Lincoln Heights Block Club honors Henry Senyak for his many contributions to the neighborhood and the City of Cleveland


Saturday, August 13, 2022; Lincoln Heights Block Club party and tribute to Henry Senyak, Porco Lounge, 2527 W. 25th Street: Henry Senyak holds up a Certificate of Appreciation from the Lincoln Heights Block Club noting the formal dedication of the Henry P. Senyak Lincoln Heights Development Fund.

Lincoln Heights Block Club honors Henry Senyak for his many contributions to the neighborhood and the City of Cleveland

by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, September 2022)       Neighbors and friends of Henry Senyak gathered at the Porco Lounge and Tiki Bar on W. 25th Street on August 13th to share food and drink and honor Senyak for his many years of service to the Lincoln Heights Block Club, the Tremont neighborhood, and the City of Cleveland.

   At the luncheon, the Lincoln Heights Block Club and Tremont West Development Corporation staff presented Senyak with a Certificate of Appreciation noting the naming of the block club’s community benefits fund in his honor. The fund will now be called the Henry P. Senyak Lincoln Heights Development Fund.

   A March 2020 article by Bruce Checefsky in the Plain Press titled “Reaching Lincoln Heights proposal outlines a land use plan for the Lincoln Heights neighborhood” talks about the creation of the developers fund as a “recommendation initiated by Lincoln Heights Block Club Chairperson Henry Senyak.” The article explains the reasoning behind the fund aimed at developers getting a 15-year tax abatement from the City of Cleveland saying:

Senyak, who has been a central figure in making sure longtime residents are heard and their financial situations considered at a time when large scale development projects multiply in the neighborhood, believes a Lincoln Developers Fund could help with home repairs and other expenses residents on fixed incomes might have trouble paying for. The fund is not meant to pay in full for projects, but rather augment any costs associated with home maintenance for existing residents. Developers would pay into the fund an amount determined by the size of the development.

   In a recent interview, Senyak said the City of Cleveland Planning Department formally adopted the Reaching Lincoln Heights neighborhood plan which included the development fund or community benefits agreement.  He said the Lincoln Heights Block Club’s Reaching Lincoln Heights neighborhood plan was the first block club neighborhood plan formally accepted by the City Planning Department that included such a community benefits agreement. Senyak says other block clubs in the City of Cleveland are now using this plan as a model to help create community benefit agreements for their neighborhoods.

   Senyak, in accepting the naming of the development fund in his name, said if the cancer he is fighting takes him he would like to see the I-71 Overpass on Starkweather between Scranton and W. 14th be named the Gertrude and Henry Senyak Memorial Overpass. He thought this would be a fitting way to honor his mother, one of the first woman business owners in Tremont, and her son who contributed so much to the neighborhood and the City of Cleveland through his volunteer efforts.

   Henry Senyak said the business, Senyak Dry Cleaners and Shoe Repair, started as a partnership between Henry’s dad, Henry E. Senyak, and his father’s brother-in-law Charles Rawlings in 1950 or 1951. In 1958, Charles Rawlings sold his share in the building and business to Henry E. and Gertrude Senyak. Thus, Gertrude Senyak became a business owner.  Gertrude Pilar (maiden name) Senyak already had experience in the dry-cleaning business having worked at Auburn Dry Cleaners at W. 14th and Auburn. When Henry’s dad got a City of Cleveland job in the early 1960s as a Division of Streets inspector, Henry’s mom, Gertrude, operated the business. Henry said Senyak Cleaners contracted with Woodbine Cleaners at W. 32nd and Bridge to do the washing portion of the dry cleaning, so his father would drop off and pick up clothing there on his way to and from work.

   When Henry was a child (born in May of 1963) his playpen was placed behind the counter at the drycleaners so his mom could watch him and still tend to customers at the dry cleaners. Henry Senyak says, to this day, some of the old-timers in the neighborhood, who were customers of the dry cleaners, remember him as a child playing in the show case of the dry cleaners.

   Senyak says his mother ran the dry cleaners until 1980. The income from the drycleaners helped to pay Henry’s tuition of $600 a year at Cleveland Central Catholic. When the dry-cleaning revenue significantly declined, which led to the closure of the business a year before he graduated from high school, Senyak says Our Lady of Mercy Church helped pay a portion of his tuition in exchange for his helping out at the parish.

   Gertrude Senyak was a regular presence at neighborhood meetings. At Gertrude Senyak’s funeral at Saint Augustine Church in January of 2018, Tremont West Development Corporation staff person Scott Rosenstein said Mrs. Senyak was the person that made him feel welcome in the neighborhood when he first started working in Tremont. He said at neighborhood meetings her smile, kindness, and warm greetings of people using their first names, made all feel genuinely welcome.

   At Gertrude Senyak’s funeral, Fr. Joe McNulty recalled how, when he first came to the neighborhood over 40 years ago, he took his clothes for dry cleaning at the Senyak Cleaners and was told, “You’re a priest. We cannot charge you.” He said he continued to use their dry-cleaning service where Gertrude worked with her late husband Henry on the corner of Scranton and Starkweather.

