Page 280

Cleveland: Confused City on a Seesaw

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: The Miracle

A miracle took place 22 July 1975 -- the regional transit miracle, the most unbelievable piece of forward progress in the Cleveland community in the last fifty years. Considered against the familiar background of the two-bit parochial viewpoint, and the suicidal tendency of Greater Cleveland to fly apart into five dozen fragments at the mere suggestion of county-wide cooperation, it was hard to realize it had actually happened. In the final months of 1974, city of Cleveland officials, county officials, and suburban mayors were still at each other's throats in the familiar scenario of petty squabbling. Yet, when agreement was finally reached after Christmas, and everyone realized that there simply had to be unanimity to get the proposed l-percent countywide additional sales tax approved, to finance regional transit, unanimity appeared as if by divine magic. It simply had to appear, to get Cleveland back on the track (no pun intended).

The final legal details, to enable the newly created Regional Transit Authority to purchase the Cleveland Transit System, the Shaker Rapid Transit and several suburban bus lines, were agreed on by the signing of several memoranda of agreement beginning in February, and the decks were cleared for a county-wide campaign to get the voters to approve the 1-percent sales tax in July. For a while, it seemed as if the familiar


Page 281

bickering might hang things up again over the amount and duration of reduced fare to be charged by RTA, but the bickerers finally got together on a hot day in Council President George Forbes's office, and agreed on the following: (1) a base fare of twenty-five cents would be guaranteed for three years, instead of the fifty cents base charged by CTS and the seventy-five cents base by Shaker Rapid; (2) free interchangeable transfers would be issued on all the lines (3) all senior citizens (over sixty-five) and handicapped persons could ride free at all times except the two-hour morning and evening rush hours, and even then need pay only twelve-and-a-half cents a ride (eight tickets for one dollar); (4) no extra zone fares would be charged on the suburban lines; (5) additional new routes and more frequent service on old ones would be added; (6) improved security would be provided at parking lots and inside rapid transit stations; (7) the reduced fare would begin 5 October and the 1 percent sales tax collected beginning 1 October.

With this package to sell the voters, and all the members of the new RTA appointed, the miracle began to happen, pointing toward the special election 22 July. It was understood that, if the tax passed, the federal government would chip in with a handsome subsidy -- for every five dollars raised locally, Uncle Sugar would add four dollars for capital improvements; and for every one dollar raised locally for operating costs, one dollar would be added by Uncle Sugar. It was also understood that a series of public meetings would be held in every section of the county, at which citizens could tell RTA members their own ideas on what new routes, crosstown lines, and other improvements were needed. The suburban bus lines to be absorbed by RTA, either through outright purchase or contract agreement, included Euclid, North Olmsted, Maple Heights, Garfield Heights, and Brecksville. Agreements to continue cooperative service were to be made with Cleveland-Lorain, Greyhound, Trailways, Orwell, and B.I.C. bus lines.

The big selling job began at once, sparked especially by three members chosen to represent the suburbs -- Richard S.


Page 282

Stoddart, who was elected president of RTA, Mayor Walter C. Kelley of Shaker Heights, and Frederick J. Lynch. A large citizens campaign committee, chaired by Jay L. Hanna of Ohio Bell Telephone Company, was formed and began to raise funds for advertising and promotion; $237,000 was contributed, largely from Cleveland-based corporations and law firms, but also from members of the transit union. Then the miraculous unanimity began to appear. Strong editorial support came at once from the Plain Dealer, the Press and the suburban Sunpapers, and from the TV and radio stations. The Growth Association backed it enthusiastically. Speakers began to fan out to explain the transit needs to Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, church groups of all faiths, PTAs, union meetings, Republicans, Democrats, independents, mugwumps, blacks, whites, chicanos, ethnics, who were all asked to help, and did. Only one faint murmur of disapproval came from a local of the United Auto Workers. The effort was 99.48 percent affirmative and done efficiently: it had touched base with everyone. Nothing like it had happened in the last fifty years. It was truly a miracle in volatile, fragmented, seesaw Cleveland.

The miracle's final phase came 22 July when 156,000 Cuyahoga citizens voted yes and 66,000 voted no, an affirmative margin of more than two-to-one. It was not a total victory over parochialism, since seventeen small suburbs voted against it, but in the larger suburbs and the inner city of Cleveland the vote was strongly favorable.

