A look at Lorain Avenue while traveling down memory lane
by Kevin Coleman
(Plain Press, September 2019) Lorain Avenue is a Cleveland thoroughfare spanning approximately 12 miles from its beginning at the Hope Memorial Bridge to the Rocky River. As soon as motorists traverse the 256-foot-long Lorain Viaduct, the street becomes Lorain Road and runs all the way to – you guessed it – Lorain, Ohio.
Lorain Avenue begins at the rustic Hope Memorial Bridge, originally named the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge. The 4,490-foot-long art deco truss viaduct was designed by engineers from Wilber J. Watson & Associates and finished construction in 1932 with a price tag of $4.75 million ($85.2 million adjusted for inflation).
The most distinguishable features of the Hope Memorial Bridge are the eight massive statues named the “Guardians of Traffic.” The statues were sculpted by Henry Hering out of limestone derived from a nearby quarry in Berea and symbolize progress in transportation throughout the years.
An article in the June 20 – July 24, 1983 Plain Press by David Beach titled “Merchants look forward to Lorain-Carnegie opening” anticipates the reopening of the Lorain Carnegie bridge in August of that year after being closed for repairs for three years. The article quotes three area businesses talking about the hardship caused by the closing of the bridge including Virginia Purvis of Fridrich Bicycles at 3800 Lorain Avenue; Bruce Loch, owner of the Chicken and Subs at 3713 Lorain Avenue who closed his business as a result of loss of traffic due to the bridge closing; and J. Atkin, manager of Stork Baby Furniture at W. 32ndand Lorain Avenue, who recalled the when the Lorain Carnegie Bridge first opened in the 1930s.
Across W. 25thStreet from the West Side Market is Market Square Park which has experienced several redesigns over the years. A front-page article titled “Market Square Park project to be a community effort” by Richard Thomas in the October 23, 1984 Plain Press describes one such effort. The article describes the winning design chosen out of nine finalists competing to design the park. The design, by Environmental sculptor Carl Floyd, called for all parts of the design to be covered with ceramic tiles. Neighborhood residents and community organizations were to contribute the creation of the tiles.
On the Northeast corner of W. 25thand Lorain Avenue shoppers and vendors convene at the West Side Market to buy and sell some of the most decadent foods in Cleveland. Just a few blocks west on W. 30thand Lorain Avenue, 1,500 of Cleveland’s brightest young people attend the esteemed St. Ignatius High School, rated the best Catholic High School in the Cleveland area for the 2019 school year.
A photo on the front page of the September 25 – October 8, 1984 issue of the Plain Presscelebrates the ribbon cutting for the rehabilitation of the Miller Building at W. 32ndand Lorain Avenue. The rehabilitation carried out by Near West Housing Partners and Near West Housing Corporation was to provide apartments for low income residents and a center for Hispanic Senior Citizens. Near West Housing Corporation later was merged with Ohio City Development Corporation to form what today is Ohio City Inc.
Where Lorain Avenue intersects with Fulton Avenue, a former bank building at 3500 Lorain Avenue sits across from a Marathon gas station and a Planet Fitness. The building at 3500 Lorain in addition to originally serving as a bank, for many years served as an antique shop called Antiques at the Bank. More recently the building became the Green Bank Building with a number of environmental groups being housed in the building which offered many green features including use of geothermal heat on the first floor. While the environmental groups have moved on, several nonprofit organizations still call the building home, including Organize Ohio.
While you would not know it by looking, there was once a theater sitting where the Planet Fitness is located today. The Lorain-Fulton Theater was built by Thomas Urbansky and his family and was known as a theater free of gaudy decorations which were common at the time. Being located in what was known to be the business district, the theater with rose and gold carpets on the inside was often thought to be a bank from its outward appearance.
The theater’s first showing, Wid Gunning’s “What Do Men Want?” was played on Christmas Day of 1921 and the theater continued operating into the late 1940’s before eventually being demolished.
For many years, the site was home to a Pick-N-Pay grocery store. After the grocery decided to close in 1985, there was an organizing effort by Near West Neighbors in Action to try to get the building owner to lease the store to another full-service grocery. Organizers also expressed concern that the Pick-N-Pay at W. 98thand Lorain would also close. An article in the October 7, 1986 Plain Pressby Chris Dickey of Near West Neighbors in Action titled “What’s Pick-N-Pay up to now?” describes the issues of concern at the time. Unique Thrift store was also located in the building for many years prior to the current tenant, Planet Fitness.
The stretch of Lorain Avenue from W. 25thto W. 45thcontains has a rich history of social service and nonprofit organizations. Organizations along this stretch include Ohio City Inc., West Side Catholic Center, Providence House, McCafferty Health Center, Catholic Worker, and the Spanish American Committee. Also located on this stretch of Lorain Avenue is Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church on W. 30thand its various ministries and St. Ignatius High School’s Arupe Center, also on W. 30thsouth of Lorain Avenue.
