Resident urges Planning Commission to keep the Farnsworth House and Byelorussian Church as part of the MetroHealth Park
To the editor:
Open letter to the Planning Commission:
Plain Press, May 2022 I am writing to you in response to news I heard about MetroHealth’s plans to demolish three buildings between W. 25th St. and Scranton Rd. They are the former Trinity United Church of Christ, the Farnsworth House, and the former Mother of God of Zyrovichy Belarusian Church (aka St. Nicholas Belarusian Church.) Although I’ve since heard that Trinity UCC has been removed from the execution block, I am still distressed about the fate awaiting the other two historically important buildings.
I was at a community meeting several years ago at the Family Ministry Center (formerly Blessed Sacrament Church, on the corner of Fulton Rd. and Trowbridge Ave.) at the time MetroHealth’s CEO, Akram Boutros, was talking about building a new hospital surrounded by greenspace. Those in attendance broke up into groups to discuss what they would like to see around the new medical facility. I thought that what transpired at the meeting was just a lot of talk; so many previous MetroHealth CEOs had spoken about building a new hospital! And although I am a huge greenspace person, I really wasn’t interested in the questions I was being asked about what kind of park I would like to see. What I really want at MetroHealth’s Main Campus is free parking!
I also thought that attendees at that first meeting were going to be consulted periodically about further plans for the campus, but if I was ever notified about that, I missed it. I didn’t attend any more meetings about the project; I simply noted the construction progress of the new hospital whenever I was at MetroHealth. I am 100% certain that if I had ever heard mention of demolishing any of the historic buildings in the vicinity, I would have protested.
I thought that it was a terrible waste of materials and landfill space when MetroHealth demolished its relatively new Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Center for Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, 3525 Scranton Rd., but I didn’t say anything. And I thought that it was sad when MetroHealth tore down the “Quad”, but I didn’t say anything. But there’s no way I can be silent about demolishing neighborhood landmarks!
One of the reasons I am so passionate about preserving significant old structures is that for the past 32 years I have written about neighborhood history (as well as other topics) in the Old Brooklyn News. Although my articles have focused more on Old Brooklyn than Brooklyn Centre, I have written about the Farnsworth family and both endangered churches.
One of the best-received of my many hundreds of history articles was one about Mother of God of Zyrovichy Belarusian Church (aka St. Nicholas Belarusian Church.) People were intrigued by the Eastern European style of its structure and interested in its history. Dedicated in 1960 by the second wave of Belarusian (White Russian) immigrants, there was a division in the congregation when some of the people started moving out to suburbia. They built a new church in Strongsville while others stayed at the church on Scranton. The oldsters are mostly buried in the Belarusian section at nearby Riverside Cemetery, and their church, the first built by Belarusians in Cleveland, is definitely historically significant.
One of the most upbeat articles I’ve written was about Harry Marshall Farnsworth’s bank and office building at the corner of W. 25th St. and Archwood Ave. It had been vacant for years when an out-of-state kidney dialysis company bought it, repaired the beautiful old façade and redesigned the inside into a modern treatment facility. This is the same Harry Farnworth who raised his family in the “Farnworth House”, 3517 W. 25th St., which MetroHealth wants to demolish. Harry Farnworth (1861-1955) was one of the most important people who ever lived in the Brooklyn Centre neighborhood. His father had been the mayor, and Harry M. was the Village clerk, an attorney and partner of Farnsworth and Farnsworth, a founder of Brooklyn Savings and Trust, the president of Farnsworth Realty and the publisher of a neighborhood newspaper called The Town Crier. He was a member of Brooklyn Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, the Chamber of Commerce, the Republican Tippecanoe Club and the Masonic Lodge. Outside of Brooklyn Centre, Harry Farnsworth was a member of the Ohio Building Association League, was on Cleveland’s first Planning Commission, and was the president of the Cuyahoga County Board of Park Commissioners. He and his wife, Bettie Clara Brainard (the daughter of Titus Brainard, an early major Brooklyn Township landholder) are buried in nearby Riverside Cemetery.
I was among those gathered at Trinity United Church of Christ on the sad Sunday when it held its last worship service and I wrote an article about that in the Old Brooklyn News, too. A German congregation, it was of the Evangelical and Reformed denomination before the United Church of Christ merger. The church was community-oriented and hosted AA and Al-anon meetings before it joined with Brooklyn United Church of Christ on Memphis Ave. in Brooklyn (and now called Trinity-Brooklyn). One of their finest pastors, the Rev. Elam Wiest, was also involved in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood; in the late 1970s he became the first executive director of the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation. I am so happy that MetroHealth has agreed to spare this beautiful church complex.
I do not understand why MetroHealth wants to destroy these important structures in the neighborhood which they purport to be a part of. And why the majority of members of a Design Review Committee and Ward 14 Councilwoman Jasmin Santana would vote in favor of their demolition plans is beyond me. It must be either ignorance or indifference on their parts, and it is most disheartening to have people who think as they do in positions of power. Demolition decisions like these are irreversible!
Countries in Europe know to preserve their historic structures while we wasteful Americans think it’s acceptable to tear down whatever gets in the way of the new plans someone has in mind. I beg you to consider the long-term effects of destroying neighborhood history, and to exercise reason instead of the wrecking ball. Listen to the folks with knowledge and wisdom who have another vision for St. Nicholas Church and the Farnsworth House. These structures can easily exist within the greenspace campus MetroHealth wants to surround its new hospital — but only if Cleveland City Planners and MetroHealth listen to the thought-filled voices of people advocating adaptive reuse.
Editor’s Note: Lynette Filips, an Old Brooklyn resident, served for many years as a reporter and columnist for the Old Brooklyn News. Many of her articles focused on neighborhood history.