A wide variety of venues found a home on Denison Avenue over the years
by Matthew Johns
(Plain Press, March 2020) A wealthy businessman’s house, a massive roller rink and Transylvanian cultural center may seem like an odd combination, but they all found their place along a small strip of a road on Cleveland’s west side at some point over the past 200 years.
The aforementioned road — Denison Avenue — stretches from the Cuyahoga River on the east to Lorain Avenue on Cleveland’s west side. The portion of the road between Fulton Avenue and Lorain was named Denison Avenue before 1884, and during this same time, the eastern part of the road was named Newburgh Street. Some records show the Newburgh portion of the road being named Ridge Road – a present adjacent road — until the mid-1800s.
The road’s origins date back to 1811 when the it was first laid out. It is unknown for which Denison family memberthe road was named.
The eastern end of Denison runs into the Harvard-Denison Bridge as it crosses the Cuyahoga River and becomes Harvard Avenue. This is an industrial area, home at one time or another of aluminum and chemical plants, including the Aluminum Co. of America (ALCOA) and the Harshaw Chemical Co. Several large factories and other buildings, which overlook the steelyards in Newburgh Heights, still dominate the area.
Travelers coming west over the Harvard-Denison Bridge at night since October of 2014 are greeted with lights emanating from St. Barbara’s Catholic Church at 1505 Denison Avenue. A letter written to the Plain Press by Brooklyn Centre resident John Baran published in the November 2014 Plain Press notes the lighting was part of the Sacred Landmarks Steeple Lighting Program. In the letter, Baran says, “The four sides of the St. Barbara Church Bell Tower, along with the Statue of St. Barbara located at the front exterior of the Church, and the “St. Barbara” Grill Work over the main front exterior entrance of the Church doors, both facing Denison Avenue, have now been illuminated and are visible during the night hours.”
This stretch of Denison east of Pearl Road also includes the former East Denison School at 1700 Denison, which is now a Horizon Science Academy charter school. The park behind the school has now been restored after being closed due to discovery of toxins in the soil from a previous use as a dumpsite. The June 2014 issue of the Plain Press covered a meeting about the pending environmental clean-up of the 12-acre park in an article titled “Environmental cleanup planned for W. C. Reed Playfields.”
Going west Denison Avenue crosses Pearl Road, a road which residents in the not too distant past petitioned the City of Cleveland to change its name from W. 25th Street back to an earlier name for the street, Pearl Road.
After crossing Pearl Road, the newer Denison School is on the north side of the Street at W. 33rd and just across Denison is Art House. The nonprofit arts organization, recently demolished two houses on its property and held a public meeting to solicit input on plans for the future of its campus.
Running through the Stockyard’s neighborhood, Denison Avenue has seen a wide variety of commercial and residential use, and still does today. Certain stretches of Denison take different shapes, from rows of houses, to retail shops, to bars, to industrial areas.
While many of the now-historical entities that could not withstand the test of time have vanished and turned into more mainstream chain stores, their structures remain, and tell the story of the area, starting in the mid-1800s.
A bar that stands out in-part because of its distinguishable name is the Ugly Broad Tavern. The pub-style bar features an outdoor patio and pool tables, as well as several events, such as bull riding, poker runs and yard sales.
At the corner of Denison and Fulton Road is the site of the former Brookside Stadium, which was a natural amphitheater stadium that held events such as baseball, softball, football and other sporting events. The stadium was established in the mid-1890’s, and held events through 1915.
In 2007, the field was used as staging ground for the construction of the Fulton Road bridge. The damage caused by the construction left the historic field virtually unusable, and it is left as an open field today. However, benches and some fencing still are present at the location.
St. Boniface Parish at W. 54th and Denison Avenue houses a campus of Metro Catholic School and also serves as a parish for Cleveland Vietnamese Catholic Community.
At W. 61st and Denison is an entrance ramp for I-71 that is exceptionally long as original plans to extend the freeway from that location to the Shoreway were blocked. In 2015, Friends of Big Creek promoted a plan to relocate this entrance to Ridge Road and create a park that would connect Big Creek Reservation to Brookside Park. An article in the September 2015 issue of the Plain Press titled “Park and multipurpose trail proposed for Big Creek Valley in Stockyard neighborhood,” describes the plan.
