Abbey Avenue makes connections
by Gwendolyn Kochur
(Plain Press, July 2019) Ohio City, with its versatile dining options, entertainment and the West Side Market, lies just west of Tremont, a hub of Victorian homes and of trendy eateries and festivals. Acting as a direct connection between the two is Abbey Avenue.
The Abbey Avenue Bridge also gives Tremont residents access to Columbus Road which is the home of St. Wendelin’s Parish to the south and also leads to the Cleveland’s Metropark’s Merwin’s Wharf and other amenities to the north by the Cuyahoga River.
Abbey Avenue runs west through Tremont to Ohio City. As viewed from a map, Abbey Avenue is actually within the reach of three historic districts, as it is only a few streets away from Scranton Flats.
Abbey Avenue also runs through Duck Island, which is the source of many new housing sites and condos. The Duck Island Club, which started as a speakeasy during prohibition days, is located just a block off of Abbey at 2102 Freeman Ave., next door to some of the new housing units.
The Inner Belt Bridge that runs perpendicular to Abbey Avenue was originally built in 1959, and it can be argued that it split neighborhoods in half, making Abbey Avenue’s connecting trait even more important.
One of the businesses effected by this was the Gateway Animal Clinic at 19thand Abbey, which had to move farther west on Abbey Avenue from W. 15thand Abbey in order to accommodate plans for the construction of a new Inner Belt Bridge that began around 2010. Stripmatic Products, a stamping plant that manufactured tubular metal parts from an Abbey Avenue plant since 1948, was forced to relocate outside of the neighborhood due to the plans for the new Inner Belt Bridge which included its property.
The Abbey Bridge has gone through its fair share of changes throughout the years, including being closed for long periods of time for repairs or while awaiting funding for rebuilding the bridge. The most recent changes being in 2013 when the road underwent more than four months of work. The road was closed for east-bound drivers while new pavement was poured for the bridge. The work resulted in wider sidewalks and two new bike lanes.
Not only did the finished product benefit drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, the work changed the look of the road cosmetically.
Just down the street in Tremont is Sokolowski’s University Inn, a family owned and operated restaurant since 1923. Specializing in Polish cuisine, Sokolowski’s is the oldest family owned restaurant in Cleveland, and the family prides itself on serving “the working man and business person for over 92 years.”
Michael Sokolowski, who is one of the Sokolowski’s to carry on the restaurant’s name and Polish cuisine, has seen Abbey Avenue adapt.
“So much has changed—really in the past 10 years,” Sokolowski said.
Sokolowski recalls that, as one traveled west on Abbey, heading toward the West Side Market, there was a huge warehouse along the road. It was slowly demolished and disassembled in 2009. Cleveland natives weren’t the only ones to recognize this change in scenery. “I have friends from college who come to visit and ask ‘What happened here?’” Sokolowski said.
The area then underwent landscaping and became part of the Towpath trail that runs 81 miles from Cleveland to New Philadelphia. This section of the Towpath trail stretches a quarter of a mile and cost about $5 million to complete.
This project included adding 100 new parking spaces off Abbey Avenue for easy access to the trail. When completed, the Towpath trail will cover 101 miles from Lake Erie to New Philadelphia, Ohio. The piece of the Towpath that intersects with Abbey Avenue opened in 2017 for eager Clevelanders to enjoy.
Another landmark that disappeared with the passing of time was the Coca Cola Bottling Company near east Abbey Avenue, just off of Crown Avenue. While exact dates of the Bottling Company’s departure from the area are unknown, the building disappeared from historical maps sometime between 1937-1951.
This building was outlived by its next-door neighbor, the Distribution Terminal Warehouse Company, a 131 ft. high-rise. The 12-floor building broke ground in 1926 and was demolished 85 years later in 2011.
According to Emporis, the Warehouse Company, also known as the Cold Storage Co., was often decorated with ads that could be clearly seen by travelers and commuters using the Inner Belt Bridge. It was demolished to make space for the George V. Voinovich Bridge.
As for the roads, path and the Abbey Avenue bridge itself, the building materials have changed.
Sokolowski remembers the Abbey Avenue bridge being better suited for horse and buggy. However, as Cleveland became industrialized, the bridge had to be adapted to cater to vehicles of greater horsepower in the 1980’s.
Sokolowski and his family know first hand just how important Abbey Avenue is when it comes to connecting Tremont to Ohio City. He remembers when the bridge was closed for a long period of time.
“We had our struggles getting across that short area [to Ohio City],” Sokolowski said.
According to him, this was one of the main areas to shop as an alternative to downtown Cleveland, which he described as “hopping in those days.”
Sokolowski remembers a Dillard’s in downtown Cleveland as well as Morgan Linen Services, which is still in business today on Columbus Road. He also speaks fondly of Fuzzy’s Bar that he frequented around 1965/66 and noted that there were many bars accessed by Abbey Avenue that could be enjoyed.
