Nancy and Robert Klein interview, 02 November 2011

Nancy and Robert Klein are both retired professors who moved to Shaker Tower from Cleveland Heights. In this interview they discuss the reasons for their move to the tower, the atmosphere in terms of the physical and social environment along with describing the benefits of the tower's location in relation to Shaker Square and University Circle. Of particular interest is the description of the floor plans of the units and the renovations that they and other residents have done to their apartments.

Participants: Klein, Nancy (interviewee) / Klein, Robert (interviewee) / Latoski, Jean (interviewer)
Collection: Shaker Towers
Institutional Repository: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Interview Transcript

Jean Latoski [00:00:06] This is Jean Latoski interviewing Doctors Nancy and Robert Klein for the Shaker Heights... Shaker Towers Oral History Project. So let's begin...

Nancy Klein [00:00:20] Okay.

Jean Latoski [00:00:22] With your names.

Nancy Klein [00:00:24] I'm Nancy Klein. I'm a retired professor of special education at Cleveland State University.

Robert Klein [00:00:32] I'm Bob Klein, retired professor of physics at Cleveland State.

Jean Latoski [00:00:38] How long have you lived in Shaker Towers?

Nancy Klein [00:00:41] We've been here eleven and a half years. We moved in in July 2000.

Jean Latoski [00:00:49] Which suite?

Nancy Klein [00:00:51] We're in [...].

Jean Latoski [00:00:54] Just the two of you.

Robert Klein [00:00:55] That's right.

Jean Latoski [00:00:57] What... What drew you to move to the Towers?

Robert Klein [00:01:02] Well, that's Nancy, actually, because I didn't want to move, and so the fact that she was moving here meant that I had to come too. [laughs] Well, she can explain.

Nancy Klein [00:01:12] What had happened was we had a wonderful big old Cleveland Heights house. But I was lugging laundry from the basement to the second floor, and I had knees that were becoming increasingly dysfunctional. And what really broke the camel, the straw that broke the camel's back, I had an eight o'clock meeting at CWRU, and I'm rushing into the house at 7:30 in the morning and between our house and the garage was a patch of black ice that I slipped on, and I ruined my pantyhose and my skirt was filthy. I had to totally change clothes. And I'm running this meeting that I'm now going to be late for. So I got into the car sobbing all the way down the hill saying, I'm not gonna stay here anymore. This is ridiculous. And I knew that Joanne Kaufman was living here, and so I called her and I said, I want to come see your apartment. And do they have any apartments like it? I took one look at her apartment and I said, This is for me. And there was one apartment that was available, this one. People who... The person who had lived here had recently died. And so I announced to Bob that we were moving. He said, Nope, I am not going. I said, I want to sell the house. We'd been married 40 years. He said, listen, I've had the same wife for 40 years and I'm not selling her and I'm not selling my house. I said, we gotta move. I can't walk the steps anymore. So I brought him over. And this apartment was not like it is now. It was the original kitchen. It was very dingy. It was... It needed work. So I said, you have to use your imagination. And let's go look at Joanne Kaufman's apartment, which is, was really gorgeous. And he said we'd better look at some other places. So we looked at some apartments next door, which were very nice, but this apartment had larger rooms and more closet space. And it turns out we've got more closet space here than on the first two floors of our Cleveland Heights house. And so I announced to Bob, I said, OK, if you're willing to move, I'll do all the work. You don't have to pack anything. I'll pack. I'll unpack. So he agrees. And he had one requirement. Music is sort of the center of his life. And Bob listens to two to three hours of music every morning, when he was working was more like an hour. He wanted to have his easy chair placed evenly so that the speed, the sound from each speaker was balanced, which meant that we have to have a plug in the middle of the living room floor, which we have. I mean, it turns out we asked the electrician and he said, yes, he could do that. And Bob was happy. So we moved in and I got us unpacked. And the first day we're here, he says this is, it's sort of like playing house. So it all worked out just fine. You want to add to that?