(Yet in spite of the unprecedented ballyhoo and cooperation and no real opposition, only 32 percent of the county's eligible voters had participated. Despite the continuous drumfire of publicity, 466,000 registered voters had stayed home. The Cleveland Press, in particular, had campaigned persistently, usually on page one, for regional transit for the last eighteen months. Cynics suggested that it would be well to cool the euphoria, for it would not last.)

The RTA proceeded at once to fulfill its promises, and held four public meetings in August and six in September. It re-


Page 283

ceived dozens of suggestions, mostly for route extensions. It announced that ninety more busses would be put in service on 5 October; and over the next five years, sixty new rapid transit cars and three hundred new air-conditioned busses would be added. The objective was to give the community an attractive, comfortable, reasonably priced, clean public transit system that would attract citizens who had been driving their cars to work, paying high parking fees, and using gasoline at increasingly higher prices. The month of October began with high enthusiasm and even astonishment that a community miracle of cooperation had finally been achieved. A great idea's time had finally come, and prospects for future good ideas seemed good. The characteristic, perennial Cleveland seesaw had swung upward again, and everyone seemed happy.

It seemed for a while that the community might pull itself together, in another direction, to bring the 1976 Republican national convention to Cleveland. The Republicans had come here in 1924 and 1936 and found the Public Hall highly satisfactory. Since then, a large underground addition to the Hall had created a big, new Convention Center. The Convention and Visitors Bureau was anxious to bring a big political convention here to achieve favorable attention for Cleveland in all the national news media. Mayor Perk was eager to land it, because he had another reelection campaign coming up, and as one of the few Republican mayors in the country, he would be helped by having President Ford nominated here. Governor James A. Rhodes, who had been elected again in November 1974 (he had served eight years, 1963-71, previously) in a surprise photo finish over Governor John J. Gilligan, Democrat, was also eager to have the Republicans meet in Ohio, since he was one of the few governors who was a Republican.

So Perk and the Convention Bureau made a serious bid for the big convention, and found somewhat surprisingly, that Cleveland would get favorable consideration, since it was in the politically important Middle West, right next to President Ford's home state, Michigan. A search group from the GOP national committee reported favorably on the Convention


Page 284

Center's ability to handle the big and complicated technical facilities necessary for TV, radio, and newspapers, and the seating of hundreds of delegates and alternates.

There was one fatal flaw in Cleveland's bid. The community did not have enough hotel rooms to house all the people who would come. The Convention Bureau and Growth Association officials knew it, Perk knew it, the newspapers and TV knew it. Any way it was added up, Cleveland would be about three thousand rooms short despite the adequacy of the Convention Center. Cleveland would not be in the running unless the mayor could produce another miracle, consisting of three thousand hotel rooms.

Perk tried hard, suggesting that the city could lease three cruise ships that plied the Caribbean. It would cost about $3 million to bring the ships. At this point, Council President Forbes, Perk's almost perpetual enemy, had another attack of community cooperation and pledged that he would get the council to appropriate it.

Other snags developed, however. It was suddenly realized that the ships' staterooms would not have telephones in each room, and it would be expensive to install them, though technically possible. So Perk switched course, and suggested another substitute. He could have fifteen hundred quick-built modular homes constructed on the big parking lot next to the stadium, north of the Convention Center. (Forbes said the $3 million could be used for this purpose, instead of the ships.) Each house could have a telephone installed, but there would still be only one bathroom for each two delegates. There just wasn't any good substitute for the three thousand hotel rooms, which were essential since delegates normally spent more time in them, drinking, yakking and love-making, than in the convention hall.

Despite the obvious shortage, the news media encouraged Perk, encouraged Rhodes and the Ohio congressmen to put the heat on for Cleveland, and bore down on the national committee members. But when the final vote was taken, the search committee voted seven-to-zero in favor of Kansas City


Page 285

(which was also in the strategic Middle West) and the full national committee ratified it unanimously.

