Archive for the ‘Lakewood’ Category

2014-01-27 15.38.55 On Friday nights in the summer time in Tremont, Chick Holtkamp, Niki Zmij, and some friends occasionally climb the brick exterior of Chick’s building. It’s the urban face of rock climbing, a Cleveland reaction to the fact that we just don’t have much in the way of good natural climbing rocks around here. They attach belay ropes for safety, cling to the bricks and window sills, and go up like spiders, practicing techniques they’ll use on trips to places like Moab, or Yosemite.

Cleveland has a dedicated community of climbers, but they have to travel to find big rocks. There are a couple of small-ish rock gyms where they can climb indoors. Holtkamp and Zmij, however, have a vision of a climbing facility that would put Cleveland on the nation’s climbing map in a whole new way. If only they can get the right people to listen.

Rock climbing, Tremont style

Rock climbing, Tremont style

What they want to build is a climbing gym that takes advantage of the city’s spectacular architectural heritage. Of course there are plenty of large industrial spaces that might serve such a project well. But their vision is to use the city-owned Fifth Church of Christ Scientist. It’s one of the most celebrated vacant landmarks in the region, a neoclassical sandstone octagon that stands at the corner of West 117th and Lake Road.

The fight to somehow preserve the building has been going on for twenty years. The congregation opened the doors there in 1926 and held services there until 1989, before selling it to Riser Foods in 1991. Riser, which operated a Rego’s Grocery Store that stood nearby, wanted to level it for parking.

People in the neighborhood raised enough of a ruckus to hold up the demolition, though. They picketed and petitioned, and the grocers backed down. Riser’s first revised plan was to incorporate the structure into a new grocery store. They gutted the woodwork and other interior details, along with removing asbestos, in 1995. But the economics didn’t work out, and the plan was scrapped. In 2002 they decided working out a way to reuse the historic building was too much a burden, and they gave the property to the city of Cleveland: a gift. Since then a few developers have come and gone with ideas, including a bookstore, a produce market, and of course subdividing the structure into condominiums. Former councilman Jay Westbrook supported the neighborhood’s interest in finding an adaptive re-use for the building for years, but none of those visions became reality.  As of January 1, it became an opportunity for councilman Matt Zone.

Holtkamp and Zmij believe their proposal might have the magical combination that makes it feasible, though. First, renovating a stone building as a climbing gym doesn’t require the same level of polish as a grocery store or bookstore or pricey condos need. That would make it much less expensive. Neither does it need as much parking as any of the retail establishments that have been proposed.2014-01-27 15.39.53

Perhaps most importantly, though, it has the benefit of being visionary. It’s an inspiring way to preserve and even capitalize on a prominent piece of Cleveland’s fallow architectural heritage. Comparing it to other climbing gyms is almost unfair: It’s not a boxy warehouse, but a soaring, octagonal brick and stone space capped by a dome. The eight sides of the interior could create climbing challenges to satisfy all skill levels. There are other indoor climbing gyms, but the 56 foot dome would put this one near the top in terms of how high people could climb. And the appeal of adaptive re-use by a young congregation focused on physical activity would make it every bit as much a landmark as it was as a church.

It’s hard to imagine people better prepared to carry out the vision. Holtkamp is a respected climber, and not just in Cleveland. As it happens, he’s also a successful redeveloper and manager of old masonry buildings. He was one of the first new investors in Tremont back in the 1980s when he began renovating some of the most prominent buildings in the neighborhood. Lemko Hall, which was used in the film The Deer Hunter, is just one example. Zmij, also a climber, has worked in commercial climbing gyms.

Until the rock climbing proposal surfaced, the former church was facing the same fate as it did 20 years ago: A grocery store developer wants to demolish it for parking. As the Plain Dealer reported last fall, the best outcome people in the neighborhood dared to hope for was to keep the columns and portico standing in a little scrap of a green space flanked by parking for the grocery store. It would look like a fragment of ruin in a city park: it would be better than a total loss, but still a monument to how wealthy Cleveland once was, a sad reminder that we used to have classically proportioned churches built out of real stone.