   McNulty noted the involvement of the Senyak Family at the Our Lady of Mercy Parish (now closed) and the St. Augustine Parish in Tremont. He said how proud Gertrude Senyak was of her son Henry’s activism in the Lincoln Heights Block Club, and the Tremont and Near West Side neighborhoods.

   Gertrude Senyak had much to be proud of in her son’s contributions to the neighborhood and the City of Cleveland.

   Henry Senyak recalls how his involvement in neighborhood issues began to escalate due to his and his mother’s concerns with noise and unruly patrons at the Starkweather, a bar across the street from their building where Henry and his mother resided above the former drycleaner building’s storefront.

   In 2004, frustrated with the noise and unruly behavior of patrons of the Starkweather,  Henry Senyak wrote a letter to the editor of the Plain Press. An Ohio City resident, Ted Thelander, saw the letter and called the Plain Press office and said he would like to help Henry Senyak address his concerns about the Starkweather. He asked the Plain Press to share his contact information with Henry Senyak.

   Senyak recalls meeting with Thelander at the West Side Market Café. Thelander, who had spent many years as a consultant to the restaurant and hospitality industry, shared his knowledge of various regulations and codes that governed the operations of bars, nightclubs and restaurants. Thelander willingly became a mentor to Senyak. Reflecting back, Senyak says, “I owe a lot of my knowledge to Ted Thelander. He taught me a lot.” In an article in the November 2020 issue of the Plain Press honoring the memory of Ted Thelander after his passing, Senyak says when he first met Thelander “I was just a mild-mannered citizen at the time.”

   Armed with the knowledge of occupancy permit limits, fire and safety code restrictions, zoning code, building and housing codes, noise restrictions and the rules surrounding liquor licenses, Senyak was successful in reigning in the behavior of patrons at the Starkweather. Word soon spread of his success, and residents of other neighborhoods saw him as “the go to guy” to help them tackle problem bars, nightclubs, and entertainment venues in their neighborhoods.

   Seven years later in 2011, Cleveland City Council appointed Senyak as the citizen representative on an Ad Hoc Committee to recommend changes in the zoning and licensing of bars and restaurants and other entertainment venues. An article in the May 2011 issue of the Plain Press by Chuck Hoven titled “Residents weigh in on proposed regulations for restaurants, bars and entertainment venues”, notes that at Senyak’s urging, thirty residents from six Near West Side neighborhood came to testify before the Cleveland Planning Commission and offered their concerns about the recommended changes in the zoning, licensing of bars, restaurants, and other entertainment venues.

   After the Planning Commission meeting, residents continued to monitor the legislation as it worked its way through Cleveland City Council. The legislation recommendations were never passed by City Council, but a new noise ordinance passed by City Council did result from these efforts.

   Senyak, who had been a member of his block club before his heightened involvement began in 2004, soon became chairperson of the Lincoln Heights Block Club. He also served as a member of the Tremont West Development Corporation Board (TWDC) of Trustees for six years and was elected by the general membership of TWDC to serve as President of TWDC in January of 2012.

   Senyak spent a couple of years volunteering his time riding around at night monitoring streetlight outages and reporting them to Cleveland Public Power’s automated repair system.  In March of 2011, Ohio City Near West Development Corporation hired him to continue his street light monitoring in the West Side portions of Ward 3. An April 2011 article in the Plain Press by Joe Narkin titled “A bright streetlight is a thing of beauty for Henry Senyak” noted the amount of time Senyak spent as a volunteer streetlight monitor, “During 2010, Senyak reported 2,900 defective streetlights to the CPP automated repair system, and he estimates that each call took him approximately 3 minutes to complete.”

   Senyak’s experience negotiating agreements with bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues came in handy when, as chairperson of the Lincoln Heights Block Club, residents of the neighborhood raised concerns about being able to stay in the neighborhood when faced with rising property taxes. Senyak reasoned that the new 15-year tax abated developments in the neighborhood were contributing to rising property taxes for long term residents, many of whom had much lower incomes than the new arrivals. He worked with the Lincoln Heights Block club to have the development fund, now named in his honor, as part of the Reaching Lincoln Heights Neighborhood Plan.

   Senyak described some of the positive contributions that area business owners and developers are now making to the Lincoln Heights neighborhood. He said, Chris Lieb, who owns the Tremont Tap House (in the building formerly housed the Starkweather Tavern) has been a good neighbor, hosting block club events in his tavern. Josh Rosen, a partner in Sustainable Community Associates, a developer in the neighborhood has contributed by having a landscaping crew maintain the areas along Starkweather and Kenilworth under the freeway overpasses. Rosen also provides Giant Eagle gift cards to block club members to help with their grocery budgets. Senyak says Rosen sees the value of helping to maintain the social and economic diversity in the neighborhood by helping existing residents so they can afford to stay in their homes as property taxes rise.

   Senyak is confident in turning over the leadership of the block club to young and very capable successors. He is also pleased with the relationships the block club has nurtured over the years. Unlike the controversial early years of his tenure as Lincoln Heights Block Club Chairman when the block club was engaged in battling with area businesses over concerns over health and safety, Senyak says the block club now has a very good relationship will all area businesses. “There is rarely controversy within Lincoln Heights; there is harmony, which ultimately was the goal to begin with,” he said.

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