About Cleveland, Community and Economic Development, My blog., Opinion, Uncategorized

Demolishing the CIA.

Lat week, I spotted on Twitter a tweet about what will be on the agenda for that week’s Cleveland Planning Commission meeting.  The thing that stuck out for me was not just seeing the request for grants for the East 185th St./Marcella sewer project (and a permit to demolish a building next to the LaSalle Theater for what I hope is more parking) but something at University Circle.  It’s official, they now plan to demolish the old Gund Building on East Boulevard that was home to the CIA.  Now, for all those who don’t live on the North Coast, CIA can also mean the Cleveland Institute of Art which sold this building to the Art Museum and CWRU when it moved everything to their new facilities on Euclid Avenue a few years back.

Naturally, I have many memories connected to the 1956 building.  Not only did I take a painting class there but I was there practically every weekend because of the Cleveland Cinematheque which I was a strong supporter of.  I knew practically every inch of that building.  In fact, the drawings and proposals in the basement done by its industrial design students helped inspire me to write a piece a few years back on the fate of the Design District proposed by one of its’ instructors, Dan Cuffaro, for the are around Playhouse Square.

While the new Institute of Art Building is very nice, it’s still not the same for me.  Not only have I not gone to a Cinematheque show in months but when there I only see the main lobby and atrium.  Everything else seems hidden away.  As for the old building soon to be demolished for a park, I’ve walked past it at least a dozen times this year heading to other places.  It does look forlorn and you can see it’s been vacant for a long time.

Things keep changing.

 

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A Quick Little Post, My blog., Opinion, Uncategorized

Fifty year anniversaries.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination in Memphis Tennessee of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.  This was just one of the many events that took place in 1968 that we will be hearing about this year.

In the Washington Post’s Daily 202, James Hohmann gives what I think an excellent analysis of MLK’s final speech.   “His case for the virtue of nonviolent protest, boycotts and pushing the country to live up to our shared ideals is timely. His paeans to unity, economic justice and the moral obligation to look out for the least among us are timeless.”  I also believe that his proposal for a Poor Person’s March on Washington still resonates 50 years later.

It’s like, if things went differently in that year, this country would not have come to the state it is today; and I don’t mean the election of Donald Trump.  His election is really the  final product of things that have been wreaking havoc in my opinion this nation for 50 years and this utter feeling among people who see things have been falling apart.  The idea of a Civil Society (let alone a Great Society or making America Great Again for that matter) has kind of evaporated. Of course, hindsight is twenty-twenty.

Robert F Kennedy was in Indianapolis on that day and that very night delivered what is considered one of his best speeches.  Of the cities that rioted that night, Indianapolis wasn’t  one of them.  “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.”  Where is there now in this country a man or woman who can say such things and we can sense that they truly mean it?

While journalists, historians, and talking heads on cable amp up coverage of this anniversary, and many do note how tragic it all was, for many now, it’s just another item in the background of their daily lives.  In fact, for many who lived through that year, all those events that fill our history books in college didn’t seem to hit home then either.  I know in the case of my Father, marrying my Mother in November of 1968 was something that was far more tangible than the Tet Offensive.  Having come back from his stint in Vietnam in the Spring of 1966, that was all behind him and he had a new car, a steady job at a company called the Towmotor Corporation, and got engaged the December of the previous year. He has never mentioned to me who he voted for in that year for president, or even if he bothered to do so.

As for my Mother, she had a younger sister who got married in March of 1968 about a week before Lyndon Johnson announced he wasn’t going to run again for re-election.  Last month, I went to her house to celebrate her fiftieth wedding anniversary to my uncle.  They had a big crowd, and not just family, but many of their friends were there too.  There was a very nice cake, plenty of snacks that made a meal, and champagne to toast the couple.  It was a very nice evening and the weather was much better than it was when they tied the knot.  Later, just for the heck of it, my uncle brought out another  bottle.  It was of a rare brandy from France called Liqueur de Mirabelle.  Flavored with the plum that only seems to grow in the Lorraine region, and, if I heard right, it was a gift from my grandparents in 1968 or he got it somehow to give to my grandfather who never took it. Anyway, for the first time in 50 years, he opened up the bottle and a few brave souls like myself took a sip.   It had become pure rubbing alcohol.

A lot of things in the past fifty years have left a bitter taste in many people’s mouths.  Of course, the reasons vary.  For me, as someone who worked on political races in the past and had a History major in college, I do honestly believe that we have lost a lot as a nation since 1968, and not just in terms of the economy.  We had another armed gunman, this time a woman, attacked YouTube’s headquarters in the Bay Area, wounding three before killing herself; all over how they treated her videos it seems.  Meanwhile, Congressman Rohrabacher (R-California) speculated publicly, with no grounds, that she was probably an illegal alien.   Madness breeds madness.