The Plain Presschronicled the efforts of Tremont activists trying to get the bridge repaired in the 1980s. An article titled, Tremont gets promises for needed bridge repairs, written by Tremont West Development Corporation organizer Robert Laycock and appearing in the November 11, 1983 issue reported, “Passage of special legislation in City Council on November 14 brought reopening of the Abbey Avenue Bridge closer.” According to the November 1983 article City of Cleveland officials promised members of the Free Tremont Committee that “Construction would begin by May of 1985 and be completed by May 1986, assuming all goes well.” However, apparently not everything went well—by the 20thanniversary of the Plain Pressin 1991, the bridge was not yet open. A note in the Plain Press 20thAnniversary Scrapbook notes, “A new Abbey Road Bridge is scheduled to open soon.”
Getting to downtown with the bridge closures in Tremont was a challenge, but Tremont residents were up to the challenge and even made a sport of it. An article in the early 1980s in the Plain Presstitled First Tremont Auto Race blazes path to downtownnotes that Jeff Chiplis won the race in his 1978 Chevette, going from the closed W. 14thStreet I-90 ramp to public square downtown in 7 minutes and 33.6 seconds. With many routes out of Tremont to downtown including the Abbey Bridge closed at the time, the article said, “here is Chiplis’ first place route to Public Square: W. 14th, Abbey, W. 13thPlace, University, Scranton, Carter, Old River, St. Clair, Ontario, Public Square.”
Another institution along Abbey Avenue that is no longer with us and is sorely missed is Haab’s Bakery. After 104 years in business, Haab’s Bakery, just off of Abbey Road on W. 19thStreet, closed in 2000. When the business was owned by Elfriede Haab, she placed an ad in nearly every issue of the Plain Pressin the 1980s and 1990s. The ad featured the Haab bakery building that also served as her home and looked like a gingerbread house. The bakery supplied merchants at the West Side market as well as area residents with freshly baked goods. Nicholas Haab, who later inherited the business, had ties to the neighborhood too. He was a graduate of St. Ignatius High School.
Abbey Avenue is also south of one of the most recognizable symbols of Cleveland. Plastered across social media, categorized under various hashtags such as #thisiscle or #clevelandsign, are thousands of pictures of those posing with a Cleveland Script Sign.
Only six of these signs can be found around the city, one of them being off of Abbey Avenue. The signs were installed by Destination Cleveland, who told Fox 8 that “the sign provides both a tangible Cleveland brand experience to visitors and residents alike, and another opportunity for iconic images of Cleveland to be shared throughout the world.”
Like all of the Cleveland Script Signs, the Script Sign accessed by Abbey Avenue features a beautiful city scape background. Social media savants can pose before the Innerbelt and Shoreway bridges with the Key Bank Tower and Terminal Tower peeking out behind. If visitors take their photo on the night of an Indian’s win, they can capture the fireworks of Progressive Field in their photo.
Abbey Avenue’s sign was one of the first three installed in Cleveland, being erected in 2016 before the Republican convention set upon the city. The 8-foot-high, 16-foot-long sign may only be a little over two years old, but the $20,000 script is putting Abbey Avenue on the map and will document it for years to come.
Another lasting Abbey Avenue icon exists in the form of a beer from Great Lakes Brewery. The Ohio City brewing company named a Dubbel beer after the street, honoring the Gehring Brewery that used to be housed only a few blocks away from Abbey Avenue.
According to Great Lakes Brewery’s description of the beverage, “The street [Abbey Avenue} now links our own Ohio City neighborhood to historic Tremont, and the beer links Cleveland history to a dark, malty Belgian Dubbel.”
While Abbey Avenue has certainly experienced plenty of changes throughout its lifespan, its purpose has remained the same. To this day, and hopefully for many days in the future, Abbey Avenue remains a means of connection.
Editor’s Note:This is the first in a series of articles featuring streets in the Plain Pressservice area. The Plain Presswill be publishing features on major streets in our service area leading up to the March 2021 fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Plain Press.
The articles were written this past fall by students in Plain PressBoard member and Cleveland State University Professor Leo Jeffres’ Communication’s Class at Cleveland State University. Plain Pressreaders are welcome to send in their memories of events, businesses and places on major commercial streets in the Plain Pressservice area to be incorporated into these articles as the Plain Pressstaff and volunteers prepare the articles for publication. The Plain Pressserves the area from the Cuyahoga River to W. 140thand from Lake Erie to the Big Creek Valley. Streets we hope to publish features on include: Denison Avenue, Fulton Avenue, Detroit Avenue, Franklin Boulevard, Lorain Avenue, Clark Avenue, Storer Avenue, Madison Avenue, Professor Avenue, W. 14th, W. 25th/Pearl, and W. 117th. Contributions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.