sense of duty to spend some time in the "bridge area".

Looking back, I would emphasize, especially for neighborhood people who I hope will read this, that on April 8 I was getting a small slice of negativity - based on reasons I would have to at least sympathize with - and in a sea of complexity which also includes that of the two "critics" who were nice enough to talk with me.

At the same time, there is, I assume, real negative feeling in all neighborhoods which are struggling economically, the love of what is shiny and new, and the sense - understandable if respectfully opposed here - that the perception of the Sidaway Bridge may be that of an old, dark, jagged, corroded object out there, surrounded by a jungle including the weeds, trash and other waste (that readers of an earlier blog will remember) AND that given all that, it may be better to start fresh as the best way to go against the small neighborhood crises that really happen way too often, with ONCE being too much when it comes to house fires, tear-downs, shootings and occasional death. Not to mention that a focus on financial survival may give you little concern for a largely unseen piece of history, however close it is to you.

This secondary perception on my part has been borne out in e-mailed comments to me by both Tim Tramble and Marie Kittredge, the respective directors of the two "CDC's" (Community Development Corporations) whose areas flank the bridge - Burten Bell Carr to the north, and Slavic Village Development to the south.

Tim wrote of preservation, in his opinion, being a low priority for residents of low-income neighborhoods, with "[such issues being] luxuries of people in stable circumstances", and adding, "[a]sk yourself, if you were jobless, didn't know where your rent payment was going to come from, didn't know how you were going to pay all of your bills, had concerns about the security of your possessions and loved ones, and were challenged with getting to and from places of necessity, would you be proactive about saving a vacant building or unutilized structure of any kind?"

He continued..."[t]his coupled with the fact that most people that live in the neighborhood did not live here when the bridge was functional. Therefore, there is no sentimental regard for the bridge by newer residents."

His ending was a modest open door to saving landmarks: "[t]hat said, most people like to see revitalization of any kind in the neighborhood that does not create disadvantageous circumstances to their family."  

 Marie Kittredge wrote that, with essentials like the ones Tim separately noted - talk of historically preserving the bridge is "irrelevant".

Both at least are open to the goal of its preservation (Tim at the meeting this past March of which I wrote) and Marie in supporting the idea, but not wanting staff resources focused on it, at least at present with a crucial need to strengthen housing and other assets (a decision I might make myself in her role).[Endnote 1]

My thoughts, in a respectful augmentation of theirs, are that there is still very much a role for private citizens, clearly identifying themselves as such, and thus separate from "CDC" efforts, to lobby for neglected structures as well as for human beings, because these landmarks also should be an essential if less urgent part of the human experience in all neighborhoods - and indeed, any well-intended communication can at least modestly fill the gaps which are so plain in the teaching of history and, more broadly, could enhance peoples' capacity to dream and to envision a better place. Beyond that, I am assuming that, as with preservation in other economically challenged neighborhoods, once a will to save something is there, the financial way will come from governments, foundations and any willing individuals.

There is so much that remains undone in the inner city, low-income America, whatever you wish to call it, but I have faith that there are many people out there who see that historic preservation is one part of the puzzle - for jobs, for a greener world that saves the built energy of the past, for community pride and for other reasons.

But in the meantime....

Even though I disagree with the critical views which I received below, I also feel that if I do not have the respect for the people who express them, how can I expect they will give me the time of day?

"They", in this case, were primarily two younger women - Sandy, on 66th, and Ashely, on 65th near Francis, who should certainly be understood in terms of an assumption that they absolutely want what is good and pleasant, as opposed to the jagged and corroded (to quote the above), but, I think, could also have a genuine fear of what is little known rather than thinking of what could be a kind of mini- if land-locked Golden Sidaway Gate Park, once again with that good old imagination.

I thank them for their openness to talk to me, and hope it can continue, with respect on both sides.

Sandy, who at 27 was studying forensic investigation at "Tri-C" (Cuyahoga Community College) and responded that she had lived in the neighborhood for about two years, said that she had not known about the bridge but added in regards to the valley below it that "that's where they hide the bodies" and, that, to "reduce the murders in Ohio," it should not be kept.

I wonder in retrospect if she may have somehow vaguely heard about the Kingsbury Run Murders of the 1930's, and perhaps tales in this section of Cleveland such as that of a doctor who was a suspect living in a house not far away seen here in a view from this past winter....
6011 Butler, Jan. 2, 2012 

After I told her about those relatively ancient crimes, she at least acted stunned, and proclaimed from her porch - with perhaps an entertainer within her and as a visiting friend was nearby - "I'm movin' outta here tomorrow!"