I think I will look back at those two speeches now.

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A Quick Little Post, About Cleveland, Uncategorized

Easter Saturday at Wojtila’s Bakery; A Quick Little Post.

IMG_20180331_091838I came across this bakery in Euclid, Ohio, almost 20 years ago when I was chair of a coffee and pastry committee at ‘the job’ and heard about this from someone I don’t recall.  For about seven years each Friday morning I would drive over to Wojtila’s on East 222nd Street and pick up a dozen or so doughnuts, miniature potica rolls (Slovenian nut rolls), and danishes.  It was pretty much a thankless task and I gave up eventually but I did get to meet the people who work there.    I also learned they had wonderful lady locks and at Easter very good egg breads and Daffodil cakes.

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Now, what is a daffodil cake?  Originally an Easter tradition made at the old Hough Bakeries, it is an angel food-chiffon cake with white frosting.  The frosting can be flavored either with lemon or pineapple and it was a constant fixture at my Grandma’s Easter breakfast every year after going to church.   Since Hough Bakery closed, more than one bakery (including Heinen’s of all places) have tried to fill the demand.  To me Wojtila’s comes pretty close.

So, this past week I took the time to call and place my order to pick up at around nine in the morning today.  As one would expect it was busy since many other people were coming to pick up their orders as well.  I also got to chat with the owner, Mrs. Wojtila, who used to pick up the phone when I placed those orders for work over a decade ago.  While the original bakery in St. Clair closed years ago, this one and the one they have out in Mentor are still open.  I didn’t ask her how busy the Mentor one gets.

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Another Easter is upon us, may everyone who reads the blog have a wonderful one.

Photographs by James Valentino

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A Quick Little Post, My blog., Opinion, Uncategorized

Thoughts from a Mad Man on a Great Lake.

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Yesterday, I just looked at the list of posts for this blog and I can’t believe that I have written so many by now.  So far this month, Mad Man on a Great Lake has received 107 views from people who actually bother to look at it.

Sunday, I was at the Cleveland Museum of Art which for regular readers of this blog know is a popular place for me to visit.  They have a new exhibit called Eyewitness Views: Making History in Eighteen Century Europe.  Perhaps the subject of a future post, the exhibit has many beautiful paintings form the 18th Century of receptions, festivals, contemporary events, and natural disasters in such cities as Venice and Naples.  It was there, at the improvised gift shop at the end of the show, that I came across a paperback edition of The Age of Conversation by Benedetta Craveri.  Translated from the original Italian, it’s a look at more than just words, or French Nobility under the ancien regime, or even the creation of what we used to call ‘polite society’.  As Ms. Craveri writes in her introduction;

“It was an ideal characterized by elegance and courtesy, an ideal that countered the logic of force and the brutality of instinct with an art of living together based on seduction and reciprocal pleasure.”

Of course, in the age of social media, networking, texting…and not really getting close to people in person anymore, the art of conversation is a bit of a lost art.  Perhaps it’s sometimes good to look back and read a real book like this.  Naturally, history major that I was in college, I bought it.

Spring is in the air in Northeast Ohio, the snowdrops are not only blanketing again the slopes of the Fine Arts Garden at University Circle but also my brick pathway in my garden.  Crocuses and violets are starting to bloom and I do see a little bit of yellow on a few early daffodil buds, ready to unfurl their petals.  Hyacinths seem to be emerging as well.  Hope springs eternal.

 

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A Quick Little Post, Opinion, Uncategorized

In Like A Lamb.

When I turned on the television this morning and found out that Conor Lamb won that Congressional race in Pennsylvania I was pleased.  Despite a very busy month, I did try to see what all the talking heads had to say about this race for a district that will shortly vanish from the map.  I had a feeling he would win and at least personally it feels good to know my instincts were right.

Charles Pierce in his latest piece for Esquire says it so much better than I can about how this affects things for November.  To think that Democrats may have a good shot at winning back the House is still surprising.  As for what it portends for Ohio, it’s more complicated.  With the Ohio Democratic Party basically operating with the same play book (or lack of) under David Pepper that Chris Redfern and David Leland used with lackluster results doesn’t seem to inspire me much.  On the other hand, there are some pretty good candidates out there running for the first time like Betsy Rader for Congress in the District 6 (David Joyce’s seat) and Judge Michael P. Donnelly for the Ohio Supreme Court.  Let’s not also forget those up for re-election like State Senator Kenny Yuko in District 25 who helped broker a bipartisan agreement on changing the congressional redistricting process.  As for Senator Sherrod Brown, I can honestly feel now that he has no problem being re-elected no matter how much money the RNC, and Jim Renacci, throw at the race.