It was a good try, but obviously doomed from the start. Nevertheless, the fact that George Forbes, Mayor Perk, the Convention Bureau, the Growth Association, and the news media had worked together on something else in addition to regional transit, was regarded by many as a great civic plus. On the other hand some skeptics felt that trying (and failing) without having the necessary hotel rooms was simply another Cleveland flop, trying to play in the big league in a bush league manner, the sort of fall-short technique that had hampered Cleveland so regularly in the past, and made the community a national laughingstock. Coming in second to cow-town Kansas City did not help Cleveland's mediocre image.

There was still present the persistent, nagging question whether Cleveland's familiar ups and downs would produce a revitalized downtown and Cuyahoga River front, or whether the blight that had infected Euclid Avenue would continue to spread.

The biggest plus for rejuvenating downtown came in August 1975 when the imaginative redevelopment plan by Lawrence Halprin & Associates was finally unveiled. It had been evolving for two years, and Halprin and his helpers, a San Francisco group, had been holding "workshops" with all sorts of well-wishers, investors, storekeepers and do-gooders. There were high hopes that this new group of planners would come up with something sparkling as well as practical (they had planned the splendid Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco), although filing cabinets in Cleveland were full of previously produced elaborate plans that had come to nothing and were gathering dust. The Halprin Plan had cost the Cleveland Foundation $315,000. Herbert Strawbridge, head of the Higbee Company (who had been doing some planning along the Cuyahoga River front on his own) said he was pleased. Mayor Perk and members of the Growth Association, which had devoted its annual "Future of Cleveland" luncheon to the


Page 286

occasion, listened eagerly. (But it was symbolic of the way big things so often backfire in Cleveland that the presentation by Halprin was marred by out-of-focus slides.)

The guts of the Halprin plan were these: (1) block auto traffic on Euclid Avenue from Playhouse Square to Public Square, and transform the street into a pedestrian tree-lined mall, with a trolley running up the middle, and busses in three other lanes; (2) build smaller malls on East Fourth Street between Euclid and Vincent, forbid auto traffic there, too; (3) revamp the Public Square by barring auto traffic from Ontario Street, depressing Superior Avenue (which would still carry traffic) and elevating and terracing the areas surrounding the Soldiers & Sailors Monument; (4) change the traffic flow around the central downtown by creating one-way streets.

The newspapers, as anticipated, were ecstatic. The Plain Dealer devoted a full page inside and half of page one to praising and detailing the plan. A page one editorial gushed that it has "color, pizzazz, magnetism, lift. It could make Cleveland one of the most attractive cities of America, make the downtown area crackle with fresh vitality." The Press likewise went into an editorial swoon.

Obviously this crackling and lifting would not occur spontaneously, so it was announced at the luncheon that Francis A. Coy, the May Company chairman who would soon retire from retailing, was to become president of a new group, the Downtown Cleveland Corporation, which would be financed with $100,000 from the city, the Growth Association, and the Cleveland Foundation. This was a hopeful note, for Coy had been the principal civic mover and shaker among local businessmen for nearly twenty years, a man of great energy and persistence. The perennial optimists among the civic bund, who had been trying to lift the sagging downtown by its bootstraps for years, could see the light twinkling at the end of the tunnel. Obviously all this would take money, millions of dollars, from local and state governments, and private investors. Coy said he wasn't exactly sure yet how much, and he knew the plan would have to be sold to the rest of the commumty.


Page 287

At once the fragmentation, skepticism, and doubt so characteristic of Cleveland, the argumentative seesaw city, began. Even in the same edition of the Plain Dealer that gave the plan's details, came sharp criticism from activist neighborhood groups who could not see how it would help them. There was strong doubt from spokesmen in Buckeye-Woodland, Glenville-Collinwood, and from a west side group that calls itself ACT. Council President Forbes had serious doubts. Leonard Ronis, general manager of the new Regional Transit Authority, said flatly the proposed Euclid Avenue trolley, with only three lanes for busses, was impractical, and the redoing of Public Square would pose major problems, because the entire RTA network of busses goes through the Square.

So it was clear that if the new day was going to dawn for downtown, important obstacles would have to be overcome. Some nonbelievers were already saying it was simply a scheme to help the big downtown stores, and that small shopkeepers along Euclid Avenue hadn't even been consulted about the proposed mall. A lot of small storefronts were still vacant from East Seventeenth Street to the Square.

