Detroit Avenue has a rich history


Friday, January 17, 2020; mural on east side of trd Leather, 6321 Detroit Avenue: This mural, painted in late October of 2019 by artist Shane Pierce of Abstract Dissent, adds scenic beauty to the drive down Detroit Avenue. Chuck Perez, owner of trd Leather, says a photo of his mother was used as a model for the painting. The painting celebrates Perez’s mother’s Native American heritage.

Detroit Avenue has a rich history

(Plain Press, February 2020)          A century ago, traffic from downtown to the near west side crossed the Detroit-Superior High Level Bridge, then dodged streetcars that emerged from the lower level of the bridge in the middle of Detroit Avenue; that expansive section of Detroit, today, sits between housing developments that welcome new residents to Hingetown.

Connections to Detroit Avenue from downtown shifted through the years.  Operated by the West Side Railroad Co., in 1863, the first Cleveland streetcar line to run west of the Cuyahoga carried passengers from Superior and Vineyard St. to the Flats, then crossed the river on the Center Street Bridge where the it climbed the hill and continued on Detroit to W. 38th Street. When access to the new Superior Viaduct was acquired in 1880, the route through the flats was eliminated, and, then again, the route shifted to the Detroit-Superior High Level Bridge, when it opened in 1917.

Over the years, the Detroit Superior (the Veterans’ Memorial) Bridge has been spruced up on a number of occasions. An article by Chuck Hoven in the November 2002 Plain Press titled “Plans unveiled for Detroit Superior Bridge Project” describes plans revealed by Lillian Kuri, Executive Director of Cleveland Public Art. The plans called for a number of changes including the reduction on lanes on the bridge to allow for a 12-foot-wide sidewalk and a bike lane on the north side of the bridge.

What greeted streetcar passengers when they arrived on Detroit Avenue in those early days is a far cry from today, and much of the land on Detroit was residential or undeveloped, but streetcar development after 1863 encouraged commercial development along Detroit. This part of Detroit Avenue had been lined with single-family residences located near the Irish immigrant neighborhood known as the Angle.

The Forest City Savings and Trust building, with access to the streetcar line below ground, is still there but it’s now home to the Ohio City Galley.  The Seymour Building next door also remains, but the Kieffer’s German restaurant sign is all that remains of that popular spot, now occupied by new businesses, the Beauty Shop and Foyer.  What began as a beer and bratwurst stand operated by William W. and Anna Kiefer at the 1936 Great Lakes Exposition, became the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) restaurant at 2519 Detroit Ave. the following year, then had a name change to Kiefer’s during World War II, according to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. It closed in 1991.

Across Detroit Avenue on the northern side is the Quarter, a $60 million residential-commercial development opened in 2018 by the Snavely Group that has space for 194 apartments as well as The Music Settlement and The Grocery. This was the site of a parking lot for a couple decades.  This development was announced in the Plain Press in March of 2015 in an article titled “Snavely Group hopes development plans will transform corner of W. 25th and Detroit Avenue.” The article describes the Snavely Group’s plans for three of the four corners of the intersection of W. 25th and Detroit Avenue.

The Quarter sits at the site where Shondor Birns died in a car explosion on Holy Saturday in 1975. In a recent Plain Dealer article about the famous car bombing, Plain Dealer reporter Laura DeMarco describes the corner in 1975 as “a gritty hub of strip clubs and dive bars and hustlers –  where infamous gangster Alex “Shondor” Birns, 69, was blown to pieces in his Lincoln Continental after a night drinking at Christy’s Tavern, a seedy go-go joint he frequented.”

Cleveland ranked close to New York as one of the country’s leading centers for garment production until the depression, and the Federal Knitting Mills at 2860-2882 Detroit Avenue produced wool sweaters from 1907 to 1939. Later the structure was converted to apartments, and it soon will have company as ground was recently broken for the $50 million Church and State mixed use complex across the street. This project, between West 28th and West 29th streets, will add about 160 apartments and 20,000 square feet of retail space to Detroit Avenue.

Next door to the Federal Knitting Mills building, the Spaces gallery occupies the first floor of the Van Roy building, but this was home to the Van Rooy Coffee Co. from 1935 to March 2003.  Before that, its uses reflect Cleveland’s diverse industrial base. From 1895 to 1926 it housed the Cleveland Steel Range Company that later was known as Imperial Steel Range, and from 1929 to 1935 it was occupied by Thompson Products, later known as TRW—manufacturer of pistons for automobiles and airplane engine valves. The company’s manufacturing facility at 2900 Detroit Ave. was the only location that manufactured the pistons for the Ford Motor Company’s Tri-Motor Airplane.

In the 1940’s the Van Rooy Coffee Company decided to use Van Roy as a product name and slowly phased out the double O from its products. The official company name remained the same, but they believed that their name recognition would be better with the single O, and it also allowed more room for graphics, which made the product more visible.  The name is still visible on the west side of the building today, next to the Bop Stop.