It just goes to show you that if you stay true to the Democratic Party’s real message of not only protecting but expanding the social safety net, pursuing program to rebuild our infrastructure, improve everyday American’s quality of life and not get bogged down in identity politics and show that government can work, well, people will vote for guys like Conor Lamb.

This gives me hope.

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A Quick Little Post, About Cleveland, My blog., Uncategorized

One More Quick Little Post.

IMG_20180311_115315It’s hard to write on a blog when you have so much else going on.

Recently, I went out to a local garden center to check a few things such as what spring bulbs and seeds have arrived and fertilizer for my spruce tree.  While there, I stopped in their houseplant display room where everything was in bloom.  From potted gardenias with their fragrant white blooms to florist cyclamens and African violets, they were are welcome sight to see right now as my snowdrops try to keep growing despite day temperatures not reaching 40 degrees F.

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I have written enough about spring here in Cleveland for all of you who don’t live here to get an idea what it’s like.  Soon places like the garden center will be packed with people buying things for their yards and so will I.

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Photographs by James Valentino

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A Quick Little Post, Community and Economic Development, Opinion, Uncategorized

Another Drive Down The Pennsylvania Turnpike; A Quick Little Post.

When I set up an appointment in January to meet with Mr. Rick Swartz of the Bloomfield-Garfield Development Corporation in Pittsburgh, PA, I didn’t know that there wouldn’t be any snow on February 20th 2018, but that it was almost 80 degrees there.  Not only was traffic on the freeways fine for a weekday, but for once someone else happened to drive; a fellow East 185th St. Block Watcher named Dennis who actually was willing to drive!

Pittsburgh February 20, 2018, Offices of the Bloomfield-Garfield Dev Corp.

The Offices of the Bloomfield-Garfield Development Corporation.

Anyway, the main purpose of this road trip back down the turnpikes was to meet with the Director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Development Corporation, Rick Swartz, and later finally see Bakery Square.  Rick has been the Executive Director of this community development corporation as long as I have been familiar with the neighborhood.  In January, I sent him an email asking if I could ask a few questions related to the project I’m working on.  He replied that he’d be more than happy to and eventually agreed to meeting the day after Presidents’ Day.  What turned out what I thought would be a fifteen to thirty minute chat became almost an hour until our busy schedules put an end to it.  He was very nice in answering not only my questions but providing more information and leads than I imagined (of course most will be put in my project and not on this blog).  I will say this though; they have a lot of hard-working people working there and it’s all based on the premise that a decentralized, and team player, approach  to community revitalization is what really works.

The day was full of surprises in a way, not just the almost summer like weather or the hamburg I had for lunch with Dennis and one Jason Sauer at a place called Tessaro’s.  By trying to find out where Jason (the subject of a few posts on this blog) is renovating an old house he bought (named Rowdy Park after his son), my colleague and I accidentally stumbled upon one of the latest and I think more impressive projects built in the neighborhood; Garfield Commons.  Driving up the hill from Penn Avenue, I did see the infill housing construction done on vacant lost on those streets but a development like Garfield Commons really surprised me.  Built by a public-private partnership between the City Housing Authority and a private developer, Garfield Commons is the only mixed income project in the neighborhood.  Only one-half the units are slated for low-income households, the rest is moderate.   In fact, as the picture below shows, the units wouldn’t stick out in a suburban development here in Hudson or Avon.  This is not what one would imagine for low-income residents and that’s the point.  While there is still a lot of blight and abandonment in Garfield, things have really been changing in the past ten years.

The development corporation got into developing housing originally because no one else wanted to do so.  Now, developers are coming in on their own. For existing home owners, many being African-Americans, whereas in the past if you sold your house you’d only get what you paid for, property values have now risen enough that they actually have equity.  Instead of being pushed out like they were in places like the Lower Hill decades ago, neighborhood residents will see their homes appreciate in value.

Ironically, the existence of Bakery Square a mile down the road, and Google’s 450 employees there, hasn’t really impacted the community.  What has, are the universities with their adjoining technology programs and the researchers who need a place to live.  However, Garfield is far from being gentrified which is exactly what Rick and his staff don’t want to happen.  Somewhere down the line, he would like to see a Land Trust set up to focus on preserving the neighborhood’s affordability. “We will not be here forever as the Bloomfield-Garfield Development Corporation,” he said.

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A view of Columbia Street in the Garfield Commons development,

Once again, I am absolutely grateful for Mr. Swartz taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with me in person like he did.  For someone like myself who has basically self-published or written locally that was quite amazing.

Sometimes you are just meant to do something.

Pittsburgh February 20, 2018, View from Jason's yard towards Downtown.

The view from Hillcrest Street looking towards downtown.

 

Photographs by James Valentino

 

 

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