Robert Klein [00:04:58] Well, I mean, the only thing I would add, actually, is that Nan had wanted to move for quite some time. This wasn't a sudden decision. I had a vested interest in moving. I understood the problem that she wanted to be on one floor, but we had, not only, not only me, but I think Nancy also had a vested interest in staying in Cleveland Heights. It was the community we had come to and had lived in for forty, well, thirty-five, oh, thirty-eight years. It was thirty-eight years in the house, so it was forty years, actually. And we'd been active in the community. We had lots of friends. And I didn't want to leave the community. I love the community. But it became clear when we first started to look around that you could not get a, basically an apartment that in an elevated structure that really... Cleveland Heights has apartments, but of the old apartment buildings, they're not elevator. And therefore, we would have to, we would have to look outside. And when they found this one, you know, based on Joanne's upstairs and I came over, my first reaction actually was that it was stifling. Well, part of it was the ceilings... You know, this is a house built in 1950 so the ceiling is significantly lower than the ceilings in the older houses. And I like space. I like the sense of air that goes with it. And, of course, there drapes on the windows and stuff. And Nan dragged me up to Joanne's, and Joanne's is really stripped down. And it was light and it was airy, and I crave sky, and so my deal with Nancy was under no condition would it be allowed to put any window covering in the dining room, living room, and in the kitchen. You notice we just have the screen. That's... That's... It was... I don't want anything covered up. I really want to be able to see the outside. And I loved it. I loved it so, and since my... The only thing I was against was change. Once I moved, then that was the new permanent so I was perfectly happy with it.

Nancy Klein [00:07:33] And it so happens, from this apartment you can see the sunset. It's absolutely gorgeous. And, you know, the other day we had company for dinner and they walked in and some of the trees are gold outside. And both of these guys said, Oh, my God, it's like heaven here. It's like a tree house! [laughs] It was really lovely. The other thing that was very appealing to us, we were both still teaching at the university and where we lived in Cleveland Heights we could go from our house and into the parking lot in 20 minutes. And I wanted the same thing. I mean, I was not willing to give up my 20-minute commute for a 40-minute commute. I don't care how pretty it was. So this perfectly fit the bill. I mean, it still took me my 20 minutes to get downtown. So that's how we ended up here.

Jean Latoski [00:08:28] I assume you continue to enjoy living here?

Nancy and Robert Klein [00:08:31] Oh, we love it.

Nancy Klein [00:08:32] We love it. We love it.

Robert Klein [00:08:33] It is our tree house.

Nancy Klein [00:08:36] Right. And he often says to me, are we really married or are we playing house? [laughs]

Jean Latoski [00:08:43] So now, what memorable experiences can you share about life at Shaker Towers?

Robert Klein [00:08:51] Well, you know, I'm... My observation growing up in universities is a collection of people in an organization like a department. Universities are built up around departments, are like a little village and they tend to develop their own ethos. So one department can be an absolutely hateful place to try to survive in. Other departments are very enjoyable where you want to come down every day and see your colleagues and it's a fun place to be. And I think for one reason or another, Shaker Towers has always had a very warm, friendly ethos associated with it. So in many ways, it is a community. It's an apartment community, which means that people aren't barging in on you all the time. And there are people in the buildings that we don't know, but there are lots of people who we do know and a lot of people we've known because we knew them when we were still living in Cleveland Heights. And so they were the empty nesters coming back, you know, to one place. And that's turned out to be very, very convenient. You know, we have friends who might do the watering of the plants in their own way and they water our plants. And even more critically, at Thanksgiving time, when we have two sets of kids and their children here and staying in, we can have them stay in the apartment, the three bedrooms, and we can usually find another bedroom in somebodies apartment who are away for Thanksgiving. So it works out perfectly. So there's that sense of cooperation.

