by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, December 2013) The Ohio City Historic District is the first historic district in the City of Cleveland to have street name signs with a historic district designation. The signs throughout the area remind residents and point out to visitors that they are in a historic district. Three Ohio City residents–Dr. Dan Freson, Fay Harris and Ron Thomas–took the initiative and undertook the task of doing the research and working through the process to make the signs possible.
Thomas described the effort as “three friends putting together a project for our neighborhood.” The three friends likened their efforts to that of citizen groups, such as Friends of Monroe Cemetery, that have undertaken projects to improve the neighborhood. Dr. Freson sees their efforts as a “positive approach to presenting the area.”
Dr. Freson, Harris and Thomas hope their efforts help inform the public of the existence of the historic district and its boundaries. They also hope that knowledge of the boundaries of the historic district will help protect buildings and houses in the historic district from inappropriately being altered or demolished.
Thus far 87 signs have been placed in the Historic District, which lies mostly in the area north of Lorain Avenue in the Ohio City neighborhood, with a few streets on the eastern edge of the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood along Franklin and and a few areas south of Lorain Avenue. Harris says the group hopes to have an additional 40-60 signs placed in the historic district.
Harris says the initial 87 signs have been placed around the historic district boundary lines and at intersections with key historic buildings. She says, “We wanted to make sure that the new signs would be near and around important historical significant assets like Lakeview Terrace Estates, the first Cleveland Public Library Branch – The Cinecraft Building , Carnegie West Branch of the Cleveland Public Library, Market Street Exchange Building – Great Lakes Brewery Building (Market Ave.), West Side Market, Lutheran Hospital, Hannes Tiedemann’s House – Franklin Castle, Nelson Sanford House, Robert Russell Rhodes House – Cuyahoga County Archives, Franklin Circle Christian Church, St. John’s Episcopal Church, St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church, St. Ignatius High School and private residential homes.”
The street name signs have “*** HISTORIC DISTRICT ***” printed in black letters on a white background above the name of the street, which appears in Cleveland’s traditional white lettering on a blue background. The numbered streets have their original names in smaller white print on blue background below the street number. In most locations, the signs are accompanied with the red and white “pizza slice” Ohio City signs.
Dr. Dan Freson, Fay Harris, and Ron Thomas say their efforts began in the summer of 2012 when they sought advise from Commissioner Robert Keiser of the City Planning Department on how to proceed. They then began to research online and with follow-up phone calls what other cities were doing with street signs in their historic districts.
Harris says they settled on a design used in a New York City historic district. She says the group then did additional research on Cleveland street signs and met with the staff of the City of Cleveland’s sign shop.
Then in January of 2013, they submitted their design to the Local Design Review Committee set up for the Ohio City Historic District. Committee members made a number of suggestions. Harris says, “One of the comments from a member Alan Fodor was to add the former street name to the bottom of the street sign. We also asked other people for advice on the design layout. Tim Barrett recommended we stay with the original color Blue and White and add the black colors to the historic district name and the stars. David Ellison said to use the words “Formerly” in very small print in front of the old street name.”
Based on the recommendations they received the group made changes in the design and resubmitted the design to the Local Design Review Committee where it received a stamp of approval.
Following this success, the group then worked to gain approval of the design from various city officials including Ward 3 Councilman Joe Cimperman, the Streetscape Committee of the City Planning Commission, City Landmarks Commission, Commissioner of Traffic Engineering Robert Mavec, and Director of Public Works Michael Cox.
The group then sought funding for the project receiving a small grant from the Neighborhood Connections program of the Cleveland Foundation in May of 2013 and some donations from local businesses including Voss Industries and Ohio Savings Bank. They say they raised about $7,000 to help with the cost of making the signs.
The three friends then began the process of deciding which street corners would get signs, and researching the original names of the numbered streets. Harris says the City of Cleveland changed from using street names to street numbers on the north-south streets in 1906.
Research sources for finding the original street names included: Mark Hauserman, Chief Archivist of Cleveland City Council; staff at the Cleveland Public Library’s Map and History Department, Judith Cetina, Director of Cuyahoga County Archives, Anne Sindelar, Supervisor of Western Reserve Historical Library, and author Carol Poh Miller’s book, Ohio City, a proposal for area conservation in Cleveland.
To get the street signs made, Dr. Freson, Thomas and Harris worked very closely with the City of Cleveland’s sign shop staff on the type of materials used for signs and how to survey for sign placement. They singled out the City’s Sign shop staff members Stephen Eperesi and Greg McKee for their support and help in making the project run smoothly.
Harris says the three friends hope to document their efforts so other neighborhoods with historic districts can have a model to follow in creating street signs.
The Ohio City Landmark Historic District is a locally designated district created by Cleveland City Council in 2005 and expanded in 2007. The historic district has roots in an earlier and smaller federally designated Ohio City Preservation District. City of Cleveland Landmarks Commissioner Robert Keiser says according to the National Park Service’s National Register Database “The original district was listed in the National Register on October 9, 1974. The district was expanded and that expansion was listed May 25th 1989.”