John Grabowski Interview, 28 April 2008

Dr. John Grabowski, professor of history at Case Western Reserve University, and historian at Western Reserve Historical Society, details the changes that have occurred in the University Circle since his undergraduate days in the late 1960's; the rise of the medical centers, new housing and the new immigration to the area. As a history major at Western Reserve University in 1969, he describes life as a commuter student during the late 1960's and early 1970's, including anti-war activities, and the impact of the Glenville riots. Grabowski discusses some problems that still affect University Circle, early anti-Italian feelings, conflicts between African-Americans and the Italian community, as well as town and gown problems between CWRU and Little Italy. Grabowski praises nationwide and local efforts to incorporate African-American and immigrant culture into museum exhibits He stresses the importance of partnering with the African-American community and immigrant groups in this effort, but admits segregation is a problem in Cleveland. He provides historic information regarding the vibrant entertainment venues that existed near East 105th and Euclid, and in the Cedar-Central neighborhood, and reflects on reasons for the decline of those areas. Other topics include opportunities in research using digitized images and the future of virtual museum exhibits.

Participants: Grabowski, John (interviewee) / Calder, James (interviewer)
Collection: University Circle
Institutional Repository: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Interview Transcript

James Calder [00:00:00] I guess we can just get started.

John Grabowski [00:00:00] Okay. Sure.

James Calder [00:00:02] I'll just ask you to introduce yourself.

John Grabowski [00:00:06] Okay. My name is John Grabowski. I am the Krieger Mueller Associate Professor of Applied History at Case Western Reserve University and also the Krieger Mueller Historian at the Western Reserve Historical Society.

James Calder [00:00:19] Okay. I think we'll start off with, you know, just for the basics. Where were you born?

John Grabowski [00:00:27] I was born in Cleveland. I was raised in Cleveland, and with the exception of two years where I spent teaching abroad, my life has been lived in the Cleveland area.

James Calder [00:00:36] Where did you grow up in Cleveland?

John Grabowski [00:00:37] I grew up on the southeast side of Cleveland in an area which bordered two traditional Polish neighborhoods, one of which was known as Warszawa, the other was known as Goosetown. So I was on the borderline between the two.

James Calder [00:00:51] Okay. Do you have any interesting early memories growing up?

John Grabowski [00:00:56] Yeah, largely my memories of growing up were walking the neighborhood with my father, who had also been raised there, and becoming interested in history because he was stuck in his own wayback machine. Sites and localities and other, other aspects of the neighborhood would, would catalyzes his memory cells, and he'd talk extensively about that. I'd spent a lot of time with him down in the Mill Creek Valley, which has since been landfilled in. It was an incredible landmark in the city but it's gone now. And that, and growing up the neighborhood since our family had no car, my travel outside of the neighborhood was infrequent and always done by bus. And until the family started traveling by train to different locations, I had no sense of the world outside of what I grew up in.

James Calder [00:01:49] Do you have any... When you guys would travel, would you ever come to University Circle?

John Grabowski [00:01:54] I came to University Circle the first time when, I believe, I was six or seven years old, and I broke my arm while at school. And I was operated on at St Luke's Hospital, but the doctor's office was in the University Circle area, so I can remember my mother bringing me down here to visit the doctor to have my arm examined and also stopping at the lagoon after the examination. The doctor's office was on Chester near what is now Stokes Boulevard.

James Calder [00:02:24] Would you have any memories of what the lagoon was like back then? I guess when was this date wise?

John Grabowski [00:02:30] Oh, this, this would have been 1958, approximately. The lagoon was, I mean, in a child's eyes, the lagoon was what it is now. And I think this was at a point either spring or summer where it's a very green memory and a very fond memory. But that essentially was my connection with the Circle until I was in high school in Cleveland and then became a participant in several programs that brought us to University Circle, particularly to a Western Reserve University or the Case School, Case Institute of Technology at that time.

James Calder [00:03:06] What, what programs were they?

John Grabowski [00:03:08] One was the National Youth Conference on the Atom. The other one was a Sunday or Saturday morning humanities program that revolved, oh, coming to coming here to watch Waiting for Godot and commenting on its... I'd gone to major work in elementary school and was AP in high school, so I ended up on a lot of regional local college tours.

James Calder [00:03:33] Okay. How did you get involved in these programs? Were they just through that, what you just said or?

John Grabowski [00:03:40] I was I guess, I guess not to be pompous, but was a good student, and I was selected for the programs, and I went to Cleveland South High. And at that point in time, there was considerable interest in taking students who were outstanding and trying to get them out of the hood, so to speak, and to involve them with learning experiences other than those they would encounter at the high school. And so that's what brought me to the Circle. And that would have been in the early '60s, early to mid '60s that I began coming out here.

James Calder [00:04:11] Do you, do you know who sort of sponsored these programs?

John Grabowski [00:04:15] Well, the National Youth Conference Program, which also took us to Chicago and to... I think it was the Argonne National Laboratories outside of Chicago were sponsored by the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company, which had a lot to do with local education at that point, a science, science program sponsorship. So I was on my way before I became a historian to become a scientist, so most of my involvement was in things that dealt with science. And of course, this was the '60s, this was the post-Sputnik era. It's an era of a tremendous amount of emphasis on increasing the scientific knowledge of American youth. So Illuminating Company did that. It also sponsored what is now known as Academic Challenge. And that's where the association comes from.

