by Alana Whelan
(Plain Press, February 2021) Madison Avenue has largely been a hub for industry and residential housing, both dating back to the 1890s, when the National Carbon Co. office was built at W. 117th Street.
Madison Avenue stretches all the way from W. 58th Street in Cleveland, into Lakewood, and ends perpendicular with Rocky River Drive. The different sections of the street reflect its history as a center of industry and other activity.
Completed in 1896, the National Carbon Company office on Madison Ave. and W. 117th created jobs for new immigrants, most of whom were eastern European and Slovak.
With many of the company employees living in Cleveland neighborhoods, it was often difficult for them to make it to work in a good amount of time, so the company bought 155 acres of land west of the factory to accommodate the workers and their families.
As the National Carbon Company grew, the neighborhood grew along with it and by 1910 there were 2,200 people living in the area where Lakewood meets Cleveland, which soon became known as Birdtown, according to an article titled Birdtown by the Cleveland Historical team (clevelandhistorical.org).
Businesses built up around the neighborhood, and today the Lakewood end of Madison is alive with restaurants and bars seven days a week. However, the Cleveland end of Madison still retains an industrial flavor that was prominent in the late 19th century.
As Madison Avenue moves east from Lakewood into Cleveland, it crosses more industrial history before moving into residential neighborhoods. The Glidden Co. operations ran along the New York Central Railroad tracks that today are followed by RTA, and as Madison crosses Berea Road, the Midland Steel Products Co. occupied a large section of land between Madison, W. 110th and W. 106th Streets. The former site of the Midland Steel Products Company where in its heyday over 1,500 people were employed, is now Madison Industrial Park. Signs on the property indicate it will soon open as an Amazon Last Mile Facility and will be teeming with trucks coming and going to make deliveries in the neighborhood.
Further east on Madison’s northern side Lamson & Sessionsand Cleveland Steel Products had operations that began in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Lamson and Sessions was another especially large employer of residents of the neighborhood in its nuts-and-bolts operation. The former Lamson and Session’s factory along the tracks just north of Madison at W. 85th no longer exists. The crumbling structure was torn down a few years ago.
However, the industrial roots of Madison Avenue still remain evident today.
One of the most successful companies that has come out of the area is the Advance Manufacturing Corporation, 6800 Madison, which began as a tiny tool and die shop and have now expanded into a huge manufacturing company that works with the aerospace industries and auto manufacturing sector, said Matt Zone, former Cleveland City Council representative of Ward 15.
“[Advance Manufacturing Corporation] have been a staple of our community for over seventy years and employ quite a number of people who live in our community,” said Zone. “They have machinery and an amazing workforce that can adapt to change.”
Though the National Carbon Company office building was demolished in 1992, Advance Manufacturing Corporation and other companies such as Meriam Process Technologies, NPA Coatings, Kelly Plating Co. and the Cleveland Lumber Co. fill up the area.
The Cleveland Lumber Co. is in a building that once was the Madison Theater. In 1907, the theater was built in the space currently occupied by Belinda’s Nightclub, but it moved to where the Cleveland Lumber Co. is today in 1949, until the theater closed in the early 1980s. The Cleveland Lumber Co. refurbished the former theater where it has been operating a lumber and hardware company for over 30 years. To this day, the building is non-combustible, except for some wood paneling on the walls, according to Joe Ryan, a Cleveland Lumber Co. employee.
According to an article published in the Plain Dealer on Nov. 24, 1920, the theater would be opening that night with a showing of a film called, “In the Heart of a Fool” by Allan Dwan. The article highlighted the new remodels that the theater had undergone, such as the fireproof walls that were being installed on three sides.
The nature of the theater’s structure was a blessing to some who were living in the area when a tornado came through Cleveland in June of 1953.
“The storm came right through here, and these people didn’t realize that there was a storm until they got out and noticed that the houses were torn down and the electricity went out,” said Ryan.
Just to the east of the Cleveland Lumber Co., an old house built in 1889– referred to as the “Twin Peaks” house – remains.
“Architecturally, the house is really crazy,” said Ryan “When you walk in, there are some doors you can barely walk through, some you have to duck your head to go through.” Ryan said that the former owner of the building spent a lot of money rehabbing the house, ran it all on his credit card, then lost the house to the bank.
Villa Y Zapata, an authentic Mexican restaurant, is open on the southwest corner of Madison and W. 85th Street, adorned on the outside with the colors of the Mexican flag, and on the inside with balloons and photographs of loyal customers who have come in to celebrate their birthdays.
“A lot of our customers are regulars and they’ve been coming here for years and years, and they come from different areas mostly,” said Leslie Bolanos, daughter of owner, Howell Bolanos. “But recently
– now, with the windows and fixing up the outside of the buildings, we’ve been getting more local people.”
Villa Y Zapata has been around since 1974, but the Bolanos family did not take ownership of the restaurant until 2004. In the years they have owned the restaurant, Bolanos said that she has not seen much change in the neighborhood.
“I know the restaurant has a lot of potential – a lot more than it could be doing right now. Just the area is kind of slow,” Bolanos said. “There’s not much around us. We don’t advertise or anything like that. We don’t do anything – it’s just word of mouth from our customers because our reputation is so good – people like the food and everything.”
Potentially benefiting Villa Y Zapata, the city is slowly making improvements to the street, which might help attract more people to the area.
Once the center of Irish American activity, Madison was home to the West Side IrishAmerican Club at 9613 Madison Avenue (an early home of the Madison Theater and now Belinda’s Night Club). The West Side Irish American Club closed its Madison Avenue location in 1987 and moved to a new facility in Olmsted Twp. The annual St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in part along Madison Avenue into the 1970s – beginning after a Mass at St. Colman Church on W. 65thand Madison. Later it moved downtown. In the same area of the street were two Chinese restaurants, with the Ho Wood restaurant at 9605 Madison Ave. until it closed. The location now is home to the Madison Grille.
“Five years ago, I was able to convince the city administration to make a major investment in Madison Avenue and rebuild its infrastructure,” said Matt Zone.
The street has gone through several phases of reconstruction, the first of which was from W. 65th Street to West Boulevard. Improvements included the planting of trees, creation of tree lawns, the paving of roadways, and trying to make it as hospitable as possible for those who live and work in the area, said Matt Zone.
Recently, Madison Avenue underwent construction from W. Boulevard to W. 117th. The reconstructed part of Madison Avenue is nearly completed now, with new pavement, drainage, asphalt resurfacing, ramps, curbs, bike lanes and pedestrian crossing sign updates in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In this area of the refurbished street, a new business, Washville Laundromat, recently opened at 105th and Madison.
“Development is always evolving, changing communities are always evolving,” said Zone. “And the biggest challenge for city leaders and community folks is – how can we reposition the assets that we have and put them to the best use and attract and maintain vibrant communities? And Madison is on its way to becoming one of the great commercial quarters of Cleveland.”
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series of articles written by students in a Cleveland State University Communications class taught by Plain Press Board of Trustees member Leo Jeffres. The articles on main streets in the Plain Press service area are being published as part of the celebration of the Plain Press’ 50th Anniversary. The Plain Press published its first edition in March of 1971.