Some developments on the plus side had been occurring before Halprin came. The Playhouse Square Associates, a group of young businessmen sparked by Ray Shepardson, had scored a success in keeping entertainment alive in the block from East Seventeenth to East Fourteenth. Mostly by promoting and encouraging two cabaret-theaters in the lobbies of the State and Palace theaters, which had been dark since first-run movies shifted to the suburbs. The new restaurant, called by the odd name of the Last Moving Picture Company, was doing a fine business in the location that was once Stouffer's, opposite East Fourteenth Street. Another new restaurant, the Rusty Scupper, had been opened across the street. The Associates said they had $500,000 equity and $2.1 million in mortgages in the various properties. They were hopeful that Cleveland State University, which had another recent infusion of state tax funds, would take over the big old Ohio Theater, close by the State, Allen and Palace, and use it for a performing arts facility.


Page 288

To the west of the Square, Strawbridge of the Higbee Company had already begun changing the face of the river front around the old Settlers Landing, by tearing down ancient buildings and replacing them with something new and attractive. They had already opened a new restaurant which called itself the Cleveland Crate and Truckin' (sic) Company.

Some new life had indeed been injected elsewhere into the downtown area. Chester Commons park had been created among buildings in the Chester-East Thirteenth area near Park Centre, and young workers from surrounding offices began to brown-bag their lunches there. The musicians' union furnished gratis small but live combos to play there and at the end of the new Huron Road Mall.

The biggest plus, which had already changed the face of downtown Cleveland, was the new Justice Center, opposite the Lakeside Avenue Courthouse. It was a gigantic piece of construction, which had torn up an entire block, bounded east by Ontario Street, north by Lakeside Avenue, west by West Third Street, and south by St. Clair Avenue, and designed to house not only all the commons pleas, criminal courtrooms but also the county jail, the Central police station and the municipal courtrooms. (These facilities had since the early 1930s been located in two buildings side by side on East Twenty-first Street north of Payne Avenue. They were the perfect proof of how public facilities once considered splendid and modern become totally inadequate in forty years.) When the police station and courts-jail building were erected in the late twenties to replace ancient ones demolished by the Van Sweringens' Terminal project, they were hailed as the finest of their kind in the country. The four-story police headquarters, with a short-wave radio tower on top, and municipal courtrooms in the upper floors, were spic-and-span, efficient, built to order after much study. The courthouse next door, with an "escape-proof'' jail occupying the top seven floors in a narrowing tower, had been planned after much cogitation by judges and the bar associations. It provided ample room for the county prosecutor's office and the grand jury and clerk on the ground


Page 289

floor, and four courtrooms on the second floor; prisoners could be brought down for trial from the third floor via a special stairway. Automobiles could be driven into the basement and prisoners unloaded and whisked upstairs on special elevators, after booking. The police building also had an underground garage and a city jail in the basement.

Both buildings soon ran out of space as the city grew and crime increased. The police administrative offices and the county prosecutor's office had to be cut up into little cubicles to house the additional staff (in 1975 the prosecutor had sixty-five assistants; fifty years before that, when I covered the criminal courts beat, there were ten). Space for additional criminal courtrooms had to be provided in the Lakeside Courthouse and for additional municipal courts in the city hall. The police traffic bureau, the busiest office in the building, had to move across the street, into rented quarters. The underground garage was totally inadequate. Throughout the building, police officers and the citizens who came to do business with them were almost literally tripping over each other; the halls were crowded, the courtrooms were chaotic messes, and the building had acquired the same foul odor so characteristic of the old Champlain Avenue Police station, which had been bulldozed away by the Vans.

Within twenty years it was obvious that the two new buildings were too old and too small, but, as usual in Cleveland, it took years to get cooperative action on behalf of the public. One bond issue after another was proposed for a new courts-and-jail building, and voted down. (The voters had an unbroken record that went all the way back to 1918 for defeating court-and-jail bond issues.) Though the situation became more and more desperate, nothing was done to improve it. Finally, a mammoth plan was conceived to solve the city and county problem in one swoop, a Justice Center that would put all the courts, police and prosecutor's offices, jail, and so forth in one skyscraper twenty stories high, which would cost an estimated $61 million. It was put on the ballot in the fall of 1970, in a year when there was much unrest over the Vietnam War, law


Page 290

and order, seizure and damaging of college buildings, and general nervousness about the future; believe it or not, another miracle happened. The newspapers, bar associations, and all the civic cheerleaders were unanimous that it had to be done. It passed, by a sizeable margin.