James Calder [00:05:02] Do you think... This is kind of derailing where I wanted to go, but I'll just ask you. Do you think there is less of that around the Cleveland area today? And do you think that has anything to do with, you know, the leaving of a lot of big companies just left here and...

John Grabowski [00:05:19] I don't know. I can't speak with any authority on it for two reasons. One, you know, my wife and I don't have children, so I've not been exposed to what students are offered or not offered in the school systems nowadays. I do know that certain aspects of the Circle which were de rigueur for most students. You know, I also came to the Circle for the usual concerts at the orchestra. I mean, there's still the yellow busses that queue out outside Severance Hall. But it's my understanding that musical education has been de-emphasized in a substantial portion of elementary and secondary schools. I don't seem to see, and again this isn't judgmental, the lines of busses that one used to see outside of Severance Hall. Right.

James Calder [00:06:05] Okay. What sort of memories do you have of the Circle in that area, you know, being a high school student?

John Grabowski [00:06:13] I thought it was very special. I mean, again, no one in my family had ever gone to college. So just getting on a college campus was an experience that was accompanied by some fear, trepidation, but also, you know, a great deal of pride that, you know, I was invited to come out to the campus. I do remember going to Strosacker Auditorium on Case's campus to hear, to hear a lecture or two. And the good old performance was in the former Newton D. Baker Building at the campus. And so it's, you know, it's one of those things that you sort of put in your personal quiver of honors and whatever, and I feel fairly good about it.

James Calder [00:06:55] How was... What was it like compared to today with, you know, within the campus population-wise, shock-wise. Was it similar or?

John Grabowski [00:07:04] It's, it's tough to say from those periods. When I came here in sort of a peripatetic form as a high school student, what I could comment on in terms of continuity is I, I've literally been in this area from 1967. When I enrolled, it was the newly merged Case Western Reserve University until the present, so that gives us 41 years of experience. What, what one finds in terms of difference is that structurally there are a great deal of new structures in and around campus, that the Euclid facade of the campus has changed in some ways, and it hasn't changed. It, it was always during my undergraduate days a somewhat risible topic because there just wasn't a lot of student life along Euclid Avenue. There were very few restaurants that one could go to. That situation has changed now. There are considerably more eating places for students, particularly at Ford. I'm, I'm sorry, Mayfield and Euclid. The Triangle, what's going to happen across from the Triangle promises a, you know, major infusion of new shops, stores, and museum into the area. I've watched as the organizations that constitute the University Circle community have expanded significantly. I mean this, and watching the McCullough Building rise in the old Ford factory on Euclid Avenue was a substantial change on the Euclid, the Euclid Corridor if you will. The newer additions to Cleveland Art Museum. The addition that was going on at The Cleveland Institute of Music. Even the additions here at the Western Reserve Historical Society, the new library, the Reinberger Hall, all have been part of the growth in the Circle.

James Calder [00:08:59] Do you think... How do you think the Circle has been able to grow when other parts of Cleveland have been, I guess, declining?

John Grabowski [00:09:09] Yeah. Well, I think one could argue that the Circle is probably the brightest economic spot in Cleveland. And, and the cliche, and it's probably a cliche that bears some truth, is the impact of the health care and the healthcare industry. And that you have the two major hospitals, if one discounts Metro General, within the Circle area. And what they do is they bring in jobs, they bring in traffic. They have served to anchor that portion of Cleveland Heights, though it's above the Circle, as a residential area. My field as a historian is immigration and ethnicity. I'm very fond of Little Italy, but I find it somewhat striking that Little Italy, which if one could find the house to buy and one were able to buy it there ten years ago, you could have bought a house for $55,000 perhaps. And now you have condominium and townhouse developments that start at half a million. That indicates that monies are coming in with people employed at the hospitals or employed in research. So it is essentially is... It's education and medicine that drives the Circle. The Circle is also a center for immigration and migration. A substantial, a large portion of the student body at CWRU is comprised of international students. I live on Overlook Road, right above the campus, and they're just great numbers of international students there, so it is this. It's a product that is valuable in the 21st century, and it is a product that I would argue rests on the early industrial history of Cleveland, because the culture of medicine education came out of all the monies that were made in industrial Cleveland, but now they serve to sustain at least this one area here.

James Calder [00:11:01] Okay. Excellent. I was going to back up a little bit, I guess, and continue with some of your history. How, how did you begin working in the Circle or I guess it seems like you came here with, with Case.

John Grabowski [00:11:17] Right. Well, when I was in high school, I was encouraged to apply for colleges outside of the community. I didn't know if I was going to be that adventuresome, so I applied to both Case and Western Reserve which were, at my application time, unmerged institutions. And when I did arrive here in September of 1967, they had merged and I chose to study in the Western Reserve portion of the newly merged Case Western Reserve University. I began my career as a chemistry major and went through about two years as a chemistry major. And then in 1969, I changed my major to history. A: because I liked history. B: because I had just suffered through two semesters with a rather obtuse calculus professor and essentially said, enough of this. And so I changed my major to history, much to the dismay of my mother, who was widowed, who asked me, said to me, what the hell are you going to do with that? I had no idea. My association with the Western Reserve Historical Society began that same year. This is 1969. At that point, the Historical Society was free. I had a date. I had no money. So I decided to take my date to the Western Reserve Historical Society. I had never been in it in my life. Sort of liked what I saw and I walked in the next week and asked if they had any positions open and I landed a job as the page in a library. To make what could be a very long and tedious story very short, that career here began at the same time as my major in history and at the same time began majoring in history. Moving toward grad school, I received fellowships from CWRU, so I stayed here for my entire graduate program. CWRU offered, began to offer a course in archives, archival. So when I did my Ph.D. I had a minor in archives which fit perfectly into what I was doing here. And along the way, as I developed my career in order to earn more money, I taught as an adjunct at a variety of schools: Cleveland State, Tri-C, Kent State University Library and Information School, and also at CWRU. In 1981, my mentor at CWRU, David Van Tassel, asked me to join him in the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History Project, and that began my involvement there as managing editor of the encyclopedia and currently editor of the encyclopedia. So it's all flowed together, but it's all been here [in] the, within the Circle. And the position I hold now is a joint position in, supported by endowment, that links both CWRU and WRHS. So that's, that's why I've seen 40 some years at this place.