Nestled between industrial and residential strongholds is Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispania of Cleveland, a Hispanic church located at 6800 Denison Avenue that sits on over five acres of land across the street from Sachsenheim Hall. The building was purchased by the church in 2002, and was formerly a roller rink and Cleveland Union Stockyards Co. building.
The church’s building, which is more than 41,000 square feet in size, was constructed in 1929 and served as the Equestrium, a place that held livestock shows, riding contests and other happenings in the Stockyards. It was sold and became Rollercade, a roller rink, in 1940, which led to $14,000 in renovations to the flooring and seating. The skating surface was said to be the size of a football field and it entertained as many as 2,400 people in a single day.
In 1968, Rollercade closed and was converted into a Fazio’s supermarket. The market was opened for an unknown length of time.
Proceeding weston Denison you cross the railroad tracks on a bridge that replaced what was a long time landmark on Denison – a bridge with three large metal trusses. A photo of the bridge in the November 2003 issue of the Plain Press says the old bridge was slated to close in January of 2004. Just before one crosses the bridge a shopping area lies to the south at the corner of Ridge and Denison where the huge Zayre department store once thrived along with Carousel Lanes bowling alley and a Royal Castle Restaurant. The site now houses Dave’s Supermarket along with Neighborhood Family Practice and a strip of storefronts where the bowling alley used to be. The former Royal Castle Restaurant Building, with its original, characteristic architecture, still sits empty on the corner.
Aquick walk east of the former Royal Castlewill land you at perhaps Denison Avenue’s most storied building, Sachsenheim Hall. Translating to “Saxons’ Home,” the building, which Saxons – ethnic Germans – called “The Sachsenheim,” gave Transylvanian immigrants a place to engage in cultural activities starting in 1907.
Located at 7001 Denison Ave., the hall was first used in the late 1800s by the Eintracht Singing Society, a German cultural group that planned German cultural activities.
Throughout the 1900s, Sachsenheim Hall took new looks, as a ballroom, restaurant and other facilities were added. The hall, which was once private, hired Scott “Grumpy” Lindel, a restaurateur, to run the hall in 2003. Today, it primarily serves as a restaurant that features German beers, sausages and Taco Tuesdays, as well as live music.
Just west of the bridge, you will find one of the most out-standing landmarks on Denison Avenue, is the Alexander Kimberley House. Located at 7403 Denison Ave., built in 1866, the house was home to Alexander Kimberley, who was an English immigrant and businessman.
Kimberley’s presence stretched beyond Denison Avenue, as he owned property in Ohio City and other nearby areas.
For Kimberley, his success was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Cleveland’s population boomed between 1845 and 1860 thanks to industrialization, and Kimberley’s three Cleveland saloons – one on Superior Street, one on Public Square and one on Merwin Street on the east bank of the Flats – provided places for workers to go after their shifts.
Since his death, Kimberley’s once humble abode is now used for commercial purposes, and is currently housing the Rincon Criollo Take 2, a second location of the popular Puerto Rican restaurant. While the house may not stand out as it once did, its aging bones at the intersection of W. 73rd Street still have interesting features as it looks on to Denison.
Walter Martens, Licensed Funeral Director at Walter Martens and Sons Funeral Home – located at 9811 Denison Ave., said while there may be fewer total businesses along the road now, the businesses that are there still maintain strong business traffic.
According to Martens, the West Boulevard and Stockyards neighborhoods along Denison used to be heavily dependent on public transportation, which meant there was little need for parking. Since that is no longer the case, some entities have suffered due to lack of parking.
Martens’ funeral home, which is historically significant in its own right, opened in 1948. The building, which is more than 100 years old, was a house before the funeral home was established by Walter’s father.
Martens said he believes those who regularly travel up and down Denison may not be very familiar with many of the historical buildings.
The historical buildings on Denison may not be as apparent to the untrained eye as they once were, and these locations may not be as booming as they were in the last century, but the structures still stand to tell the story of a street that attracted people of all different classes, social standings and backgrounds.
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 memberLeo 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.