Nancy Klein [00:10:37] I was kind of worried. Bob grew up in New York and he had always lived in the apartment. In fact, when I wanted to buy a house with several bedrooms, he said, What do you need so many bedrooms? I said, Well, the kids should have a bedroom. Maybe they'll want to have a friend sleep over. And Bob said, Their friends don't have beds to sleep in? [telephone rings; laughs] We'll just let that go. [phone continues to ring] Anyhow. I sort of didn't know what to expect. I mean, I didn't know if... Because I was working. I was very busy. So I really didn't have time to chitchat. Frankly, I almost never see... If I don't see people in the garage, I don't see anybody. [rings stops] I mean, Bob usually gets the mail. It is just... It's very quiet. It's like every.... I just love it. I mean, I've not had anybody who's a bad person in the building. I had to get used to smelling other people's cooking odors. [laughs] That was... But, you know, that's communal living. It has just been a pleasure. It's the places... The building is kept beautifully clean. I am not a gardener, but I absolutely have the good fortune of looking down on those gorgeous gardens, and I watch some of my neighbors breaking their backs in the heat of summer and I can just enjoy the fruits of their labors. So I see them and I thank them for their hard work. And it's a special place. It really is. And I'm delighted to see some people with children here. I like to hear children's noises outside. So it's been a wonderful home for us.

Robert Klein [00:12:37] And I also have... I would also add that from the very beginning there was a very warm and competent staff that make the building very enjoyable and they're always available for help if you have a problem. That's nice.

Nancy Klein [00:12:53] And that's still true. I mean, the staff is turned over. We have a new manager. And Jim is terrific and Adam is marvelous. And Adam is, works with a group of people that are just pleasant and helpful and I've just... I've not had a bad day with anybody. It's terrific.

Robert Klein [00:13:15] We like it.

Jean Latoski [00:13:19] You know, since you've been here, lots of people have made changes, as you have, in their units, and I wonder what you think about that. Do you think it's a good thing? Do you think it's a bad thing?

Nancy Klein [00:13:31] Oh, I think it's terrific. I think it's terrific. We once, oh, about five years ago had tours of the units. And I absolutely... I love being nosy and I love really looking into other people's places. When we used to live in Cleveland Heights, the Heights Congress had house tours and you paid money and you went on these house tours. And, you know, I love being nosy and I love seeing other people's houses and how they decorated them. And some of them were magnificent old houses with, you know, walnut-paneled libraries and sorts of high ceiling, 12-foot ceilings that you just don't see anymore. But I thought it was terrific to have people open up their apartments. And I think a lot of people have invested in renovating because this is a wonderful building and the amount of footage in the apartments is just terrific. You know, we have wonderful space here. And this happens to be it was really like a four-bedroom apartment because it was three bedrooms plus the maid's room. And we made the maid's room into my office and, and...

Robert Klein [00:14:54] And the breakfast room.

Nancy Klein [00:14:56] And a breakfast table in there. And the maid's bathroom is now our laundry room.

Robert Klein [00:15:02] Well, I think more... But I think more significantly, at least for me, for the kitchen, gallery kitchens drives me up the wall. They just...

Nancy Klein [00:15:09] Bob does the cooking.

Robert Klein [00:15:10] And I just needed some openness. Once we went upstairs and went to Joanne's and that's what she had done is that, that solves the problem. And it really did. I think, actually, if one checked back in the records, one would find that people have been making alterations from the very beginning. From the time. When we moved in here, for example, and the previous tenants, the Dohrs had been here for many, many years.

Nancy Klein [00:15:40] Right.

Robert Klein [00:15:41] They had the two front bedrooms were actually combined into one room and combined into two.

Jean Latoski [00:15:53] A long time ago?

Robert Klein [00:15:55] Well, that's where. That's... [cross talk]

Nancy Klein [00:15:56] That's how we found it.

Robert Klein [00:15:57] So there was only basically these three bedrooms, the back three bedrooms were always... There were just two. And then for most people, the bedrooms open into the hallway but for some reason or other, in Joanne Kaufman's, when she got the apartment, it opened up into the living room. And we decided that made more sense, actually, you know, because it gave us an... A, what we decided is a media room. Right?