But a rock climbing facility would keep the structure standing, and bring it back to life. It wouldn’t be the first time a hulking Cleveland vacancy was turned into an athletic attraction. Here’s hoping City Hall gives this one a chance.


Here’s a link to Neighbors In Action, a grassroots group looking to preserve the church.




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Close quarters

Lakewood houses are packed in tight, usually with nothing but a one-lane driveway and a little strip of a flower bed separating one from the next.

Sometimes two neighboring Lakewood houses are built with adjacent driveways. That makes for a double wide drive way which—in good weather, and as long as you get along with your neighbors—can be very handy for jockeying the cars around. But in snowy weather, two adjacent driveways like that pose a special kind of problem.

Because on the one hand, you can’t shovel your snow off on the neighbor’s driveway. And you can’t shovel in the other direction because that’s where your house is.

The only solution, as anyone who has one of these driveways knows, is to shovel the snow past the house, and then pile it up in your front yard. You could hire a guy with a snowplow, if you have the money for that. But most of us in Lakewood deal with our own snow.

gathering mass

gathering mass

Snow shoveling under any circumstances is solid exercise. But if you’ve got to move a big pile 30 feet down the drive—making the pile bigger as you go before you shovel the whole mess off to the front yard—that’s more than just exercise. That’s what we call “hard labor.” Depending on your health, you might just be better off hiring a guy with a plow.

But let me tell you about the “snowman method” for driveway clearing.

I invented this technique the other day, when I decided to take advantage of the packing snow and the gravity of my driveway’s gentle slope. Most driveways slope down toward the street, which makes it easy to roll things that way: Kickballs, basketballs. I began near the top of the driveway, rolling a snowball down toward the bottom.

When we say something “snowballed,” we mean it grew over time, like a snowball rolling down hill, gathering more snow. This is what happens if you roll a snowball down your driveway. All that snow—all that white mass, and the labor it represents—gets caught up in the rolling. And then, in the joyous, gravity-assisted process of making a gigantic snowball, it finds its way to the bottom of the driveway.

The fully executed "snowman method"

The fully executed “snowman method”

Once I got there, I rolled the big balls off to the side and stacked them up in the yard—hence the “snowman method.”

You are hereby encouraged to try this at home.

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The Water Moose at Lakewood Streetwalk, 2011

The swallows come back to Capistrano. The Monarchs go back to their trees in Mexico. And ever year at the same time, the Water Moose Portable Sprinkler Park returns to Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, Ohio. Like so many animals that make an annual pilgrimage, the water moose returns with just one thing on its mind: Total soakage of anyone who passes near its vast spray.

In case you don’t remember last year, here’s a little refresher: the Water Moose uses the full force of a municipal fire hydrant to convert a piece of Detroit Avenue to a sprinkler park. With the support of Lakewood Alive and the City of Lakewood, and with assistance beyond measure from Glenn Palmer at Lakewood Hardware, and with further support from the guys behind the counter at Summers Rubber Company the Water Moose is back Saturday, July 21 from 4 p.m. until the Summer Meltdown ends.

Check out this video, shot last year by the incomparable Dan Morgan. 

I like the way the whole scene sounds. The white noise of the traffic is gone because Detroit Avenue is closed to cars. Without that you can hear the steady rhythm of the sprinklers like brushes on a snare drum. You can hear kids feet slapping wet pavement as they run from one gushing sprinkler to the next. You can hear the kids voices and laughter peeling out.

The weather looks promising.

I’m just about at a loss for words to explain what joy it gives me to put a sprinkler park on Detroit Avenue. To all the dads out there, come on down and say hello. Bring the kids. Bring your mom and Dad. Heck, bring the entire family. And wear your swimsuit.