James Calder [00:14:10] Do you think that's a typical or slightly typical experience that people with all the offer and you know, getting... You know, sticking around for that long.

John Grabowski [00:14:22] It's, it's a highly unusual position. And, and I'm very fortunate to have it in most instances. Very few schools really do want to see their undergraduates continue as graduates. And more importantly, when somebody receives their Ph.D. from a particular school, joining the faculty of that school is not something that happens. It just happened to work that way for me. So it is, it is rather unusual for me to have been able to link or pile upon one another all these different experiences.

James Calder [00:14:58] I want to... Well, okay. I'll ask a quick question. How was... This is sort of guiding off of career stuff for a second. How was student life that year when you stayed here? Did you live by campus?

John Grabowski [00:15:12] I lived at home, which was one of the saving graces. I had a National Merit Scholarship which covered all my costs in terms of tuition and even books. But there wasn't enough money to support dormitory life, so I simply lived with my mother and commuted by RTA or by car when I finally got a car. So yeah, and the food was better at home as well. So.

James Calder [00:15:35] Was there any campus activities that you enjoyed or special places?

John Grabowski [00:15:41] Yeah, I hung out with the, the commuters club. There, there always has been a group of commuters at, at CWRU. And so we had a commuters club and requisite, you know, picnics and activities, you know, movie experiences, if you will, standard brown bag, lunch tables, complete with ping pong table, and everything else. So the commuters were a small group but very tightly knit. I never really went to any type of football game here. I guess the one event that I did become involved in were the anti-Vietnam protests. I wrote some antiwar poetry which were published in some of the sort of mimeo sheets on campus. And then after the tragedy at Kent State University, this campus, which was rather quiescent—it's not a radical campus, it never has been a radical campus, it never will be a radical campus—staged a protest, and we shut down Euclid Avenue. I should say they shut down Euclid Avenue. I stayed discreetly in the background after May 4th, 1970. So that aspect of the war and the antiwar situation was very much part of my life here, particularly, as I drew number 17 in the draft lottery and knew that unless I could find a medical excuse, I was going to have to either join the military or await my fate as a, as a draftee. And I was, for better or for worse, I managed to get a medical deferment, which then allowed me to go on to graduate school. So that was it. It's, it was a very much again, it's, it's a 1960s, '70s camp as there were protest banners and posters all around the campus. Ironically, a number of those were harvested and they found their way into the archives of the library at the Western Reserve Historical Society. So yeah.

James Calder [00:17:42] Do you, do you remember any experience of either the Hough and Glenville riots causing any sort of, you know, especially the Glenville Riots, being their proximity to Case, do you remember that causing any concern within the Case students or just the Circle in general?

John Grabowski [00:17:57] It created concern in the Circle. Hough occurred the year before I came here and strangely, during that year, I was engaged as the delivery assistant for an import food company, and a lot of their customers were in the Superior–Saint Clair district. And I still can remember delivering food and seeing the National Guard on the streets there. Glenville, again, I think, proved to be frightening for the area. One of the people I work with here was at the Historical Society during the Hough Riots and recalls, you know, seeing the National Guard consistently, constantly around the periphery of the Circle and sort of the aura... That was the fear. I don't think that's the right word, but sort of the aura of something out of the ordinary, some sort of emergency, something that could perhaps be terrible that overwhelmed the area.

James Calder [00:18:56] Do you think that affected... Did that affect the area long-term?

John Grabowski [00:19:00] Yeah, I think it has. And I think what, what one deals with, with University Circle is, is and you have to be bluntly, is an issue of race. One of the reasons for the creation of what would become University Circle Inc. was Mrs. Mather, you know, looking at in the 1950s, sort of the ebbing away of certain aspects of the Circle. And as the African American population grew, I would say a concern about what could be done to keep the Circle together, to keep it cohesive. We know very well at this institution, the historical society, that it's, it's more difficult for us to attract visitorship from the western and southwestern suburbs. There is an image of University Circle that many people still carry as a dangerous place. Now, if those people define danger in racial terms, that's their problem. But that's... It's an East Side, West Side thing. So that's constant. I'm fascinated by the Circle because it's... There are a whole series of borderlands here that... I wish I had the time to study them. I mean, there is the cultural community, which is University Circle, and then there's Little Italy, which that has been a problematic borderland at times between town and gown. Then there's another borderland—and these are all morphing as time goes on, it's fascinating—there's another borderland between the Heights and Little Italy, two different issues. And then there's the borderland between the African American community and Little Italy, and the borderland between the African American community and the university and the cultural institutions. Cultural institutions have made enormous strides in efforts to bridge that particular borderland. I think they've been successful in many instances, but perhaps not as successful as we would wish.

