The Bird's Nest 7

Building the nest

Early on, perhaps as early as 1902, they formed a building association; in 1911, the state of Ohio chartered Orol (Eagle) Savings and Loan Company (now Home Federal Savings and Loan). Through this institution villagers could speed neighborhood acquisition and building. In addition, many lot owners invested "sweat equity" by building their own homes. Neighbors, friends, and relatives often helped. Those who hired builders most often paid neighbors to do the work. In either case, villagers aided one another and kept resources within the community

In the first years only a few could afford to buy or build their own homes and those who did found themselves hard pressed to meet their obligations. Villagers adopted a solution common in new urban villages: the boarding house. This institution came to play a key role during the years of settlement. In 1910, on the eve of the village's major construction boom, one-third of Birdtown households took in boarders, while boarders themselves made up one quarter of the population. Boarding worked because it provided workers with inexpensive places to live at the same time that it gave financially pressed home owners extra income. A future home owner could rent a house and use boarders' rent to pay the owner and raise a downpayment on his own home, while a boarder could save money to send to relatives or to begin his nest egg.

Boarding also served important social purposes. Families who kept boarding houses often "adopted" the boarders-most of them young men, recent immigrants. In the process unattached immigrant workers gained the benefits of a family setting and avoided isolation. Moreover, these links with families provided them with access to the emerging social life of the community

Initially, young men migrated to the neighborhood to be close to their work and to save money Eventually, as they formed their own families or sent for their wives in Europe, Birdtown builders contrived a new architectural form especially well adapted to the needs of small, young families with limited resources. The narrow lots and high initial construction costs made large-scale apartment buildings unfeasible. Instead village craftsmen produced a tenement that looks like a double house and reflects some aspects of Slovak folk housing. But, although typical "Cleveland doubles" have one family per floor and entrances and porches in front, many Bird town structures housed as many as six or eight families in separate units. The real entrances were on the side, where two sets of stairs provided access to two small apartments per floor. With side bulk largely hidden by the closeness of adjacent buildings, these structures fit well and maintain the village scale.

Like boarding houses, this layout served well the needs of the emerging neighborhood. With so many newcomers the village could have suffered greatly from dislocation. Unlike many apartment buildings where long, central, double-loaded corridors made interaction difficult, the "sixes" and "eights" provided a human scale where each corridor of four units made up a tiny neighborhood. Even the few Birdtown apartment structures adopted this pattern of side entrances and four

Orol Federal Savings and Loan
Association, 12223 Madison
Avenue, ca. 1930. Courtesy of
Home Federal Savings Bank.


Typical Cleveland Double that is in fact a tenement (1986). Notice the side Entrance that provides access to most units in the building. Multiple electric meters oz the side of the house suggest the number of different units in the building.


Last Updated May 24, 2000

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