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Life, death, and resurrection, expressed in red clay

“What’reyougonnado with all those bricks,” said the truck driver as I pulled my Honda up to the fence. It was 6:30 a.m. and very quiet outside what was left of the Detroit Theater in Lakewood. Demolition was almost complete. With permission from a guy on the crew, I was there to take another load of the red clay blocks back to my house.

“I’m gonna put them in the rut next to my driveway,” I told him, which is true. “I’ve got one of these skinny little Lakewood driveways, and my mother in law drives an F-150,” I said.

Because that’s also true, and I knew the truck driver would like that. He’d think it was funny, blaming the rut on my mother-in-law, and the fact that she drives a big Ford pick-up.

“Gotcha,” he said, tilting his head and smiling, nodding in that exaggerated way that’s supposed to tell me that he knows exactly what I’m talking about because  he’s got a mother in law, too. Well, I didn’t say anything, but my mother-in-law could take his mother-in law any day of the week.

But his whole demeanor changed when I told him about the rut next to my driveway. I could tell that it mattered to him that  I had a practical use for the bricks–not some froo-froo nostalgic attachment to the way the city used to be. This guy I was talking to, he was no pussy with the historic  streetcar bullcrap.

“I don’t get it,” he went on, “there’s these people here all day watching this come down like they don’t have anything else to do. I know it’s sad, and a lot of people went to the theater,  but it’s progress, man. And you know when there’s a McDonalds here they’ll be waiting in the drive through for a big mac.”

“Yeah, that’s true for some of them,” I said. “No matter how many of us talk about how we hate McDonalds, a whole bunch of us line up to buy their crappy food.”

“Well I just gotta swap out this dumpster and get out of here,” he said. “Remember to close the gate when you’re done. They get sticky about that.”

So I watched his hydraulic truck slide the 40 cubic yard dumpster up onto the bed like those tons of demolished theater debris were nothing, and then he drove away, leaving me to pick out a few dozen bricks to lay in my driveway rut.

I’m not posting pictures of the demolition. Most of the people reading this have probably seen it in person, or they’ve seen Jim O’Bryan’s copious photos and video put up on the Lakewood Observer. Or they’ve seen Colin McEwen’s reports and video on Patch. 

But grabbing those old bricks to use them again did make me think of this, which I wrote years ago. It doesn’t have anything to do with the Detroit, actually. It was inspired by a story my friend Paul told about a guy on the east side cleaning bricks to recycle them. Still, it seems to fit.  I hope you like poetry.

I had a practical use for the bricks, but I went back later to grab this ornate piece of streetcar-era, glazed white terra-cotta, just because it is beautiful, and because I am kind of a pussy for that historic preservation bullcrap.

Used bricks: Red clay 

pieces of the broken city:

cold blocks of high fired earth

quarried, cut, baked, and laid

and tumbled back down:

match sticks to ashes, bricks to dust. 

But first, A man with a hammer

sits in the brick yard

tapping them clean for another go.

Used bricks: intersection of ambition

and industrial decay:

life, death, and ressurection

expressed in red clay.

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The Detroit Avenue Demolition Derby is on. Have we ever seen so many buildings knocked down in such short order on the city’s main commercial street?

First the church at Detroit and Arthur . . . then this neglected commercial building at Detroit and Edwards. Soon we’ll see the old Detroit Theater come tumbling down.

These three buildings are a snapshot of the way business sees Lakewood’s commercial corridor. It’s a place to invest, to be sure. There’s money to be made here. We’ve got a lot of people packed in close together–about 10,000 per square mile.

But the businesses that can afford to build new buildings here seem to be national chains, especially drug stores and fast food. And that means except for low wage retail jobs, the money made in these establishments leaves the city. I’d love to see buildings inhabited by my neighbors’ enterprises, but I fear that large corporations have priced us out of our own market.

What business comes next to Detroit at Edwards remains to be seen. At least the CVS that replaced the church steeple just a few blocks away at Detroit and Arthur offers some hope that the Architectural Board of Review will maintain the aesthetic of the city. But the style of the building is only part of the picture.