James Calder [00:21:01] That's a lot of things I would like to talk about. Would.... I understand what you mean. I live in this area too. I lived in Coventry and I live in Little Italy currently. And it is strange. It's like a bunch of mini neighborhoods, all within one neighborhood kind of. It's one of the few places you can walk to wiith a bunch of different ethnicities... [inaudible] What, what have been some of the sort of borderland issues between, let's say, the Heights and University Circle or Little Italy and University Circle?

John Grabowski [00:21:37] So, one of my, well, I guess my favorite stories, but Cleveland Heights area around Overlook was pioneered in the 1890s as sort of the new Euclid Avenue. People were fleeing the city as it became smokier and more ethnic. So the Overlook became the region of residential choice for some wealthy Clevelanders. There were always the Italians down the hill. You know, anecdotally, we have some letters in our collection of Tom L. Johnson papers in which a resident on the Hill is complaining to the mayor about the Italians making all these noise with their fireworks in the neighborhood. And Tom Johnson punted on that. Sent it to his police chief, Fred Kohler, and Fred Kohler reported back that there was nothing the city could do since the Italians were taking the fireworks beyond the city limits. Ironically, the man who complained would later be the president of the Board of Trustees at the Western Reserve Historical Society. 1910, William Rice, a noted lawyer who lived on Overlook was, was murdered. John Stark Bellamy has written about this. And his murder took place in Euclid Heights and immediately the suspicion went to the Italians that somebody down the hill, the black hand, had done him in. So it's, there's, there's this very interesting issue of Italians. And there's, there are all kinds of stories that come there. There, there was a golf course up in Euclid Heights at one point and I believe that some of the Italians caddied there. I also know that a lot of the Italian kids went out and they caddied at other golf courses. So I find it ironic that some very good golfers came out of this ethnic neighborhood. You know, golf is supposed to be an upper-class pastime. So, you know, these borderlands cut in different ways. They, the black-Italian borderland exploded when they tried to integrate black students into Murray Hill Elementary School. There was a black man who was set upon in Little Italy. His name was Benoris Toney. I find it interesting though, now if I go to the Feast of the Assumption, I see an increasing number of black faces in the crowd. As things, things are changing. I still talk to older African Americans who will not go to Little Italy. They're afraid to go there. But yet, when I frequent restaurants there almost all the time, I'm seeing black faces in the restaurants. That is changing. I have heard, but I don't have any proof, about the resentment that the Italians had as the Case campus began to expand, particularly the south residential areas of near Murray Hill and Adelbert Road and the expansion of that area that some people felt that this was an infringement on, on their part. The other thing that redounds there, the other thing was that when there were anti-black incidents within Little Italy, the students or the faculty at CWRU would protest and they would become upset with the Italians and that just exacerbated some distance between them. I've had colleagues who would not eat in Little Italy because they wanted to protest the racial attitudes for Little Italy. So it becomes a very complex issue of, you're right, different communities, but they're now morphing. I mean, Little Italy and Coventry are becoming a single community in many ways, a community of entertainment, of nightlife, of residence for students who are looking for what used to be very affordable residential areas. There's a bus that serves, you know, Coventry. Coventry has become part of the campus of CWRU, as far as I can tell. The issues though still are, I think, to, for University Circle to work to the area to its north, which is largely African American, and to get students more involved from those communities here. But, but things do change [inaudible]. One of the highest ranking museum professionals in the United States is a man named Spencer Crew, who was the head of the Smithsonian American History Museum and then went on to head the National Underground Railroad Museum. He's African American. Spencer fell in love with museums because he grew up on the edge of University Circle, and he came to know museums and he built a career out of it. So it's, there are these positive things that come out of the Circle. And certainly here at the Western Reserve Historical Society, we have about 40,000 schoolchildren a year coming into our East Boulevard programs, and many of them are African American from the surrounding neighborhoods. We started an African American archive here in 1970. We've maintained that ever since. So, there are changes.

James Calder [00:26:29] Has there ever been attempts to make, you know, attempts to represent more African American culture within the Western Reserve or any other institutions that you've seen or for the ability, you know, not just to let them represent their culture in different ways?

John Grabowski [00:26:51] Yeah. You know, it's, it's a good question. When one looks at how African American culture finds its way into museums. And, and in the 40 years that I've worked, I've worked largely with European white, white, quote-unquote, immigrant groups. And when we started it, it was always, you know, the professionals going out to the community, telling the community what they wanted and bringing that material in. What has, has evolved from that, thank goodness, is that the community is now the engine driving this, and we work together with the community. So to answer the question, yes. Almost every museum in University Circle has had exhibits or programs that relate directly to the African American experience, whether it's African American art at the Cleveland Museum of Art, or African American aspects of culture within the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. We've done a number of exhibits here at the Western Reserve Historical Society, most currently the Carl and Louis Stokes exhibit, which is up. But increasingly, as these exhibits have evolved, they evolved as a partnership, not, as I should say, a scholarly top-down study. And this sort of empowerment of communities through and within the museum world is a major thing within museums nowadays. Chicago History Museum has been a leader in having communities come in and put together their own history exhibits, create, do their own oral history interviews, and to work with the professionals in the museum simply in the manner in which those exhibits would be constructed, or how the documents and the interviews would be preserved. That's a, that's a very welcome change.

