The diversity of Cleveland Heights’s architecture was soon reflected in the diversity of its population. Several of the early developers envisaged an English-style garden city, with residences for the elite and the upper middle class. Presumably they had the city’s Anglo and ethnic-German elites primarily in mind when the first houses started going up. But by the teens and twenties, Jews were moving into the Heights in substantial numbers, and Jewish cultural and religious institutions soon followed.
In 1927, B’nai Jeshurun, one of Cleveland’s oldest Jewish congregations, built a million-dollar Moorish-Byzantine structure, designed by Charles Greco of Boston and widely known as the Temple on the Heights, becoming the first Jewish congregation to relocate from the city to the suburbs. Others followed; Anshe Emeth Beth Tefilo, or the Park Synagogue, was completed in 1950 on Mayfield Rd., by renowned German modernist architect and émigré Erich Mendelson.
Cleveland Heights’s success in integrating Jews earlier in the century may have eased its acceptance of African Americans in the 1960s. In 1963, during an era in which racial tensions were growing in the city and white flight was accelerating, a group of Heights residents began to meet informally to discuss integration. In 1964 they formalized their organization as the Heights Citizens for Human Rights. They began an outreach program that included informal coffees and evening meetings. The goal was to encourage racial integration, a superior school system, quality housing and friendly relations. In 1972 this group dissolved itself into the Heights Community Congress, with professional staffing.
Together with neighboring Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights became one of a group of inner suburbs across the U.S. that successfully integrated in the 1960s and ’70s. In 1977 Cleveland Heights became a founding member of the Oak Park Exchange Congress, a federation of inner-ring suburbs dedicated to stabilizing racial diversity. (The federation was named after the Chicago suburb and fellow founding-member municipality, also known for its progressive architecture.) Cleveland Heights remains a center of Jewish life in the Cleveland area today, but it is a telling sign of the community’s changing identity that in 2001 the Temple on the Heights, which had been the first Jewish synagogue in a Cleveland suburb, became the New Spirit Revival Center, serving a non-denominational African-American congregation.
AN URBAN BOHEMIA
In the 1970s, Cleveland Heights developed a countercultural vibe, and it continues to attract artists, musicians, academics and theater people today. One of the Cleveland area’s most important venues for contemporary music, the Grog Shop, is located in the Heights. Nighttown, another music venue, has been named repeatedly by Downbeat magazine one of the world’s top jazz clubs and figured in its 2011 list of the world’s top 150 clubs. In general the restaurant and bar scene in the Coventry area of the Heights rivals Cleveland’s more successful reviving neighborhoods.
The Heights also continues to be renowned for the strength of its voluntary organizations. Heights Community Congress organizes the annual Heights Heritage (home) Tours, which have taken place (almost) every year since 1973 on a Sunday in mid-September; very helpfully, the Cleveland Heights Historical Society keeps the tour information from past years available on its website at chhistory.org. Volunteers also help run the annual summertime Cain Park Arts Festival. Summer street fairs are common in the city’s commercial districts, including the Coventry Street Fair, the Cedar Lee Stroll, and the Cedar Fairmount and Noble Nella street festivals.
In the 1960s and ’70s, the University Circle institutions that have made Cleveland famous around the world—the Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Institute of Music, Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic—stood out as glittering successes in a city whose historic residential neighborhoods were fading. Adjacent Cleveland Heights successfully managed racial integration during this era, and the residential luster and cultural vitality of the Arts and Crafts era still flourishes here, a valuable asset for the Cleveland metropolitan area today.
Douglas J. Forsyth is Associate Prof. of History at Bowling Green State University and lives in Toledo, Ohio. He would like to thank Ken Goldberg, Marian J. Morton, Kara Hamley O’Donnell, Franklin Piccirillo and Christopher Roy for assistance with this article.Pin It