No sooner had the bond issue been authorized than customary bickering and haggling between public officials began, this time between city and county. It became obvious at once that because of inflation the original $61 million would nowhere near cover the total bills, and arguments over who would pay for the cost overruns took place daily. (In the end, the big job would cost about $125 million.)

Nevertheless, demolition of old buildings soon began and the project became the best watched since the Vans built the Terminal Tower. It did not include as much acreage as Erieview, but the tear-up was watched by more people, since it was in an area that people used -- the stadium, the courthouse, the county administrative offices, the auto license bureau and auto title transfer office. (One of the best known buildings demolished was that of the Penton Publishing Company on West Third Street.) Within a year or so, a tremendous hole in the ground was being filled with footings for the huge building; soon the structural steel was going up, and by 1975, it began to look like a skyscraper that the public would be proud of.

While the Justice Center was rising, hitches developed in the Tower City project in back of the Terminal. Almost from the moment it was proposed, an impasse had occurred between city hall and U.S. Realty, Inc., which proposed to develop it on land between West Sixth and West Ninth streets. Because it would have to be built over the bridge-like structure that supported West Sixth and West Ninth, engineers said it would be unsafe unless the bridges were repaired. Since they had been erected fifty years previously, cracks, much rusting, and other deterioration had occurred. The city officials said the developers ought to pay to fix this. The developers said the railroads, which ran underneath the Terminal, were responsible.


Page 291

(The impasse became even more solid because the Penn-Central, which owned the tracks, had gone into bankruptcy and was not paying out money for anything.)

In spite of this obvious difficulty, the civic cheerleaders were still hopeful that the new state office building, which Sheldon Guren had got his Democratic friend, Governor Gilligan, to promise, would eventually go up. It was badly needed, to absorb all the numerous bureaus and branch offices located in sixty different rented buildings all over the county (the sixty didn't even include liquor stores, highway patrol stations, hospitals, and auto license offices). Then came an unexpected blow. Guren and his law partner, Edward Ginsberg, became big losers in the collapse of Hill Industries, a tax-shelter construction promotion in Texas, which had turned into a disaster for dozens of other well-heeled Clevelanders, including prominent doctors and lawyers, and by mid-1975, was thoroughly bogged down in bankruptcy petitions, insolvencies, and a zillion lawsuits.

U.S. Realty put the brakes on the Tower City project, and because Gilligan had lost the governorship, it was feared that the state office building might become a permanent casualty. Governor Rhodes, however, rushed into the breach with an optimistic promise to put up the building anyway. He had proposed a building for Cleveland years before, so he couldn't easily back off now. The building ought to go up without delay, he said, but there was delay. The State Building Authority, which had erected a state office tower in Columbus and a huge underground parking facility under the State House, dragged their feet on it. The legislature, spurred by Cleveland members, passed resolutions, urging them to get on with it. It was finally approved by the building authority in October 1975.

The Halprin plan had passed lightly over two areas that should have (but hadn't) been splendid areas for development, the lake front and the river front. The Higbee Company plans for Settler's Landing were focusing attention on the winding river, as a fascinating geographical lure for people to eat and drink and enjoy scenery, but the lake front was a total


Page 292

disaster as a people-puller. Sixty years ago, Edgewater and Gordon Parks and Euclid Beach were clean and safe for swimming and much patronized. Today, except for boat lovers, who used docks at Edgewater and near the Municipal Light plant, and a few fisherman who cast lines out daily, the lake front was unused by people. The Whisky Island area west of the river, was used by the big ore boats, and the West Ninth area next to the stadium, for loading and unloading miscellaneous cargo, largely on foreign ships. All the way east, as far as the harbor breakwater extended, the shore was slowly eroding and useless for recreation. Bathers had to go west to Bay Village and east to Mentor to find clean water. The Halprin plan said vaguely there should be better connection between the downtown and the lake front and river front. Indeed there should.