James Calder [00:28:37] So do you have any thoughts on... I just kind of think of this from what we're talking about? I don't know if it's even in the interim of the question, but I'll ask it anyway. Is... Do you have any thoughts about, you know, why neighborhoods like Little Italy or even Coventry, which had that sort of I think at one time like a biker reputation...

John Grabowski [00:28:56] Oh, yeah.

James Calder [00:28:56] And then sort of an iffy reputation, as well as like the Hessler area, like I said, Little Italy, all those sort of neighborhoods have been able to capitalize on their sort of unique culture in some cultural areas and draw people from outside. You know, the flip side is people could talking about sort of... I want to say like a... You know, those cultures have been somewhat marketed or something less authentic. But whatever...

John Grabowski [00:29:25] Yeah.

James Calder [00:29:25] I mean, like, there's, there's, you know, there's these cultural attractions that attract people.

John Grabowski [00:29:29] Sure.

James Calder [00:29:31] And African American culture, which tends to be very attractive in lots of situations, doesn't seem to translate into the neighborhoods.

John Grabowski [00:29:38] You know, it's ironic because what has happened here and I'm going to go a little bit out on a limb, is that where the neighborhoods have survived intact, those, those aspects of its culture that now have a grab to them, they have some traction. I think, you know, Italianata is so hot. You know, once, you know, Italians were on the, you know, the bottom rung of society just above African Americans. And now to be Italian is cool. And what I find ironic is that Italians are now celebrating The Sopranos, at least some Italians are. And 20 years ago, that was a symbol that most Italian-Americans would not want to see publicly used about them. So there's a comfort level because they've achieved power within the community. And fortunately for Little Italy, the physical structure is still there. You have a very tight street, Mayfield Road, which is, you know, a disaster for commuters. But in terms of creating what I would call a street-front ambiance similar to something in Chicago, I don't find anything else like it in Cleveland except maybe in the Warehouse District downtown. So Italianata is cool. The structures there, people can enjoy it. Coventry has so many memory levels and that has been held together. It's... You referenced the bikers I mean Coventry... What I love about Cleveland Heights is that all the names are Anglophilic, you know, Berkshire, Hampshire, Corydon, and Coventry, and it was an alternative for people who love things that were Anglo to get away from Jews, blacks, and ethnics. And lo and behold, by the 1920s there was, you know, several major Jewish congregations there in Cleveland Heights. And Coventry has become at that point, you know, there are small kosher butchers and other stores there and tailors. By the '60s and '70s, it's biker, it's counterculture. And, you know, people of my generation remember that as kind of a place to go. So it has an ambiance, but we've left it intact. What I find ironic and this is what I wanted to get to is close to University Circle is Cedar Avenue. And, and for the period from the 1920s really into the 1950s and into the 1960s, Cedar Avenue was called the ghetto, or it was Cleveland's version of Harlem. And it had black-owned restaurants, black-owned nightclubs: Cedar Gardens nightclub, Val's in the Alley. And a number of, of white people from the Heights would go down to Cedar. They'd go to hear Art Tatum play at Val's in the Alley. They'd go to the Cedar night, the Cedar Gardens nightclub, to watch black entertainment. They would dine there. Very much, you know, the way the white people in New York would go to the Apollo and so forth. What has happened to Cedar? It's mostly disappeared. Why has that happened? I don't have an answer. Some people will say because it has been, portions of the Cedar infrastructure have been eaten up by institutions like the Cleveland Clinic, that there wasn't a lot of investment in it. Or alternatively, one could say that, that following the '60s and the riots in the '60s that, that black Cleveland became for many white people a no-go zone because of fear, misunderstanding. But what we see in Mayfield Road could have been, and this is playing counterfactual history and that's a dangerous game, had the fears not risen had the, the infrastructure been preserved it could have been somewhat similar to that. Could have been really, you know, very interesting area, not that, that it isn't now. But a lot of that structure is gone from, from Cedar-Central.

James Calder [00:33:26] That's, that's what I have heard about a lot of this sort of, especially at 105th and Euclid.

John Grabowski [00:33:30] Oh God, 105th and Euclid, yeah, that's... I mean there's a couple of bars there, a music... Gleason's Blues Bar I think may have been there. I don't know exactly where it was. Yeah, the '50s and '60s, it was still a jumping place. I mean, you even had original progressive rock. I mean, there was a place called La Cave at what is now Stokes and Euclid Avenue. It was a basement bar. I went there and watched Pacific Gas and Electric play before they were discovered. The Agora started out at University Circle. So yeah, you had these entertainment spots, the Alhambra Theater. I mean, at one point, 105th and Euclid was Cleveland's second downtown, there was a downtown that served the people who lived in the Heights. Theater district, restaurants, dining, stores. Probably automobiled away.

James Calder [00:34:22] Do you think that, you think that the automobile did it?

John Grabowski [00:34:26] Automobile, and I'll be blunt, fear, automobile and fear, as it changed. I think that's, that's what drove it. There was a point in the '60s and '70s when 105th and Euclid was being largely abandoned. And a black real estate entrepreneur, Winston Willis, took possession of a number of buildings and, and he was vociferous in some of the signs that he put out about whitey and what was going on with the white establishment. And I think maybe he had some of it right. But for, for white people driving past that, it just exacerbated whatever doubts they would have had at that point.

