Martin Friedman interview, 18 June 2011

In this short interview, Martin Friedman discusses Coventry Village. He says he grew up in Coventry until his parents moved them to University Heights. Martin, however, eventually made his way back to Coventry, much to the chagrin of his parents. They always thought that Coventry reminded them of the troubles they had when they "were moving on up." Martin also describes his favorite events on Coventry and what he was involved with on Coventry. He was made famous by Harvey Pekar and ornithopters, which are a toy bird that he sold during the Coventry Street Fairs.

Participants: Friedman, Martin (interviewee) / Souther, Mark (interviewer)
Collection: Cleveland Heights
Institutional Repository: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Interview Transcript

Mark Souther [00:00:02] Today is June 18th. I'm Mark Souther, and I'm doing an interview for the Coventry Reunion. Can you state your name?

Martin Friedman [00:00:10] My name is Martin Friedman, and I grew up in Cleveland, and while I left to go to school for about 15 years, I came back and I moved to Coventry and I lived in various places over the years. One of the interesting things about Coventry is that, as we all know, it was a Jewish... It was one of the Jewish neighborhoods, older Jewish neighborhoods, in the '20s and '30s. And in the 60s, I graduated high school in 1971, but what was interesting is my parents didn't like me to come down here and it wasn't because of fear of drugs. It wasn't because fear of the Hell's Angels that used to hang out here. It was the whole idea of this is what they worked hard to get away from Coventry to move further east. It was a reminder of the battle, the good old bad days of sort of moving on up. But I'm a good friend of Bruce Hennes, and he got me involved in Coventry Neighbors and certainly the Coventry Street Fair and I volunteered for many years. After a while I started selling flying birds here, the wind-up toys that... rubber-tip nose, plastic body, Mylar wings. And I used to sell them out there. In fact, I was immortalized for selling my birds by Harvey Pekar. And I can't remember the issue, but I'm in there. The only negative thing is our crumb didn't draw me. It was another fellow. But that sort of tied me to get tied me with Harvey for years to come. In 19... it must have been in the '90s when the SID was created, I became the first head of the SID (Special Improvement District). That's when the landlords got together and taxed themselves. And it was the second special improvement district in the state of Ohio. And I worked for them, and I did various things--cleaning the street--that... Other people did that, too. But I did a number of projects for them, special projects to enhance the street, some PR and special events. My favorite special event, though, had to be when I bought industrial Mylar and Mylar-ed all the trees on Coventry. I'm not sure who could forget it if they were here and they saw it. I certainly still can't forget it. Unfortunately, there are no photographs of that. But I Mylar-ed every tree on Coventry and then I strung lights around them, around the trunks and up the branches in different colors. It was sort of stupid. But it was Coventry and it certainly reflected the times and the period.

Unknown speaker [00:03:37] What year was that?

Martin Friedman [00:03:37] I don't know. It must have been in the '90s. Something like that. I'm trying to think what else. That's about it. It was great time. Actually, one of my favorite stories about the Coventry Street Fair is when, during one of them, when Bruce Hennes was the head, we were walking down the street and it was starting to get very crowded. And he said, well, we're going to put up these signs, these arrows, and we're going to make it... You walk on the right side. And they were good. We were going to do one-way street so you had to walk one way when you'd walk up Coventry, or north on Coventry, you'd be on the right side and in keeping with the counterculture attitude of people in Coventry, I was incensed. I said, how could you force us? Force people to walk one way? He said, no, we voted on it. You weren't there that night. But we voted on making this Coventry Street Fair one way. And once you passed it, you were out. But...

Mark Souther [00:04:48] Let me ask you a couple of questions about things you've already said. You mentioned selling these birds, and you described them. Was this something you created, and what was it that gave you the idea?

Martin Friedman [00:05:00] No, actually, it was another fellow by the name of Bill Lighthold and Bruce Hennes that were in business of selling these birds. And I bought several boxes of birds and I stood outside the old National City Bank and I hired kids to fly these birds. Actually, you can go to Paris now and you can see all these Africans. I've seen it, standing by the Eiffel Tower, flinging these birds. They actually fly. They're really amazing. We used to go to the Ann Arbor Street Fair and sell them. They're really annoying, but they're really terrific. They really do fly and. And so no, they were unusual because they were they were in a cardboard triangular box with the picture of Leonardo da Vinci because he invented them and they were called ornithopters, and you wound them up, and I was very annoying. I paid all these kids money to fly them. And as I used to yell to people, to see 'em fly is to buy. And we sold a lot of birds during the Coventry Street... various Coventry Street Fairs. And again, I was immortalised by Harvey Pekar.

Mark Souther [00:06:30] That's fascinating. Also, you mentioned that your parents had moved east and that they viewed Coventry as an unwanted reminder of a past time...

Martin Friedman [00:06:40] When things were not good. Yeah. When things were not good.

Mark Souther [00:06:44] I want to ask two related questions about that and then let you elaborate. One... and you can answer them after... I'd like to ask them both back to back. Where did they move and also, why did they think that was bad?

Martin Friedman [00:06:59] Well, my parents then moved up... they moved up. They moved to... University Heights is where we moved to. Upward mobility, I guess. And then they moved to Beachwood. But I think that they saw it as as a reminder, as I said of the good old bad days. I mean... I don't know, it's not... It's sort of not like... I guess it's like looking at Glenville. I mean, you go back there. I remember driving actually with Bruce Hennes a couple of weeks ago and seeing the old Jewish Center. And it's still there. You know, you see this big old dome, which is now green. And it used to be copper. And you see the names of Moses and Elijah on there. And I guess those were good days. But everything that I've heard about down here in Cleveland Heights and on the other side of Coventry, it was... it doesn't have that patina of the good old days, you know, or like down at 105th and Euclid. We were just talking about that. 105th and Euclid used to be the center of Jewish culture. And that's looked upon nicely. Yeah, but I want to thank you. I do have to go too, but thank you so much. Thank you for doing this.

Mark Souther [00:08:30] Yes, can you sign our permission form?

Martin Friedman [00:08:33] Sure, yes. [Friedman speaks to another person in the room]

Cleveland Heights

Initial interviews in this series were conducted between 2011 and 2013 at the Coventry Village Reunion in support of Historic Heights App Tours, a Cuyahoga Arts & Culture-funded grant project sponsored by FutureHeights, Cleveland Heights Historical Society, and Cleveland Heights Landmark Commission. Additional interviews were collected in 2018 in coordination with the Cleveland Voices podcast.