This series will detail particular aspects of life and development, both politically and culturally, of my hometown of Cleveland. My hope is that these tangible examples and points made can be recognized by the reader and applied to life anywhere else.
Welcome to Hough, Cleveland.
This east side Cleveland neighborhood welcomed thousands of visitors every summer for over 4 decades as the home of the Indians from 1901-1946, as well as a variety of other baseball and football teams dating back to 1891 when League Park was first constructed at the corner of Lexington and East 66th Street.
This neighborhood was a place where magic happened for all those fans back then. Walking around the block of the old ballpark, you can look around and try to envision what it must have been like on a game day: kids running down from the front porches across the street, racing their brothers to the gate (maybe a few of them trying to slip in undetected via a slight opening in a fence), Bob Feller throwing warm-up pitches from the mound, people in local taverns buzzing about how badly they hope the Indians will stick it to Joe DiMaggio or Babe Ruth. True Americana. Hough in the early- to mid-20th century was a Cleveland equivalent to Brooklyn, NY: middle class, ethnic, blue-collar, family oriented, very densely populated, and obsessed with baseball. Streetcar lines criss-crossed the lively neighborhood as a true focal point of Cleveland life.
Then the 1960s happened. Race riots featuring the National Guard. The 1970s didn’t help either. Deindustrialization and decline. The 1980s and 1990s brought more of the same. The housing crisis in 2008 really finished off the little of what was left of Hough. League Park saw it all happen as it sat vacant (though mostly demolished) for over 50 years.
Until recently, that is, when in 2014 the park was completely refurbished and the Baseball Heritage Museum opened up, a rare positive for the beleaguered community. When League Park reopened, the neighborhood had already lost 30% of its total population in the last decade, but reclaiming a part of its history seemed to produce a new pride on the streets. Hough was, at least for some, a destination again. Along with other positive developments like the opening of Chateau Hough Vineyards, it seemed like the true nature of these Clevelanders was coming back: hard work, creativity, grit, optimism in the face of adversity, and sacrifice for the betterment of the local community.
Enter councilman TJ Dow to do his best to stunt growth. Though he represents one of the poorest neighborhoods in one of the poorest major cities in America, Mr. Dow seems more interested in making sure his friends have access to resources than his constituents have access to jobs, entertainment, and a higher quality of living. In addition to his many past failures to let individuals capitalize on the neighborhood’s prime location near Cleveland’s “second downtown” of University Circle (home of Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Clinic, the Cleveland Orchestra, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cultural Gardens, Western Reserve Historical Society, among many more institutions), he is back at it again to try to prevent League Park from reclaiming another portion of its venerable legacy.
The latest proposal in Hough is for a building right across the street from the old ticket office, right at Lexington and E. 66. A former church called “Straight Up Missionary Baptist Church,” it has been vacant for more than a few years now. Bob Zimmer has a great idea for the now useless building: an ice cream parlor/cafe, baseball memorabilia store, and broadcast studio that could be staffed by neighborhood kids. Capitalism at its finest. Who doesn’t like ice cream and baseball? Who could be against employing underprivileged teenagers?
Well, Mr. Dow for one. Though not to be too critical only of him, it seems that the entire city council prefers government-funded “jobs” for these teens as the answer to what they admit is a huge problem, namely youth unemployment. Quite a bit of time and energy is put into funding dubious “jobs programs” with taxpayer money and navigating bureaucracy and complaining about how if we don’t just force tax dollars to the poor we are anti-progress or insensitive, etc. Meanwhile, guys like Bob Zimmer (who runs the Baseball Heritage Museum, teaches local kids baseball, among other such noble activities) have actually done all the thinking already, have their own money already, and want to give their idea a shot. Why not let him try it out? What does Hough really have to lose?
For some inexplicable reason, it matters quite a bit what Mr. Dow and his councilmen cronies think of what other people want to do with their money and talents. In the past, Mr. Dow has wanted private development to be accompanied by additional funds directed towards his “community development” program in the neighborhood. In his strange world, that money will lead to more jobs and wealth for the community. But why? What is the basis for this concept? How does the private development, employment, and the general building up of this area as a potential tourist destination NOT help the community in exactly those ways?
Mr. Dow, who is black, says he thinks this kind of establishment will attract unruly teens from the (96% black) neighborhood, which could lead to fights or even gunfire. This is nonsense. So what does Dow think is better? Couldn’t anything open to the public in theory attract bad people? Do we just have to bulldoze Hough?
It must be easy for people like Mr. Dow, who have never spent a day in the private sector (assistant county prosecutor and now councilman, after about a decade at university) to have a vast overestimation of one’s own knowledge, as such people have never once been objectively tested (via market forces) to determine if they are actually good at anything at all. All people like this are capable of doing is winning popularity contests (elections). They have no fundamental understanding of what a job actually is, what wealth actually is, or even of what responsibility actually is. Thus they are quite content to sit back in their comfy government funded chairs and tell everyone with skills, ideas, and passion what they cannot do and what residents should and shouldn’t want.
Moving from Mr. Dow’s view of what’s best, let’s look at someone who lives in Hough, under the reign of King Dow, one John W. Mann. I found an open letter from Mr. Mann after googling a bit to try to find out what happened to the Straight Up Missionary Baptist Church. Here is what he had to say:
My name is John Mann, and I’m a new member of a very nice (but very poor) church called The Straight-Up Missionary Baptist Church. We’re located in a poor Inner-City neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio at 1572 East 66th St. near E 66th and Superior.
As a new member to this church I was surprised (and saddened) to find I’m one of only a few members of the church to have a job.
These are some very nice but very poor folks.
Anyway, the gas in the church is turned off so I am working to help them raise the money to get it turned back on before winter sets in (and winters are COLD in Cleveland!)
Anyone wishing to make a donation to the church directly, please contact me at email@example.com
You’ll get a tax write-off to boot because the church is a non-profit organization here in the US.
So Thank you and God Bless,
John W. Mann
Just from this simple letter, you can feel the modesty and authenticity of Mr. Mann and his church. No suggestions to write to the councilman, or the congressman, or the senator. No demands for more “community development” funding. No plea for more Section 8 housing or higher welfare payments. No, rather Mr. Mann embodies the Cleveland attitude: we have a problem and I want to do something to fix it myself. This is what it means to be a community, even if it is struggling as much as Hough is. These people don’t need a wise man to tell them what they can or can’t do. They need the space to thrive.
Hough, and the world in general, could use a few more Bob Zimmers and John Manns than TJ Dows.