There were several favorable factors that were improving the seesaw city. The Playhouse was producing more and better shows in its three east side theaters, and becoming economically solvent with the help of foundations and local gifts. A Shakespeare repertory company was producing well-attended shows in Lakewood and had become the beneficiary of a big bequest by a west side millionaire, Kenneth C. Beck. The Blossom Music Center, halfway between Cleveland and Akron, was becoming more and more a delightfully attractive summer-evening rendezvous for hundreds of fans of the Cleveland Orchestra (but the truly enormous crowds only turned out for the blam-bam of rock-and-roll groups with weird names). A new theater, the Front Row, just off the I-271 freeway in Mayfield Heights, opened late in 1974, and suddenly became the in-place, because it furnished top flight entertainers from Las Vegas, Hollywood, and New York. Strawhat theaters were flourishing in Chagrin Falls, Bay Village, Berea, and farther-out places like Canal Fulton, Ravenna, and Warren.

An unhappy result of the Front Row's success, however, was the closing of Musicarnival, the theater-in-the-round, which had been well patronized for twenty years under a tent near the east side race tracks. For the first time, several of its


Page 293

shows lost heavily, the final few weeks of the season were cancelled, and John Price, the entrepreneur, who had dreamed up the idea, said he was looking for a new location. This was a definite minus for the community.

The cultural activities of the community were well patronized. The Art Museum regularly had big attendance. The Orchestra was sold out during its regular fall and winter season (and got enough additional contributions to make it come close to breaking even). Cleveland Magazine, which had a slow start, was now flourishing under Editor Mike Roberts, the ex-city editor of the Plain Dealer, and seemed likely to become a permanent moneymaking fixture. Its articles were more and more perceptive and added a new dimension to journalism here. Channel 25, the public broadcasting station, was well supported by public subscription.

Nevertheless, on the side of important minuses, the major crime rate continued to rise. It was up overall 17 percent in Cleveland, and higher in the large suburbs, too. More mindless, senseless killings were taking place, and the homicide total was exceeding 1974 and climbing. Juveniles, uncontrolled by parents and truant from school, were starting at an earlier age to get high on drugs, and to rob to support the habit; they kept graduating to more and more serious crime as they grew older. Two-thirds of the adults indicted for felonies were on parole, probation or bail, and most of them had started to go wrong as kids. Senseless vandalism had almost destroyed many school buildings. Bicycle theft was becoming a new sport, matching auto theft. And people of all ages still hesitated to go downtown at night.

There was no good reason why they should go downtown at night. All the first-run movies were now showing in the suburbs. Aside from the new cabaret theaters around Playhouse Square, occasional shows at the Hanna, and baseball games in the spring and summer, there was nothing to attract more than a few hundred who would come down to eat and be amused. Downtown was almost dead at night and considered dangerous. Euclid Avenue east from East Thirtieth Street to


Page 294

East 107th Street was a honky-tonk area, patrolled by hookers who used the motels to service their customers in; except for a few used-car lots, east end Euclid was mostly bars, cheap hotels, porn shops, and X-rated movies, and the few little stores that tried to operate put protective screens and bars on their windows at night, and triple-locked their doors.

The police had become accustomed to the increase in weekend homicides, but there was seldom any city-wide news in them. Bombs were exploding more frequently, and a couple of them caused news editors' eyes to pop. One of the blasts killed Shondor Birns, who had spent a lifetime in rackets of one sort or another, and even served a few years in prison. Another explosion, however, failed to hurt Danny Greene, who had been charged with a variety of crimes, but managed to beat most raps and seemed to have a charmed life. The bomb destroyed part of his house, but Greene escaped harm.

Many cities get emotionally involved with their sports teams. Mostly the fans get charged up about the pro sports, but there are notable exceptions where they go wild about first-rate college football teams. (Columbus goes absolutely daft every fall over Ohio State, which draws more than eighty-two thousand to the campus stadium every home game; there is comparable madness at Ann Arbor, East Lansing, South Bend, Indiana, Oklahoma City, and Lincoln, Nebraska.) In Boston, the fans live and die with the Red Sox, in Cincinnati with the Reds, in Pittsburgh with the Pirates. Even as big as New York is, there are some fans as nutty about the Mets and Yankees as there used to be about the Giants and the old Brooklyn Dodgers.

The emotional involvement increases in direct ratio to the games won, and if a team is in a tough fight for first place, enthusiasm for the local braves seems to get out of control. The citizens may find many things to complain about in the way the town is governed, going up or down economically, gaining or losing population, but they all identify with a winning team.