Ashely, who was 21 and is seen here on 65th....

felt that "you should tear it down" because (due in part to my saying it had stood there unused for 46 years), it was no longer useful and "there's no point in doing anything with it", because of safety and other factors.

I was glad she at least listened to my sense of why it should be saved, and hope her time since we met, in a job she mentioned at a McDonald's on nearby Broadway Avenue, and otherwise, has gone well.

As much as anyone's life is moving forward, it would be hard not to be influenced in your outlook by at least two murders in the immediate area in the months before this past Spring.

The most prominent one was at a house at 6104 Butler Avenue, at the west end of the block where I had interviewed the Taylor boys, Ms. Hardges and Joyce Hairston (in Aug. 2011), with the residence seen here on April 8 after it was boarded up following the killing on October 26th, 2011 of 21-year old Shawn Geiter in front of it....
the west side of 6104 Butler

It was clear since that tragedy that he has been widely and deeply missed in his neighborhood (AND on-line), with a memorial in front of the house as of April 8 in these three increasing close-ups of its front entrance area....

numerous homages on its west side....


graffiti in his memory on nearby homes, as in this one very close to his....
2903 E. 61st Street, at the northeast corner of 61st and Carpenter, to the right, and the home where Shawn Geiter had lived visible (and light-brown in color) in the left-center background

...and shirts remembering Shawn Geiter by his nickname of "Smurf", including one which I saw on 12-year old Andre Taylor, one of my acquaintances on Butler Avenue.
On a visit I made on Weds., Aug 8, remembrance for him had continued....
but it seemed likely that it would somehow be swept away with the house, in greater deterioration since April...
 and marked for demolition according to Ms. Hardges, who lives on its immediate east side and was disheartened that as a tear-down it would add to three that she said have happened immediately to HER house's eastern side in the seven years that she has been on this block of Butler. 

At the same time, she hopes that the pine tree in front of Shawn Geiter's house will be saved....
looking west to the home where Shawn Geiter had lived [See also endnote 2 for further references to Shawn Geiter.]

Another less publicized but perhaps more brutal murder happened on a quiet cul-de-sac I had admired last year on 66th just south of Wren, just three short blocks south of the bridge.

I heard about it from Lou, who recounted that its victim - Steven Hart, Sr. - "was executed" - shot two times in the back of the head and his house burned with him....
 Steven Hart, Sr.'s home at 2989 E. 66th on April 8, 2012

and Lou briefly memorialized him as "a good dude, laid back" but added that "he wasn't no punk - he didn't go down easy". I did not confirm the exact reason for his murder, but my sense then (and less precisely now, to be sure), is that his murderer had no personal vendetta, except against a world which had somehow made him hardened and angry. [Endnote 3]

While these two tragedies were the deepest valleys I glanced at on April 8, I personally felt the cluster of negative emotion continue in two other encounters as well.

One was with David, a 42-year old man near 61st and Francis who had lived in the neighborhood for virtually his whole life and said of the bridge that "I could care less about it; I've never used it".

Echoing the fact that I was just getting slices of the neighborhood, if meaningful ones, and that you cannot know individuals in all of their complexity, David may very well have cared about at least one piece of the area - the house that he was working on as I walked up his driveway, which he explained had been his grandparents', with his adding that "everybody else used to live here, they moved away, and I'm the only one who's here."

Another somber moment may have just been ordered by the Gods of social dynamics - as they saw the dominant tone of my once-possible "Cleveland Zoo" afternoon -  when I started talking with an older man at the back of a house near 64th and Carpenter. He was not interested in the bridge, or probably much of anything that day, based on his needing to mourn the day before, when, according to him, he had gone to his granddaughter's funeral, volunteering that his son had to take him out of the church because of how emotional he became.

There is no inroad to either David or this man, or at least there would have been no easy and appropriate one at times like those, but arguably to Ashely and Sandy, the young women above. There I hope that my readers do not mind a return to Lou, certainly someone closer to having a pulse on his neighborhood then I do.

His response to their opinions on the bridge, while he had not met them, was that "they don't understand...they have no idea about the value [of it] to the people who have lived around it all of their life".

In a reiteration of something he had said to me on an earlier visit he observed that every 20, 30 or 40 years, neighborhoods revive as an outgrowth of it taking, in his estimation, 20 years of people "bitching" about their area to get improvements, and he used the example of Tremont, a section of the city's near South side, saying it was one of the worst parts of the city in the 70's.