James Calder [00:35:09] I've heard about Winston Willis. Did he start like afterhours clubs or did he start...? I want to say, like pornography or something? Adult bookstores?

John Grabowski [00:35:21] Yeah, I think he was on the edge. I can't say that with any authority, but he, you know, he was, I think he's still alive, he's a colorful character. Very much a colorful character, really. But this is this period in which, you know, the Second Great Migration of African Americans to cities like Cleveland, which begins during the Second World War, continues, you know, right through the '50s and into the '60s. And the... I forget what the [population], I think it's like 300 and, 300,000-plus African Americans within the city of Cleveland in 1970, and a large portion concentrated on the East Side of the city.

James Calder [00:36:02] What, what do you think about sort of the reactions from...? Did, there is a reaction from other people we've interviewed about some of the institutions, specifically the Cleveland Clinic and its expansion in these areas and just tearing down buildings instead of rehabilitating them. And, you know, making parking lots of them. I think that someone was upset about the VA Hospital. I think it's finding parking.

John Grabowski [00:36:28] Oh, yeah. They've torn down a whole section around 105th and Wade Park, I believe if I'm not mistaken. Yeah, institutional advancement, you know, goes, I guess, where it's easiest to, to buy properties, you know, where there's a statement that I say without any authority, but just speculation, where there's not a contravening power structure to say stop. I mean, this is the issue that the Italian community had with CWRU as, as it exercised its muscle and, and moved into parts of their neighborhood. And you know, I don't know if they successfully stopped it but certainly and, and then you play this game that's being played now: blight. You know, what is blight? It can be anybody's definition of blighted neighborhoods. So for one set of eyes, institutional advancement that tears down a series of old frame structures and builds a parking lot or, you know, new X-ray clinic is advancement. So for those people whose community was defined by those structures, whose memories were embedded in those structures, it's a different viewpoint.

James Calder [00:37:37] Do you think there's been an effort to sort of...? There does seem to be an effort to, with Little Italy, and then Cleveland Heights, and you know, even with the bus route that goes there, there's an effort to sort of mesh that institutional growth with the creation of more real, I guess what I'm saying, real neighborhoods...

John Grabowski [00:37:57] Right.

James Calder [00:37:57] And that doesn't seem to be moving into the Glenville areas of, you know, what I would say, it would be north or east of Chester?

John Grabowski [00:38:07] Yeah, I'm hearing you there. I think that, that the ambiance of having a neighborhood that supports the institutions and a real neighborhood that is not what I would call a Crocker Park neighborhood is a tremendous advantage for institutions like CWRU, University Hospitals, and the Clinic. As to why it has never gone into, let's say, Fairfax or into the Hough neighborhood, possibly because what we've discussed earlier, the fear, the reputation, quote-unquote reputation. Although where I do see it occurring and, you know, and this is I think this will be quite interesting and that is going north into Glenville, particularly along East Boulevard, MLK Drive. There's been a lot said about what Mike White's residency did when he lived in that area as the mayor, and it got better police protection. And there's some fantastic structure and housing in those areas that is now being slowly rehabilitated. So there might be that expansion up that way. The other, the other thing too is that along Chester, I think there, you know, there are two areas, not to be totally negative, the Church Square housing development between Chester and Euclid going east from East 79th Street is an enormous change. And, and that, even though it's a newly built may posit, you know, a brighter future there. Earlier than that, of course was, you know, [Lexington], the Lexington housing development and then the scatter sites, some of these huge homes that came up on the urban homestead, if you will, along Chester Avenue. So, you know, there are bits and pieces. I wouldn't give up totally on it. I don't know what, what the racial mixture is, though, in those sites. You know, what percentage of Church Square is African American versus non–African American? Lexington Village, same thing. You know, I do know some people from the university who are not African American, who live in the Church Square development. So there, you know, it might be happening. Might be happening.

James Calder [00:40:16] Do you think from...? This is something that maybe you'll understand the immigrant groups that [inaudible]. A lot of these interviews, you know, when we talk to people growing up there did seem to be, you know, there's like sort of the cliche of an ethnic neighborhood. At the same time, it seems from talking to people that things were less segregated within neighborhoods back then, at least in some places, that African Americans grew up with Italians, other ethnic groups. I was talking to Virgil Brown the other day and he said like yeah we all played baseball. There wasn't, you know, it's not like no tension existed. It was just all wonderful. Do you think, Cleveland has become more segregated in certain ways now, especially along the black-white divide?

