by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, September 2016) Through a planning process that spanned several years, the Franklin Avenue Block Club turned a vacant corner lot into a neighborhood park and gathering place. On August 12th, members of the Franklin Avenue Block Club joined with friends and supporters in a dedication ceremony for the Franklin Reading Garden on the corner of W. 65th and Franklin Boulevard.
Franklin Avenue Block Club member Chris Warren says the reading garden idea started as a concept several years ago. Warren related a bit of the history of the corner as an explanation of its significance to the neighborhood. He said for many long term residents the ice cream stand that once sat on that southwest corner of W. 65th and Franklin was a shrine. It was run by neighborhood residents that have since moved, and was treasured by all who have fond memories of it as a neighborhood gathering place, said Warren.
At meetings of the Franklin Avenue Block Club, residents wished to “do something that would relate to Gallagher School (next to the Franklin Reading Garden).” Warren said there was a desire to make a pleasant place for parents to wait while picking up their children that could also serve as an outdoor classroom.
Warren said block club members also hoped to soften the corner and bring some beauty to the intersection which has buildings – Rite Aid Pharmacy, Neighborhood Family Practice and Frank’s Falafel on the other three corners. To do this, residents suggested including a flower garden and trees in the setting.
As the planning continued, Warren says Cogswell Hall, a long term neighborhood institution that offers permanent supportive housing to low income individuals and Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization became important partners in the effort to transform the space at W. 65th and Franklin.
Warren said that Cogswell Hall was undergoing a major rehabilitation funded by the Ohio Capital Corporation. The Ohio Capital Corporation has a small grants program for projects that would supplement the housing it supports. Warren said that residents of Cogswell Hall could benefit from having a space in the neighborhood where they could go and sit on a bench in a park like setting. Working with Cogswell Hall, the Franklin Avenue Block Club applied for and received a grant of $25,000 for the Franklin Reading Garden, said Warren. Warren said the block club also applied for and received a Neighborhood Connection Grant and a grant from the Helen M. Brown Memorial Foundation, a foundation that neighborhood resident Ray Pianka is involved in administering. Cuyahoga Arts and Culture is also listed in the dedication program as a source of funding for the project
For its part, said Warren, Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO) secured control of the privately owned land where the garden now sits – the corner parcel and the backyard of the white house that once sat just South of the reading garden. DSCDO also worked with the city of Cleveland and Councilman Matt Zone and secure title of that parcel.
Warren said that Cleveland Metropolitan School District wanted the part of the parcel where the house sat for future use as part of the Gallagher school campus. The parcel was sold the CMSD and they had the house torn down. In negotiations concerning the parcel between the school system, DSCDO and the Franklin Avenue Block Club, the block club, with the aid of DSCDO, was able to secure a promise to be able to review any future development and have input in improvements planned by the CMSD for the site of the parcel just south of the garden. The block club also secured access to water and electricity from Gallagher School for the garden’s use. Warren said this was crucial to the block club’s continual maintenance of the garden space.
Having secured funding and the land, the Franklin Avenue Block Club went about its planning process. Warren says the block club, which serves the area along Franklin from W. 58th to W. 85th, has over 100 members. He noted that many members of the block club contributed to the planning, financing, creation and overall maintenance of the Franklin Reading Garden.
Warren said neighborhood resident Dave Jurca, Associate Director of the Kent State University Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, and Architect Erick Rodriguez working on a Rose Fellowship with the DSCDO EcoVillage designed the garden and bid out the work to a contractor to create the walks and borders for raised bed gardens, lay down soil and plant grass. Warren said a neighborhood business, Grace Brothers on W. 65th Street, won the bid and proved to be “very good to work with.”
Last spring, once the landscaping was complete, Warren said neighborhood residents brought flowers from their home gardens and from other neighborhood gardens to plant in the raised bed gardens. A row of service berry trees, three magnolia trees and a flaming red maple tree were also planted in the reading garden. Warren said all the trees, except the largest Magnolia tree, came from the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, which has a project underway to repopulate Cleveland with native trees. The largest Magnolia Tree was donated Calvary Reformed Church on W. 65th and planted by its pastor Reverend Dean Van Farowe in commemoration of the church’s 125th Anniversary in the neighborhood, said Warren.
The program for the dedication ceremony indicates Artist Phyllis Bambeck painted the sign from the old ice cream stand which below the ice cream cone now reads “Reading is a Treat.” It indicates the Little Free Libraries were designed by neighborhood residents Rick Matisak, David Jurca and Lora Guy. Warren says the little free library boxes are designed to look like the architecture of houses along Franklin Boulevard. The Little Free Library boxes were placed in the Franklin Reading Garden early this summer. Neighborhood residents have contributed books from various sources to place in the boxes. A sign on the boxes says, “Take a book. Leave a book.”
Warren says already Lee Chilcote of Literary Cleveland has planned a Poetree Project event at the Franklin Reading Garden. He says the project involves local poets reading poems and leaving copies of original poems in a box on a tree for others to pick up and read.
People are regularly visiting the Little Free Library to get books to read. There are four benches in the garden to allow people to sit and read or relax. Warren says he sees people sitting in the reading garden when they are picking up or dropping off their kids at Gallagher School. He sees use of the garden evolving as it becomes more like a neighborhood backyard where kids play games, chalk on the sidewalk, and keep cool under a sprinkler on hot summer days.
Warren says neighborhood residents are volunteering on a daily basis to help with the maintenance of the Franklin Reading Garden which he says over the course of the year will involve weeding, shoveling snow, cutting grass and watering the plants. He said, since he is retired now, he has volunteered to coordinate that effort.