The other, even more significant issue, is what kind of business will it be? Is there an investor who believes that Lakewood is a good place to sell something other than fast food and prescription drugs?

We’ll have to wait to find out. According to the city, no development plans have been submitted for the corner of Edwards and Detroit. The building was demolished for safety reasons, to ensure that no chunks of masonry fell on passers by.

We’re assured that the lot will be graded and planted with grass until some viable use is found.  That will be nice.

I’m rooting for the owner in his quest to find something complementary to the neighborhood. When it comes to development on my block, there’s just one thing I want more than interested parties to make money on thriving businesses: I want their businesses to respect the fact that they’re built just a few dozen feet from a whole lot of private homes.

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Woodward residents picketed the Detroit Theater in opposition to McDonalds' proposal to demolish it and build a drive-thru restaurant there.

Lakewood doesn’t have any of its most hotly debated issues on the ballot this year. There’s no opportunity to vote on whether McDonalds will demolish the old Detroit Theater and bring its drive-thru traffic to Woodward. There’s no ballot issue to decide when the school system will finally finish its reconstruction project. There’s no school levy on the ballot. Even Mayor Mike Summers is running unopposed.

But one defining bit of legislation does have a representative on the ballot: Councilman David Anderson is running to keep the post he was appointed to early this year. Anderson has introduced a bit of legislation that touches at a debate that could define the way our commercial corridors evolve.

The legislation would regulate drive-thru windows by limiting the conditions under which businesses could build and operate them. Anderson asked the Planning Commission to study existing drive thrus and create rules to help the city protect its residents from the noise, traffic, and smell that would go with adding more.

It’s too late for the legislation to apply to McDonalds’ proposal, but it would apply to the rumored intentions of the Taco Bell franchise across from the Library to build a new building across from the YMCA—on a site just two blocks west of the proposed McDonalds, immediately across the street from a Dairy Queen, immediately adjacent to a drive-thru oil change shop and a drive-thru car wash.

Drive-thrus are great for highway exits. They are not great for a very densely populated city striving to market its walkability, or the character of its neighborhoods. According to the Planning Department’s study, that would be the densest concentration of drive thru businesses in the city.

That also happens to be the corner of my street. For that reason alone, I am grateful for the legislation, and for the willingness of Councilman Anderson to take it up. By the time anyone reads this, Mr. Anderson will almost certainly have won his race. But the race to keep Lakewood’s appeal to homeowners–and balance their interests against the businesses willing to invest here–is not going to be over any time soon. And that’s a much bigger battle than my little corner of the city.

Election Day is about Choice. If the city can keep its appeal to people who like walking neighborhoods with local character, it will continue to be a place where people choose to live. If the city fails, those people will exercise their choice by leaving.

I have lived this fight for as long as my family has owned our house. In the dozen years we’ve lived just a few houses north of Dairy Queen, my family has seen a steady stream of commercial proposals that would significantly damage the quality of life in the neighborhood so that one business or another could have its way.

Its not that my neighbors and I don’t like business. When Hollywood Video built on the site of the former sticky bun purveyor known as Miller’s, no one complained. When Hollywood Video was replaced by the parts retailer Auto Zone, no one complained. There are plenty of other examples.

But when Denny’s restaurant proposed building a restaurant and operating it 24-7 to cater to the neighborhood’s thriving bar scene, people got worked up.

When the owner of an entire Detroit Avenue block sought to demolish three houses, replace them with a parking lot for the same collection of bars, and have the city pay for it, we got worked up again.

When the same owner sought to demolish the Civil War-era Hall House, we tried to preserve that piece of Lakewood’s history. We lost that one, without fanfare, on the day after Christmas, less than a week before Tom George left office.

When a social service agency illegally set up commercial counseling services for 36 publicly subsidized clients transitioning out of homelessness at a poorly maintained—and residentially zoned–apartment building, we went to battle yet again.