John Grabowski [00:41:06] That's a tough question. Perhaps it has. What you're talking about is sort of the integration of these communities in days gone by, if you will. It's a topic that one of my former students, Todd Michney, has dealt with in his recent doctoral dissertation. And, and he has found by looking back at the records that, that, you know, you've always had a black presence in Glenville. Even when it was wealthy, even when it was the Jewish neighborhood. I know that the neighborhood I studied for my dissertation, which was lower Woodland Avenue, was a very mixed area in the period from the 1890s to the 1920s and then slowly became more segregated. I talked to Jewish people who had African American neighbors who could speak a little bit of Yiddish and work as a Shabbos goy if they needed them as a Shabbos goy. And so perhaps we have moved in between then and now to a more segregated community and then have gotten away from that. The Mount Pleasant neighborhood, which has been the subject of a number of recent newspaper articles and the Cleveland Plain Dealer, was very interesting because from it's, from the get-go, it, it had a black community there, which was, I think a black real estate entrepreneur was able to sell something. So you had blacks and Czechs and Jews and, and Poles to some degree living in proximity. And, you know, this is the Dick Feagler moment where, you know, Dick Feagler will talk about going to John Adams High School and talking about having an integrated class at John Adams High School. So, yeah, that was there. I mean, there were communities out in Warrensville Heights, there were these black suburban communities that Todd Michney has studied. It also begs the question about, you know, ethnic purity within any of the neighborhoods. And there's a lot of work that needs yet to be done on immigrant neighborhoods in Cleveland that would do a full analysis of the mixture of people. Jewish population is present in a lot of the Eastern European neighborhoods: Polish, Czech, and so forth. The, perhaps one of the, it's been said that the neighborhood that had the greatest degree of people from was single background would have been Little Italy, which probably would set it up as sort of this rock that, that stood for so long as an Italian neighborhood. Yeah, that's well these, these are topics that are bandied about and yeah, I think there's been a period where, where the African Americans became more segregated, more sequestered, pushed out, unable to move out. Then that subsequent in the 1960s and '70s, we began to see a change of that. But one could even argue that if one looks at Cleveland Heights, which prides itself on the nature of of being an integrated community, there are African Americans. There are areas in Cleveland Heights that are more African American than they are white and other areas that are more white than they are African American.

James Calder [00:44:09] I think Shaker Heights is the same.

John Grabowski [00:44:11] Yeah.

James Calder [00:44:12] Or it's... I always thought this was interesting in a way, very like the apartment building I used to live in in Coventry was very integrated, but at the same time, it's like white college students and then African American families. It's not the same. You know, they have to put up with white college students. [laughs]

John Grabowski [00:44:29] College students, right. Yeah. So it's a different you know, it's, it's a college drop and it's not a family place. So, yeah, there are all kinds of little wheels going on in here in terms of race and economics, race, class, if you will. That it plays out considerably in areas like the Heights. Shaker Heights, you know, created the Lomand and Ludlow Associations in order to, in order to foster an integrated neighborhood, in order to, you know, to bring white people back, to make sure they balanced it. And it's, you know, it's been difficult work. They've done it, but it takes constant, constant monitoring.

James Calder [00:45:05] What do you think about the...? And switch gears. I mean, we have two more areas to discuss...

John Grabowski [00:45:09] Okay.

James Calder [00:45:11] And then we'll finish up. And of course, let you add anything you like, but the Cultural Gardens, what do you think? Now, we already had you I'd be talking about them in another interview, so...

John Grabowski [00:45:23] Yeah.

James Calder [00:45:23] We won't go too much into it but I feel like that fits into our conversation. The Culture Gardens are something that sort of naturally go sort of up and north and out of the way of I guess the normal University Circle area and into some of those, those neighborhoods along the East Boulevard. Do you think there is keeping them together is any way...? Do you think that fits into this equation at all?

John Grabowski [00:45:47] Oh, yeah. I've, I'm a strong advocate and I've said this to several people, that the Cultural Gardens need to be considered part of the University Circle community. To me, that makes all sorts of sense that as the Circle institutions try to be more diverse and multicultural in their own offerings, that to say that this string of gardens, which, you know, begins right at the edge of the Circle and goes to the lake... It's a natural extension of the Circle, They, you know, I would like to see people like Chris Ronayne and University Circle become more active in the Cultural Gardens, you know, in the Walk & Roll that is occurring now from the Circle. And when they close down MLK for, you know, a Sunday, I think it's the beginning of some of that and Walk & Roll is the antidote to the fear that has surrounded those gardens for so long. You can't go down there. You know, it's dangerous. And, you know, I bike through them every weekend. So they're, they're... I think they, they say a lot about what the heritage and history of this region is. And increasingly, I know this institution, the Western Reserve Historical Society, and other institutions as well, are increasingly conscious of the need to preserve that multicultural heritage. So yeah, they're there. I think they're, they're wonderful. There's a wonderful potential for, for linking to them.

James Calder [00:47:19] I guess the last aspect I'm going to touch on, we can actually touch on your career here and working for the library, library here, and archivist, and the Cleveland Memory project. All those things. Well, I guess I can, I can talk about a lot of things here and I'll try to keep it brief. A lot of things jumped to my head. One, I guess is... I'm just thinking about that now. Like, how's technology affected archiving? Something like that... I'm reading a digital... What is it? Cohen and something the, the Digital Media, Digital History... I should get the book.

John Grabowski [00:48:02] Yeah.

James Calder [00:48:02] Let me...

John Grabowski [00:48:04] Sure, okay.

James Calder [00:48:04] Let me go get the title for you and see if you've ever read it. It's just called Digital History.

John Grabowski [00:48:11] Digital History. Yeah.

James Calder [00:48:13] It's... It's... Cause we're, you know, honestly, we kind doing in the same...

John Grabowski [00:48:15] Yeah.

James Calder [00:48:16] in the same sort of thing.

John Grabowski [00:48:18] Yeah, the late Roy Rosenzweig. Yeah. Unfortunately, Roy's dead. That's such a...How is that affected? Let me spin this in a couple of ways here.

James Calder [00:48:34] Oh, yeah. That's fine.