The front page of the November 4, 1986 Plain Press has stories about events on Lorain Avenue. A photo on the page features Chris Dickie, Paul Hurst and Hope Searight of Near West Neighbors in Action holding up a sign that say, “Honk for Traffic Light.” They are standing on the corner of W. 32ndand Lorain Avenue in front of the Miller Building where the office of Near West Neighbors in Action was located at the time. The group was not successful in getting the traffic light at that time, but the busy intersection which has a fire station and the West Side Catholic Center has a traffic light now.
The November 4, 1986 front page of the Plain Pressalso contained an article titled “New center helps women support women.” The article by Claire Farnsworth describes the opening of the new West Side Women’s Center at 4209 Lorain Avenue across the street from the McCafferty Health Center. The Women’s Recovery Center, now located on Storer Avenue, has its roots in this center which opened in 1986 on Lorain Avenue.
In the 1970s, individuals riding the #22 Lorain Avenue bus eastbound in the early morning included women who worked sewing clothing for the Joseph & Feis factory just south of Lorain Avenue at W. 53rd. The factory later was run by Hugo Boss and then closed. Today the building has been rehabbed and serves as home of Menlo Park Academy – a school for gifted children.
The riders of the #22 bus also enjoyed a treat as they road by the Laub Bakery in the 4900 block of Lorain Avenue where the air was filled with the odor of freshly baked goods. Today the site is the home of Urban Community School.
The Zone Recreation Center at W. 65thand Lorain Avenue has its own origin story, some of which is chronicled in the pages of the Plain Press.A December 21, 1977 article by Larry Bresler titled “$1.5 million set for NWS Rec. Center” reported that City of Cleveland Community Development Director Norm Krumholz committed to $1.5 million in the 1978 city budget to build a new near west side recreation center. Bresler, today the director of Organize Ohio remembers the organizing efforts that led to the commitment. (See SIDE BAR)
Lorain Avenue also has a scattering of antique stores in its midsection. Suite Lorain at 7105 Lorain Road is also called a “vintage department store,” stocked with all sorts of items for some 28 years. The largest collection of antique stores on the street is found inside the Bijou Antique Gallery at 7806 Lorain or nearby.
While many historical buildings along Lorain Avenue have been lost to time, some of that loss can be attributed to construction of Interstate 90, which tore a path through the neighborhood and under Lorain Avenue at about W. 89thStreet and Clark Avenue. From the mid-1960s to 1978, the part of Interstate 90 running from the Ohio Turnpike in Lorain County to Interstate 71 was built, opening on Nov. 4 of 1978 and reducing the east-west traffic on Lorain Avenue. Before the automobile came to dominate transportation in Cleveland, Lorain Avenue provided a street car route, with a turnaround at the Cleveland Railway Co. W. 98thStreet, then called Wellington. One resident of the area recalls playing softball in the fields of the “construction site” that was to become I-90 near the corner of W. 80thand Grace Avenue just south of Lorain Avenue.
Going west from Zone Recreation Center, Lorain Avenue has a number of long-established businesses including Loraine Surgical Supply in a building on the Northwest corner of W. 65thand Lorain that has a long history and housed doctor’s offices in its upstairs in the 1950s. At W. 73rdand Lorain Avenue the site of the Social Security office was once home to West End Lumber Company. Across Lorain Avenue a little further west is Ripcho Studio at 7630 Lorain which has been taking class pictures for generations of Clevelanders. Ripcho sponsors Needs Cleveland next door to its studios where Cleveland residents can pick up gently used clothing. At W. 83rdand Lorain Avenue is the Lorain Branch of the Cleveland Public Library which has served the surrounding community and its schools for many years.
Before the freeway, Lorain Avenue used to intersect with Clark Avenue at W. 88thStreet where Tony’s Restaurant sat on the triangle shaped land where the two streets met. The huge Watkins furniture store sat on the south side of Lorain between W. 88thand W. 90th. That site now has new housing with Clark Avenue addresses as Clark Avenue was extended to W. 90thwhen the freeway was built.
Other longstanding businesses in that area of Lorain Avenue from W. 90thto West Boulevard that have disappeared include Fisher Fazio’s grocery store, Michaud’s, Hollo’s Printing, Heyduk’s Flower Shop and Famous Cleaners. Rexall Drug, Cleveland Uniform and Schindler’s Fabrics are examples of businesses that have continued serving the neighborhood for many years.