Unfortunately for Cleveland, winning teams in baseball have been rare. The Indians won pennants in 1920, 1948, and


Page 295

1954, and won the World Series in 1920 and 1948. In the fifties, they finished regularly in second place, and in the sixties the picture became more dismal; only once did they finish as high as third, and usually they were around the bottom. The frustrated fans kept on hoping through several changes in ownership and a half-dozen managers, which never found the right formula for winning or breaking even on gate receipts. In 1974, in a spectacular move to change this, General Manager Phil Seghi made national news by appointing Frank Robinson, the first black manager in the big leagues. (The Indians had seemed to be in contention earlier in 1974, but slumped badly in the final weeks, so naturally, the manager, Ken Aspromonte, had to go; managers don't last when they don't win or come close). Robinson had been a big star in both the American and National leagues. Robinson did well after a shaky start in 1975, and the Indians in the final two months were hot, but they had a struggle to reach a .500 percentage; but 1975 was the best year an Indian team had in a long time.

For ten years the Cleveland fans had gone daft over the football Browns, which had a habit of winning, but their luck turned in 1974, and they had a losing season. Their coach, Nick Skorich, had to be fired, too, and a new coach, Forrest Gregg, was appointed. The 1975 team started with nine consecutive losses, a dismal record.

The other pro teams seemed to be infected by the blight, too. The basketball Cavaliers were just so-so at the start, and the hockey Crusaders had two new managers in succession. There was also a pro tennis team, the Nets, which had a habit of losing, and were drawing a mere handful of spectators.

The over-all picture was not one to cause Cleveland sports fans to cheer and leap in the air, so they remained glum. Even the opening of Nick Mileti's new Coliseum at Richfield, in October 1974, did not make them happy. Something went wrong with the ice machine, which caused postponement of the first two Crusader home games. When a good-sized crowd did show up for any event, parking problems seemed insoluble.


Page 296

(Mileti, meanwhile, had sold almost all of his stock in the Indians, and the club's financial affairs were in the hands Alva (Ted) Bonda, one of forty-three partners, who was not originally a baseball man. He was a partner of Senator Howard Metzenbaum in the parking-lot business, which they, had sold to IT&T.)

So the sport picture was cloudy at best. There was hope, but no certainty, that the pro teams would turn things around next season. The Cleveland fans have no patience with losers, so they continued to bad-mouth the city as well as the teams. Psychologists say that citizens feel doubly frustrated when their sports heroes let them down after a big build-up. In the case of Cleveland, the seesaw city, the roller-coaster community, the pain was especially acute, because the typical fragmentation and political volatility of the community prevented them from feeling proud of the town as a place to live and work. There was so much daily pulling and hauling that everyone seemed unhappy. The suburbanites worked in Cleveland, but didn't want to live there; and both young and old preferred to dine and seek entertainment in suburban restaurants and theaters. The blacks who had made it economically were moving steadily to the eastern suburbs; the polarization was all too obvious. The old conflicts, political and economic, persisted and rankled.

A report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) said that the community of Cleveland was second in the country among big cities in its social and economic problems -- worse than New York, Detroit, Chicago, and Baltimore. Only Newark, New Jersey, ranked worse than Cleveland. The study used figures on unemployment, education levels, income, crowded housing, and the number of people under eighteen and over sixty-four dependent on government, to make comparisons between the city and suburbs.

So despite the euphoria generated by finally getting Regional Transit under way, and the happy talk about the Halprin plan, Settler's Landing, and the new apartment complexes attracting people to live downtown, there were big


Page 297

problems to be settled before the city would reach an even keel, grow up politically and economically, and cease to be a Yo-Yo, a seesaw city. Until some way could be found to bring new tenants profitably into the vacant Euclid Avenue store fronts formerly occupied by Bonwit-Teller and Woolworth's and a half dozen other empty shops between East Fourteenth Street and the Public Square, that area would still appear to he dead or dying. The Halle store opposite East Twelfth Street had been vastly improved when Marshall-Field took over; but for the most part, the white suburban matrons still did their regular shopping in the big east and west shopping centers -- Severance, Southgate, Westgate, Parmatown, Richmond Mall, and Great Lakes Mall. No one said it out loud, but there was no question that the presence of large numbers of black shoppers along Euclid Avenue acted as a deterrent to them. Yet there was no other place where the blacks in the central city could shop conveniently. They lived only a short bus ride from Euclid and Prospect avenues, where the stores were, and they came down by bus.