John Grabowski [00:48:34] My, my forte in history has been immigration history. And, and I think when I was typical '60s, '70s person, I wanted to change the world. And when I encountered professional history as a career, I found that there hadn't been a lot done on immigration groups, particularly Southern, and Eastern, and Central European groups, with but few exceptions. And so that's where I wanted to go as a historian. And when I was given the opportunity to develop an archive here at the Historical Society, that's what I began to do, is go out to the older communities whose pasts I felt had been neglected and collect materials. And I continue in that now. I've, we have done a lot of work with Southern and Eastern Europeans, but now what I want to do is to make certain that the, what I call the, the post Ellis Island group communities are, are documented. So I'm working with the Asian Indian communities. We want to work with the Taiwanese Chinese communities. I'm working on an edited book on sub-Saharan African immigrants to Cleveland. I want to be certain that, that all these, these voices and heritages and histories find their way into the archives. I think ultimately when one looks at digitization, that there needs to be a place in which reality is carefully preserved and stored. That is the original document. I say that not because I dislike digitization, but because I know how easily things can be changed in the digital world. I mean, there've been forgeries throughout history. It's easier to do that now. So there has to be a reality check somewhere. And I think that's what the value of an institution like this is in terms of preserving material culture or preserving archives, documents, and photographs. However, if that information is ever going to reach the world in the 21st century, we have to embrace digitalization, digitization, whichever term you use, with a vengeance. That's how my students at CWRU have been brought up. That's how they learned. Their world is defined in large part by the Internet 2. The protocols of using Internet 2. Their world is digital music, digital photography. So if institutions in the Circle are going to be reaching out to young people, which they desperately need to, as well as, as people who are older, they need to make their resources available in a digital format easily accessible. We need to be competitive. The Historical Society is one of the best family history resources in the United States, maybe the sixth or seventh best. We have huge numbers of family history books. We have the entire federal census for the entire United States on microfilm from 1790 to 1930. However, we're watching genealogical use of our library decline. Why? Because so much of this information now is available through or other sources. That's the way people get their information. We need to become a player in that. We really do. And at the same time, we need to work with history methodology classes at CSU, Kent, CWRU to make sure the students come in and are exposed to the original documents. And, you know, I'm now intrigued. I used to be a document person, but I am intrigued by a, by non-textual material and the manner in which we can learn from semiotics, from symbols, from, from the way structures are built, the way things are designed, the way things are handled, reading photographs. I think photographs are incredibly important tools. And the more and more I think about that, the more and more I think about how human beings encounter the world. Text is an abstract. The world we know comes through our senses. And to the degree that historians or agencies that deal with cultural heritage can begin to use those senses to teach, go beyond texts, the more successful they'll be. So I'm excited by the potential. I mean right now WHRS is working with CWRU on a Second Life Island. We are rebuilding a Euclid Avenue mansion in which your avatar will eventually be able to walk through. So if you've wanted to go back to the Everett Mansion on Euclid Avenue, someday you might be able to, by using Second Life technology. We have the entire archive of the Agora here. One of our dreams is to build a Second Life Agora in which your avatar can go spend Linden dollars. And, you know, if we can solve copyright issues, you know, listen to Bruce Springsteen. So that's, you know, that's what excites me. That's what keeps, you know, I've been here for 40 years and we could get really, really dull just sitting here doing the same bloody thing day after day, but being able to use these tools that we have in front of us. I'm excited. It's a real exciting thing.

James Calder [00:53:49] Excellent.

John Grabowski [00:53:50] Yeah.

James Calder [00:53:51] Excellent. Well, we're almost going to the end. Is there anything else you would like to add?

John Grabowski [00:53:57] Oh. Geez. No. No. I'd be wordy.

James Calder [00:53:59] From anything or other subjects, you think we'd like to cover or something?

John Grabowski [00:54:03] Yeah. You know, I'll tell you what. I guess one of the things that is saved me from terminal middle-age boredom and lassitude is developing an international connection. And you may or may not know that I spent a lot of time in Turkey. I've taught there twice as a Fulbrighter. And it's become a second home when I've got an ongoing relationship with the university in Ankara, Bilkent. And I guess if, if I was to take my, my 1960s self and you know, still want to change the world, what I'm looking to see in the Circle is an international center where people can from all over the world can come and deal with history, and art, and culture. And perhaps, you know, and I'm thinking of what Professor Souther does that that, you know, museums training courses, public history courses that are offered here at CWRU and CSU, we could become an international training ground, bringing students in. I brought my... I taught a distance learning class on museums. It was broadcast live from my classroom at Case with my Case, CWRU students to Bilkent. So I had a seven-hour time distance, but I had, had a group of Turkish students who were all Muslim working with all my American students. And we were debating the rise of museum techniques within the late Ottoman Empire, early Turkey, and the United States. And that's what I'd like to do, is to use these cultural assets and these electronic assets we have to begin to bring people around the globe together. That's a little pollyannish, but it can be done so that's, that's kind of what's going to keep me going till I retire.

James Calder [00:55:49] Excellent.

John Grabowski [00:55:50] Yeah.

James Calder [00:55:51] Anything else or?

John Grabowski [00:55:52] No, just. That's, I think. Yeah.

James Calder [00:55:56] Okay.

John Grabowski [00:55:57] All right.

University Circle

University Circle is home to many of the city’s oldest and most respected institutions: Severance Hall, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Case Western Reserve University to name just a few. Since 1970, University Circle Inc. (UCI) has coordinated development in the area. These interviews with UCI staff, community activists, and local residents and workers in the University Circle area, conducted by students as part of a CSU Provost-funded Undergraduate Summer Research Award project led by Drs.…