For a city like Lakewood—clamoring for tax dollars, struggling to maintain property values—these battles are never simple, clear-cut affairs. Consider the rumored Taco Bell.

The swatch of land in question sits beneath a long-troublesome building across from the Dairy Queen. I say ‘long-troublesome’ because for years, its former landlord neglected significant structural damage. Look along the property’s edge, and you can see the walls buckling dangerously outward. Chunks of concrete have fallen from the building’s window sills, lentils, and mullions. Some chunks as big as an adult’s thigh. They fall crashing to the sidewalk below. Fortunately no one has been hurt.

Finally, last spring, the building sold. And right about that time, the rumors began to circulate. The new owner let his tenants know that he was talking with Taco Bell, courting the company to move from its current location across from the library. The tenants—a chiropractor, a hair salon, and a successful guitar studio—had all been steady, for years. But the rumors of Taco Bell and impending demolition frightened them all off. Now the building sits vacant, bringing zero revenue. It still has all its structural issues. Something’s gotta give.

I’ve lived in the neighborhood for a dozen years, and two consecutive landlords have failed to do anything about that building. It’s a property that defines “demolition by neglect.”  Now, odds are, the cost of repairs would outweigh the profitability of the place. The building seems doomed to demolition. And if the right proposal came along—like the YMCA’s one-time interest in a day-care facility there—I believe my neighborhood would be enthusiastically supportive.

The steady stream of new businesses targeting this neighborhood—from decent restaurants to the video store to the auto parts store –show that this is a city that can wait for the right proposal. We can afford to hold businesses to standards of operation that keep the surrounding neighborhoods palatable for the neighbors. We don’t have to jump at the first opportunity, if it would do more harm than good.

And since we can’t count on owners to care what happens to their property after they sell it, we need regulations that will ensure that businesses play nicely.  I’m glad to have a councilman that will take this on.

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Image from Thurbersthoughts.blogspot.com.

It’s good news that Ohio Secretary of State John Husted has to accept the petition seeking a referendum on the Republicans’ new map of Ohio congressional districts. That’s not the kind of thing that usually makes it into this blog, but I can’t let it go.

My issue isn’t about partisanship. It’s about water.

There are very few people in Ohio, I think, who do not believe that our waterways—in particular Lake Erie—are significant assets.

Whether you are a business person who believes anyone ought to be able to suck out millions of gallons of water for packaging and resale in little plastic bottles, or whether your business is charter fishing, or whether your conviction is that the lake needs to be defended against polluters and invasive species, our fresh water is an asset.

It deserves significant representation. It deserves a congressional delegation broad enough to stand up for the interests of the people who depend on it.

But the re-drawn map doesn’t just solidify some Republican districts and isolate some Democratic ones. It means just a tiny number of congressional representatives have constituents who live in communities located on our Great Lake and our biggest waterways. In fact, the way this new map is drawn, those assets gets just about as little representation as possible. That’s not in the state’s best interest. It’s certainly not in the best interest of our waterways—particularly our Lake.

We need more districts touching Lake Erie, more representatives of communities on its shores, a bigger delegation directly affected by and concerned for our biggest asset. We’ve got the Asian Carp knocking at our door. We’ve got communities in the Southwestern US running out of water and trying to figure out how to get ours. Lake Erie needs defense. And in the interest of shoring up partisan political control, this map gives our lake and our state short shrift.

The sparsely populated southeastern Ohio district 6 has been this way for a while. It’s easy to say that what all those people, stretching hundreds of miles from Mahoning County to Scioto County have in common is the river.

But the more significant truth is that those hundreds of miles of Ohio River frontage are represented by just one congressperson. Just one representative will have constituents who live in communities directly affected by the river—by the water quality, by the wildlife, by the recreational opportunities.

Likewise, the stretch from Cleveland all the way to Toledo—all that lake frontage and water will be represented by just one congressperson. Defined by the direct interests of the constituent voters, that whole stretch of the lake becomes a priority for just one congressional representative.

Doesn’t Lake Erie deserve better?

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