In September of 2006 the West Side Community House (WSCH) moved from W. 30thand Bridge to 9300 Lorain Avenue. Former WSCH Executive Director Dawn Kolograf says WSCH was already serving the immediate neighborhood through its senior center at Simpson Methodist Church at W. 86thand Clark Avenue which WSCH had operated since 1976. Kolograf says, “Most importantly the board and staff of the C-House felt it was important to be located where the agencies’ services were most needed. Once we determined that the area between West 65th and West 117th had a growing poverty rate for both families and seniors and was not served by the West Side’s other settlement house, Merrick House, we started looking for either an existing building or land to build on in that area. Then councilman Jay Westbrook who was familiar with WSCH because of Simpson Senior Center suggested we look at the site at the corner of West 93rd and Lorain. Cudell Improvement had consolidated 3 parcels and was looking for either a day care center or a community center to serve the area, so it was a perfect match.”
Prior to I-90, St. Ignatius of Antioch Catholic Parish at West Boulevard and Lorain Avenue was the largest Roman Catholic congregation on the West Side of Cleveland. The parish’s school was also large and its teams at one time so dominated the Catholic Youth Organization competitions that they were asked to start a league of their own. For many years the parish ran a football and basketball program open to children throughout the area. The basketball program still exists today. The parish sold land on the Southeast corner of West Boulevard and Lorain to make way for an A & P Store but retained parking rights on the site for their parishioners in perpetuity. The site is now a CVS Pharmacy, but the parking provision remains in the deed allowing the parish to use it for overflow parking when needed.
In 2009, when former Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon tried to close St. Ignatius Church, parishioners, former parishioners and residents throughout the Westside rallied to save the church from closing. The successful effort was covered by the Plain Press.
Lorain Avenue has seen its variety of retail over the years. A Sears, Roebuck & Co. store at W. 110thStreet and Lorain was followed by a strip shopping center with an assortment of shops, including, at one time, a Finast grocery store and a Blockbuster video store. The shopping center remains with a different set of tenants today.
Not far up the street, the Cleveland Christian Home for Children is one historic building on Lorain that still stands today and continues its original mission. The building at 11401 Lorain Avenue was designed by Architect J. H. MacDowell and built in 1924. The building is designated as a landmark by the Cleveland Landmark Commission.
The home was founded by the Rev. Henry Timme in 1900 when a family of children were left at the front door of his home. Reverend Timme took the children in and word of his good deed soon spread around the neighborhood that his house was a haven for all children.
Five years later, Timme would move from his home-turned-orphanage at Broadway & Aetna Avenue in Cleveland to its current location on Lorain Avenue. The new home was originally fitted to house approximately 60 children before being renovated in the early 1920’s to accommodate 100. Today, the home cares for some 500 children struggling with mental illness, abuse and neglect.
Before leaving West Boulevard/Westown neighborhoods, Lorain Avenue crosses W. 117thStreet, the site of the Variety theatre now being restored for neighborhood use today.
Lorain Avenue has been changing for more than 100 years and will only continue in the future. A driver of this future change will undoubtedly be the City of Cleveland’s Storefront Renovation Program (SRP), which began in 2015.
The program aims to make Cleveland’s various neighborhoods and their shopping districts become more aesthetically appealing and economically viable by renovating storefronts and signage. To encourage business owners to make these renovations, Cleveland’s Department of Community Developments provides financial incentives to subsidize costs.
The Storefront Renovation Program has completed more than 70 projects to date throughout Cleveland, with several projects taking place on Lorain Avenue. In 2017, a run-down brick building was renovated and now houses Forest City Shuffle Board. Lorain-Trickett Cycle and Fitness has also repaired the façade of its building in addition to new signage and a newly paved parking lot. Along with six other projects on Lorain, these improvements show Lorain Avenue’s potential to continue serving as an essential route for Clevelanders.
Editor’s Note:As part of the lead up to the Plain Press’fiftieth anniversary in 2021, the Plain Pressis publishing a series of articles on the main streets in the Plain Press service area. The articles were written by students in Plain PressBoard Member Leo Jeffres’ journalism class at Cleveland State University. Plain Pressstaff are adding information to the articles from their memories, interviews, and articles and photos from the Plain Pressarchives.
PHOTO BY DEBBIE SADLON (Plain Press Archives)
Tuesday, April 20, 2004; W. 48thand Lorain Avenue: The demolition of the Laub Bakery to make way for Urban Community School has uncovered the side of an adjoining building on Lorain Avenue. These two signs on the building are well preserved due to lack of exposure to the weather. The top sign is an advertisement for the United Bank on W. 25thand Lorain, it features a sketch of the building and reads “One Office Where You Find All Our Officers Sincerely Interested In Your Problems. The United Bank. Opposite West Side Market.” The other sign from the National Biscuit Company reads “The National Soda Cracker. Uneeda Biscuit NATIONAL BISCUIT COMPANY.”