While I personally think that Tremont - with its semi-exotic Orthodox churches, scenic perch on top of a bluff overlooking the city's industrial valley, etc. - has perhaps three times the historic and visual assets of the area next to the south side of "the bridge" -  I once researched how it suffered through a miserable rash of poverty, arson and other ills 30-40 years ago and start to think as I write this about how, three decades ago and more, it was a place beginning to have artists and other pioneers there with great imagination about how it COULD be. Today, I bet that its poverty continues, but its assets include several popular restaurants and clubs, eclectic architecture, and a popular park for arts events, etc. It is far different now than then!

The challenges for the neighborhood of this writing may lie partly in decline not yet rousing enough anger for big change (which I still am concerned would be loads of bland new housing and a proportional loss of character), to the extent that Lou could be right, and his theory could be strengthened by reference to how long it took the CMHA, the City of Cleveland and other players to BEGIN to sweep away the ill-reputed Garden Valley projects for the first phase of the Heritage View homes. [Again, reference to those "other blogs" - or questions and comments - are encouraged!]

At the same time, while part of what's below could contradict what's just above (!)...

...Any weakness in the status of what has at times been called the "Hyacinth" neighborhood around 65th Street may lie partly in its being the northernmost section of what is known as the "North Broadway" or "Slavic Village" neighborhoods, farther from the "heart" of its area - a mile south near 55th and Broadway - as opposed to the sense that the big splash of the Heritage View development, just north of the bridge, may have been relatively less difficult in its being so close to the bigger adjacent influences of both Kinsman Avenue and the "BBC" community development corporation right across the street from it.

In part of the e-mails noted above, Marie Kittredge expressed great support for this northern reach of her CDC's area, saying that "[t]he reason...the Hyacinth neighborhood suffered so badly over the past 5-10 years was a crime spike by some real troublemakers which scared people, at the same time that the foreclosure and fraud crisis was heating up, and that the neighborhood was losing an anchor (St.Hyacinth Church)." She also commented that "[i]n the past few years there have been some very positive developments, including the wonderful Elizabeth Baptist Church making the neighborhood its home, and embracing residents there with all sorts of activities and resources, including the gym for basketball and a regular free meal, and the new RTA Rapid station [at 55th St.]".

She added that [SVD] is in the early stages of launching a new housing development initiative in the vicinity of the Church and the RTA station. [Endnote 4]

Additionally, while there actually IS a pretty large piece of preservation in this immediate section of ("North North Broadway"??) - the Hyacinth Lofts which I noted in my "big blog" of last September - it seems to be in but not of the neighborhood, partly as it is somewhat separated from a number of other residences, standing in isolated attractiveness on the west side of the City-owned Waterman Park. At the same time, I wish it continued good news, am glad it has been reborn and hope for it be more interwoven into a mixed-income neighborhood, as I think about the real and perceived problems with gentrification. [One of the websites with pictures of the Hyacinth development offers a profile from September 2006 of its creator, David Perkowski, at]

Whatever the case, I hope that there will be an enlargement of positive efforts in the neighborhood, such as a garden I saw near 61st and Francis and the nearby Elizabeth Baptist Church noted above and occupying the structure of the old St. Hyacinth Catholic Church...
(as seen in my Sept. 2011 blog)

...and that of course a barrier will someday become a reborn bridge @ 67th and Sidaway....

April 8, 2012


Endnote 1 - E-mail from Tim Tramble, Aug. 27, 2012; e-mails from Marie Kittredge, Sept. 4 and 5, 2012.

Endnote 2 - In recent days (writing here on Aug. 17), I first looked under Shawn Geiter's name on the internet, and, being apprehensive that his murder would follow the long pattern of seemingly anonymous and forgotten young men (and others) killed in various neighborhoods, I easily found items on him, including a notice just after he died mentioning his parents and siblings, giving the time of a funeral service for him in Cleveland's Buckeye neighborhood and displaying a rotating series of short testimonials for him [].

[On Friday, Oct. 26, I happened to be in the Cleveland area, and, after a visit to Ms. Hardges, was glad to see a number of people who had arrived early that evening for a memorial to Shawn Geiter, making contact with two to whom I will be sending this article.  The house, as expected, was no longer standing, but the pine tree which had been in front of it remained.  {JS, 10/30/12 and 12/12/12}]  

Endnote 3 - Here and elsewhere, I realize that these are sensitive subjects so I hope that whether it is a matter of responding to my comments or my facts, that I will get responses to this writing.]

Endnote 4 - Marie Kittredge in an e-mail quoted earlier of Sept. 4, 2012.

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