Ralph Perk was easily elected to a third term as mayor in November 1975, defeating Arnold Pinkney, president of the school board, with nearly 55 percent of the vote. The election was again decided on racial lines, though both candidates pretended it wasn't. Perk got 90 percent of the total vote in the heavily ethnic wards, and Pinkney got 90 percent in the completely black wards. The black vote is somewhere between 37 and 42 percent of the total, and even if Pinkney had gotten 100 percent of it, that was not enough to win.

The final result was made certain when Perk, in the September primary, ran only a couple of thousand behind Pinkney, despite the presence then of a half dozen also-rans, including a couple of west side Irishmen. With the also-rans out, Perk was a cinch to beat Pinkney head-to-head, and he did. No new issues were presented in the last month, and the campaigning was moderately clean and gentlemanly.

Once again, however, it proved that the city is polarized racially, as Jim Carney said it was in 1973. (It also proved


Page 298

that Perk was not hurt at all by his overwhelming defeat by John Glenn when he ran for the United States Senate in 1974.) On his own turf, Cleveland, Perk still got the votes of the ethnic groups, most of whom consider themselves Democrats. They have elected every mayor (except Stokes) for the last thirty-five years, beginning with Frank Lausche in 1941.

The Cleveland voters turned down another charter amendment to permit mayor and council to be elected for four-year terms, rather than two-year. They also defeated several councilmen who had supported President George Forbes in the past, so Forbes might have more of a problem in the future if he should decide to continue as perpetual adversary to Mayor Perk.

The election also turned into a ten-strike for Dennis Kucinich, the "aging enfant terrible" (as described by Robert McGruder of the Plain Dealer), who chose to run for clerk of the municipal court instead of another term in council. In a badly split field, Dennis won with a plurality of 37 percent of the total, thus giving him a noncontroversial, administrative public berth for six years, from which he could build a personal organization, confound the regular Democrats, and prepare to run for mayor at the time he chooses (the mayoralty is his admitted ambition). Kucinich has shown himself to be the most adept young politician in years, getting his name in the papers and his face on TV almost every day, and choosing his enemies carefully. At times he has been for Mayor Perk, and against him, and for George Forbes and against him. He seems to land on his feet, like a cat, and merits watching. He wins, no matter what. Kucinich's brother, Gary, ran for council in the ward Dennis had represented for several terms, and won easily.

The election really changed nothing, but at least it provided two more years at city hall of the same thing, and gave Perk and the business community a chance to get together on improving the city, and implement all the new hopes and plans for redevelopment. Indeed, as recession and inflation began to fade late in 1975, it seemed that the seesaw city might be


Page 299

headed for another upward swing. Though Cleveland's population was still shrinking, the metropolitan area as a whole was holding its own.

The Growth Board was still making its big pitch to keep improvement going with its new slogan, "The best things in life are here." The banks and savings and loans were aggressively seeking new depositors. The news media were as usual making happy talk about the "new downtown" and patting themselves (and the community) on the back. If the opinion-makers and civic cheerleaders could someday be convinced (and content about it) that Cleveland is not a metropolis like New York and Chicago and doesn't wish to be one like Detroit and Los Angeles, but instead is a provincial, pleasant, busy big city with a small town character and homogeneity, everyone would feel better, and the typical bad-mouthing that Clevelanders give their city might cease.

In the twenties, Cleveland seemed to be growing into a metropolis. This changed during the big depression. Every time things began to look a bit brighter, the nit-picking syndrome, the eternal bickering and hassling among officials, the two-bit parochial viewpoint, the inability to agree on any sort of consensus or to follow any leader for long, has prevented it. So Cleveland still remains the Yo-Yo community, upsy-downsy, the city on a seesaw. The TV comedians have laid off somewhat recently, but the citizens, the residents, are still complaining. So the situation is normal, as it has been for over fifty years.

 

PREVIOUS CHAPTER TABLE OF CONTENTS