Detroit Avenue retains some industry amidst the housing and other businesses.  The Kowalski Heat Treating Co., at 3611 Detroit was started in 1975.  It specializes in salt bath and vacuum heat treating. Next door, Kennick Mold & Die has operated for 63 years in the molded plastic products sector, and Conveyer & Caster, a third-generation family owned business, has provided material handling needs industry for 55 years. Their industrial customers and residents next door have a clear view of Lake Erie with a small park and the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway across the street.

Moving west on Detroit, travelers will encounter The Harp, where patrons stand in lines on St. Patrick’s Day for beer and corned beef sandwiches, and Cleveland Bagel, a popular stop that was successfully started as a product of LeBron James’ Cleveland Hustles competitive reality TV show on CNBC in 2016.

The W. 45th Street entrance to the Shoreway from Detroit Avenue once ran all the way down to Division Avenue near the Clear Water Reservoir, a block from the lake and near the Cleveland yards of the American Ship Building Co.

On the northwest corner of the W. 45th Street intersection, a new west side high school is under construction on the site of the former Max Hayes High School that occupied that site from 1957 until it was moved to W. 65th Street with a new building.  But this site has roots in education that go back much further, to the Detroit Elementary School on the western portion of the block next to W. 49th Street before World War II.  And maps show a public school on the same site in the late 19th century.

A June 2017 Plain Press article titled “Plans unveiled for new high school building at former Max Hayes site on Detroit Avenue” describes plans for a new west side high school to be built on Detroit Avenue from W. 45th to W. 49th. According to the article the projected cost of the new building was $32.5-million and it was slated to be ready for opening in August 2020.

Over the years there has been a residential-business mix along Detroit Avenue from W. 45th Street to the heart of the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, Gordon Square at W. 65th.   In the late 1800s, at the turn of the century the property north of Detroit Avenue between W. 65th and W. 59th Street was undeveloped all the way to the Breakwater street and what is Herman’s Park today. But, by the 1920s and 1930s, Detroit Avenue had become lined with businesses and some residences.  Before WWII, you could buy a car from Bergholz Chevrolet, located at W. 55th Street and Detroit, then fill it up with gas at a station on the corner of W. 61st Street and Detroit.  Today, this stretch of Detroit Avenue and further west is littered with a host of ethnic and American restaurants, from The Big Egg and India Delight, to Gypsy Beans, Minh Anh, Rincon Criollo, Lux Kitchen & Lounge, Sweet Moses, and Banter Beer & Wine.

The Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO) which serves the area from W. 45 to W. 85th on Detroit Avenue has played a role in rehabbing a number of apartment buildings on that stretch of Detroit Avenue. Included among the DSCDO efforts to increase the residential population on Detroit Avenue is the adaptive reuse of the Templem Bradley Building at 5700 Detroit Avenue. An article in the August 2015 issue of the Plain Press describes completion of the $8-million-dollar effort to convert the former corporate headquarters to 30 units of mixed income rental housing.

One intersection on Detroit Avenue has become a destination not only for hungry visitors but also for the celebration of Dyngus Day.  W. 58 Street and Detroit is epicenter for the celebration as Detroit is blocked off for what has become a popular celebration of Polish culture on the Monday after Easter Sunday.  This is also home to the farm-to-table restaurant, Spice Kitchen and Bar, and the Happy Dog, where patrons have listened to programs featuring Cleveland Orchestra musicians and City Club panels. And, of course, there are fast-food and retail outlets, from Save A Lot, and Stockyard Meats to Family Dollar, McDonalds and Burger King.

On a historical note, long-time residents will remember Mom Socotch’s Restaurant at 5801 Detroit Avenue in the building that now houses the Happy Dog. The ads for the restaurant appeared regularly in the Plain Press during the 1980s.

While commercial enterprises have fueled recent growth on Detroit Avenue, public and private institutions have long been the foundation of the area.

Among the churches on Detroit Avenue, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, founded in 1926, at W. 70th and Detroit Avenue, was established to meet the needs of the growing Italian community in the Cleveland area. Our Lady of Mount Carmel School was featured in  the October 1999 issue of the Plain Press as it celebrated its 50th anniversary. And the Romanian community continues to be served by St. Helena Romanian Catholic Church just a short distance off Detroit Avenue on W. 65th Street and the Hispanic community served by La Sagrada Family Church further west on Detroit Avenue.

“Gordon Square Arcade has a rich history” is the title of an article by Blane Warrene in the October 1995 issue of the Plain Press. The article notes that at the time it was built in 1920, it was the only arcade outside of downtown. It also notes the efforts of the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization to purchase and save the building following the collapse of the east wall onto W. 65th Street in May of 1978. By October of 2009, the Plain Press was reporting the success of the Gordon Square Arts District in articles such as “Gordon Square Arts District becomes a reality: Detroit Shoreway takes a huge step toward economic diversity” by Joe Narkin; and “Detroit Shoreway community celebrates Detroit Avenue streetscape completion” by Frank Barnett.

