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Accents: Where They Went

Thursday, November 21, 2002 at 2:03 PM

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There was a time when what you did, dictated where you lived. That's why northeast Ohio's landscape is made up of places like Little Italy, Slavic Village, The Buckeye-Woodland Neighborhood, and countless others. As we continue Accents, our in-depth examination of immigration and ethnicity in the region, ideastream's Renita Jablonski looks back at a time when neighborhoods were necessary in order to make a living.

Renita Jablonski: Every so often Lillian Dolenc and her husband, Matt, take a drive downtown to East 30th and Payne Avenue from their home in Richmond Heights.

Lillian Dolenc: The green tea is wonderful quality and I think the price is wonderful and it’s an excuse to come down to Asia Plaza.

RJ: The tiny mall features shops with a variety of Asian goods, as well as a restaurant. It’s representative of one of the area’s newest emerging neighborhoods. A variety of other Asian restaurants and stores can be found on the streets of nearby blocks. As Lillian Dolenc walks out of the Asia Plaza with a bag full of tea, she recalls her own experience growing up in an ethnic Cleveland neighborhood.

LD: My dad worked for the New York Central Rail Road.

RJ: Dolenc is 74. Her parents immigrated to northeast Ohio from Slovenia. Like many Slovenian immigrants at that time, they settled in Cleveland’s St. Clair Neighborhood.

The area is still home to the Goodrich-Gannett Neighborhood Center. These days the Center provides a variety of educational programs for local kids and adults, like this after-school program. But when it first opened at its location at East Sixth and St. Clair it was called Goodrich Social Settlement.

Allison Wallace: Goodrich House was established as one of the first settlement houses in the United States.

RJ: Allison Wallace is Executive Director at Goodrich-Gannett.

AW: Its primary purpose was to provide services incoming immigrants to really help acculturate them to an American lifestyle. Some of the services that we provided at that time were a nursery school, educational programs for youth and children, as well as adults. We also provided a public bathhouse and we enabled immigrants to come and do their laundry.

RJ: John Grabowski is a history professor at Case Western Reserve University. He also serves as Director of Research at the Western Reserve Historical Society. Grabowski says without the one-stop shopping that places like Goodrich-Gannett and other tight-knit communities provided, Cleveland’s early immigrants would have not been able to get by.

John Grabowski: It’s difficult to remember or to know of a time when you really had to live where you had to walk to work and that’s why these neighborhoods formed. You got a job in a particular business, particular industry, and when you found a place to live it had to be where you could, you know, reasonably get to work on time by walking. That didn’t change until electric streetcars came in, in the 1890s.

RJ: Grabowski says no matter where you look, from the Hungarian community that settled in the Buckeye-Woodland area to produce iron castings, to the Czech and Polish populations that comprised Slavic village to work in the steel mills… everything comes back to economics. Ever wonder why Little Italy is where it is?

JG: Well, what industry is there? Well, it’s the cemetery and the first settler, the first Italian settler in that area was a skilled Italian stonecutter, Joseph Carabelli. And he came to Cleveland, and I always quipped, what a better place to set up shop than, other than next to the fanciest cemetery in Cleveland.

RJ: Slovaks and Poles flocked to Lakewood’s Bird’s Nest neighborhood near West 117th and Madison when the National Carbon Company settled there because it needed a railroad line. But as Al Ruksenas at the International Services Center points out, neighborhoods provided more than just a close commute to work.

Al Ruksenas: If you would stand on one of the high-level bridges, or drive by one of the high-level bridges, what you will see typically in the old Flats area are the stacks of the steel mills and right near by you’ll see all kinds of church spires, one after another, after another, probably uncountable and that was the pace here. People would come here to work in the factories or elsewhere and right away they would build a church, and they would build not necessarily a community center, but some businessman would have a tavern and that tavern would in fact become a defacto community center.

RJ: Places like Slavic Village’s St. Stanislaus Church that still offers a weekly Polish mass draw people back for special occasions and holidays. Lillian Dolenc, for example, visits her old neighborhood at 64th and St. Clair when she and her husband are in the mood for good sausage. But she says she can’t help feeling some sadness with each visit.

LD: It doesn’t taste as artificial as the Americans make it. (laughs) I don’t know, we come down for a good time.

RJ: But all joking aside, Dolenc she can’t help feeling some sadness with each visit when she looks around.

LD: My dad’s house is still standing but it’s dilapidated and dirty, needs work.

RJ: In Cleveland, Renita Jablonski, 90.3.

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