“Please note that Lakewood could create a similar program with their CDBG repayments or current funding if they so chose.”
We’ve all seen neighbors inspire each other. One person cuts the grass, then the neighbor decides it’s time for him to do it, too. One paints a house, and someone else gets the idea.
As vacancy, abandonment, and demolition creep out from the central city, entire neighborhoods could use some of that inspiration as they deal with the forces that would wreck the very assets that distinguish those old neighborhoods from suburban homogeny. Lakewood–which has been dealing with a steady stream of demolition threats to significant, historic property–could use a dose of inspiration. Cleveland offers no shortage.
Consider the Hessler Street Fair— where drum circles are always in fashion, where the vegetarians might just outnumber the rest of us, where Cleveland’s own Afrobeat sensation Mifune played their final gig last weekend, where some of the most optimistic people in Northeast Ohio gather annually. Hessler has a back story that gives Lakewood a deeper cause for celebration than that first (and long-awaited) sunny spring weekend of 2011.
According to Hessler.org, the fair was launched more than three decades ago to raise money for the preservation of the unique residential neighborhood in the heart of the CWRU campus: Victorian homes with front porches closely huddled along short streets paved in brick and wood block, surrounded by the city’s biggest arts and educational institutions. It’s a great neighborhood on any day, and when the Hessler Street Fair is going on, it’s a triumph of grass roots activism.
The Hessler Street Fair started when the local development corporation, University Circle Incorporated, wanted to demolish houses on Hessler to build dormitories and parking lots. People who lived there didn’t want that. So they turned their annual block party into a fair to raise some money in support of the Hessler Neighborhood Association’s preservation efforts. That was 1969. Hessler Road was dedicated as a landmark district in Nov. 1975 by the City of Cleveland. Thirty-six years later, it’s still one of the most beautiful and interesting residential blocks in town.
Meanwhile, over in Collinwood, the Northeast Shores CDC hopes to preserve its own landmark, the LaSalle Theater http://northeastshores.blogspot.com/2010/01/public-come-out-in-force-for-lasalle.html. Built in 1927, the LaSalle fits Northeast Shores’ (and the neighborhood’s) vision of an arts district anchored by the Beachland Ballroom and the many galleries along Waterloo, and populated by the many artists that live in the area. Northeast Shores bought the LaSalle out of foreclosure in 2009 to make sure it would be used in a complimentary way, and not knocked down. That a CDC would buy a building in the hope of preserving it puts an institutional twist on the grass roots effort that saved Hessler Road. But it’s the same kind of dream: The neighborhood likes its unique buildings. As much as they are a challenge, they are also its brand.
Now, in Lakewood, residents are grasping for ideas to save the Detroit Twin theatre from the wrecking ball as rumors that a local McDonald’s franchise has designs on that location—designs that, in typical McDonalds fashion, probably involve the demolition of the existing building.
Lakewood could take inspiration from Hessler Road and from Collinwood. But only if someone takes up the charge. The local development corporation, Lakewood Alive, does not seem inclined to stand in the way of any new commercial investment, even if it means demolition of some of the neighborhood’s most obvious architectural assets. The Lakewood Historical Society established a fund to move (and therefore preserve) the Civil War-era Matthew Hall House. But its owner knocked the house down before the plan could be executed. Without a significant fundraising effort, LHS is not financially positioned to take stewardship of a significant commercial property.
But none of that means someone couldn’t step up.
Northeast Shores executive director Brian Friedman was kind enough to answer gyroscopethattakesyouplaces’ questions about his organization’s efforts to preserve the LaSalle, on East 185th St.
According to Mr. Friedman, the LaSalle was built in 1927 by a bank that occupied one of the building’s storefronts. It has a one-screen movie theatre, four storefronts, and five apartments. Most recently used for an antique car show (for which the theatre seats were removed) the LaSalle hasn’t been used at all in about a dozen years. The last movie was shown there in about 1995. All the storefronts and apartments were occupied, however, until the foreclosure evicted the occupants about two years ago.
Concerned with the possibility that such a significant piece of the neighborhood could deteriorate or be demolished, Northeast Shores bought the building for $150,000 in September, 2009. According to Friedman, the sale was made possible by special financing from the Village Capital Corporation and Enterprise Partners—financing from a loan pool intended for the acquisition of key properties for future development. The loan pool is only available within the Cleveland city limits.
Friedman says “If not for this loan fund and having a sympathetic lender, there is no way that we could have done this.”
He adds, “Please note that Lakewood could create a similar program with their CDBG repayments or current funding if they so chose.”
Owning such a building comes with some ongoing costs. The seller paid back taxes when Northeast Shores bought the property, but Northeast Shores is responsible for taxes that have accrued since then. (Friedman is working to get the taxes reduced: The county values the property at $650,000, though that’s more than 4 times the most recent sale price. For now, the LaSalle is in the Board of Revisions’ mix of backlogged cases.)
And of course finding a viable use for such a space—a buyer with a business plan and the capacity to execute it—provides a zoo full of metaphors for actually dealing with the challenge: It is the elephant in the middle of the room. It is the 800 pound gorilla. That would be the case in Lakewood, too.
Northeast Shores took the neighborhood through an open house / visioning exercise in January, 2010 to generate ideas for the space. Friedman’s belief is that a brewpub in that location would serve the neighborhood well. He says there’s been some interest, but no one has yet signed a commitment.
The loan gave Northeast Shores two years to come up with a plan for the LaSalle. That means it comes due in September.”
“We are very hopeful that one of our three decent (brewpub) leads . . . gets firm soon,” he says.