Residents and visitors are likely to agree that the rebirth of the Gordon Square area is due in part to work by the Detroit-Shoreway Community Development Organization’s efforts supporting the arts, initiated by James Levin’s founding of Cleveland Public Theatre. With the reopening of the Capitol Theatre in the Gordon Square Arcade building and the addition of the Near West Theatre in 2015, the Gordon Square Arts District has become a major force in the community.  The Capitol Theatre, built in 1921, was a vaudeville and silent film house that had been closed for nearly three decades until reopening in 2009 as a state-of-the-art movie theatre. The December 2011 Plain Press describes the finishing touches added to the restoration with the celebration of the lighting of the Capitol Theatre blade sign.

Although not on Detroit Avenue, the 78th Street Studios that once were home to American Greetings creative studios, are an important part of the entertainment district centered on Detroit Avenue. 78th Street Studios, just north of Lake Avenue, hosts openings for over 50 studios and galleries on the third Friday of each month.

In its July 2019 issue, the Plain Press reported that on June 14, 2019 the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender Community Center opened a new facility at 6705 Detroit Avenue on the south side of the street. The LGBT Community Center had previously been located across Detroit Avenue in the Gordon Square Arcade since May of 2000.

State of Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits have played a role in the restoration of buildings along Detroit Avenue. One example is the Dorn School of Expression building at 7306 Detroit Avenue which according to an article in the January 2018 Plain Press received $249,999 in historic preservation tax credits to be used toward a reported $1.8 million rehabilitation of the building.

Before Detroit Avenue leaves the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood, it is home to the St. Augustine Health Campus (once St. John’s Hospital), the Walz Branch of the Cleveland Public Library, Community Corner, the Strickland Crisis Center, and EDEN Inc.’s Commons at West Village.

Detroit Avenue arrives in the Cudell neighborhood, passing what was the site of Monarch Aluminum at W. 93rd Street, then crossing the former Nickle Plate Road, now the tracks of Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and Norfolk & Southern, and arriving at Cudell Commons, Cudell Recreation Center  and the Cudell Fine Arts Center at West Boulevard—the site of the Emma Cudell dwelling.

The only RTA rapid stop on Detroit Avenue is on the north side of Detroit at West Boulevard. Across the street from the rapid station is The Palazzo restaurant, reopened this year by chef Rafael Zaloshnja after being closed for many years.

In May 2006, in an article titled “Detroit Avenue industrial site receives funds for cleanup”, the Plain Press reported “The site of the former Monarch Aluminum/Trinity Building at 9203 Detroit Avenue is now slated for cleanup for redevelopment. On Monday, March 27th, the Clean Ohio Assistance Fund (COAF) announced a $750,000 grant has been awarded for brownfield remediation activities at the site.” While plans at that time anticipated the site would be used by Energy Wise Energy Systems for a new office/warehouse facility, today the site is home of the new City of Cleveland City Kennel which opened a new $7.3 million dollar facility on the site in March of 2019 as reported in the April 2019 issue of the Plain Press.

Across the street from the new kennel is the Islamic Center of Cleveland, a place of worship for Cleveland’s Muslim community.

Passing the intersection of Detroit Avenue and West Boulevard, the street goes under the railroad tracks once again.  Traveling west and immediately upon emerging from the underpass, visitors looking south will see a brick building that has been renovated for apartments.  This was the site of W. J. White’s Gum Factory where chewing gum was conceived in the late 19th century.  William White operated a candy store in 1884 when he mistakenly bought a barrel of Yucatan chicle. Discovering it could be softened and made chewable, he added mint, and sold the product as “Yucatan.” In 1890, he established and became president of American Chicle Co., according to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.  A housing development just west of the original site is named for the Chicle roots there.

A little further west on Detroit is the Eliza Jennings Health Campus at 10603 Detroit, site of the Eliza Jennings Home, which opened in 1888. This stretch of Detroit Avenue is home to the Cannon LoPresti & Catavolos Funeral Home, Kirby Manor, Friends Restaurant, and the former St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church and its school which now houses the Hope Academy Northwest Charter School. Another charter school Lake Erie International High Schools sits on the corner of Detroit at W. 117th.

Before leaving Cleveland at W. 117th Street, visitors to Detroit Avenue can stop at The Brothers Lounge, home to popular music and where those old enough to remember and lucky to have been there once could have heard Barbara Streisand perform as a relatively unknown. Cleveland Blues legend Robert Junior Lockwood and his band the All Stars entertained crowds there for many years as well.

Detroit Avenue continues on into Lakewood as it passes West 117th Street, leaving the circulation area of the Plain Press.

Editor’s note: As part of the lead up to the Plain Press’ fiftieth anniversary in 2021, the Plain Press is publishing a series of articles on the main streets in the Plain Press service area. The articles were initiated by Plain Press Board member Leo Jeffres and students in his journalism class at Cleveland State University. Plain Press staff added information from the Plain Press archives to supplement the articles from Professor Jeffres’ class.

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