Nancy Klein [00:16:26] Right.

Robert Klein [00:16:27] You know, a TV room. You used to call 'em the play room. That was where the kids hung out. And, you know, one can have it as an extension of the living room. And then you have the doors that we could close it up. And then when we needed an extra, the third bedroom was also available as a third bedroom with, you know, with a convertible sofa, which is what we did.

Nancy Klein [00:16:50] And, you know, I think, given we have two out-of-town children, it's really wonderful having a living unit that has so much flexible, adjustable space. So in Bob's office, we have a futon, which is his couch. And in the quote-unquote media room, [laughs] which is where he keeps his CDs, and he's got a lot, we have a pullout bed so that, you know, we can sleep, and when we leave to go to somebody else's place, then we can have all of them here and it's great.

Jean Latoski [00:17:34] So we've talked about physical changes. Have you noticed other changes in the Towers?

Nancy Klein [00:17:45] What?

Jean Latoski [00:17:45] In terms of the population?

Robert Klein [00:17:47] Well, there're more younger... There now, when we first moved them, there wasn't, there weren't any children at all.

Nancy Klein [00:17:52] Right. Right.

Robert Klein [00:17:55] And it was purely elderly.

Nancy Klein [00:17:56] There are more rentals.

Jean Latoski [00:17:58] Yeah.

Nancy Klein [00:18:00] When we moved in, there was... There were no rentals. In fact, I didn't know you could rent your unit. I think it's gotten somewhat more diverse, which is lovely. And I think it's diverse in terms of age as well as is cultural diversity. And that's very nice. And... I don't know, I just... We just keep getting new people who seem to be lovely. I've been on the meet-and-greet committee and I get to meet some of the newcomers and it's, it's just... They seem to be terrific people. It's, it's wonderful. I don't know how they find us, but they seem to.

Jean Latoski [00:18:46] I hope more of them will find it soon.

Nancy Klein [00:18:47] I hope so, too.

Jean Latoski [00:18:50] So let's go to the past. How aware are you of the deed restrictions that were imposed by the Van Sweringens on Shaker Heights and the Shaker's Square area?

Robert Klein [00:19:01] I was just aware of it. I mean, I knew that it was at Moreland Courts, and I wasn't aware of the restrictions in, you know, in Shaker Heights. Were there?

Jean Latoski [00:19:15] Yeah, there were.

Nancy Klein [00:19:16] For one thing, we lived in Cleveland Heights, and I feel... It's interesting. I feel like there's this huge subdivision, as my kids were growing up and as we lived here we had friends in Shaker Heights, but our focus... My husband was very involved in Heights Citizens for Human Rights, which was an activist organization trying to integrate Cleveland Heights, and we had been very involved in Cleveland Heights politics. Bob was sort of everybody's treasurer. And so, you know, our focus was Cleveland Heights, and I really didn't know very much about Shaker Square or the Van Sweringens simply because I was not an interloper. [laughs]

Jean Latoski [00:20:11] Were you... Were you... It says that you lived in Cleveland Heights, but were you well aware of the neighborhood organizations that were formed to promote peaceful integration?

Robert Klein [00:20:20] In Shaker Heights? [cross talk] We knew about Ludlow. And we knew about that, but we also had a lot of friends...

Nancy Klein [00:20:25] Right, and we knew several people who had been involved because we had been involved in promoting integration and so it was sort of a group of us who were involved. Yes.

Jean Latoski [00:20:38] OK. Back to the physical, which you already mentioned, do you work... Excuse me. Do you work any of the gardens or do you just [laughs] enjoy those gardens?

Nancy Klein [00:20:49] I am not a gardener. I don't want to get my hands dirty. I don't want to deal with the bugs. I leave that to other, more ambitious people who actually seem to enjoy it. I mean, I see some of these 90 year olds out there in the heat bent over doing whatever gardeners do when they're bent over. And I think, I'm glad I'm here and they're out there. [laughs] I'm very grateful that they're there because I love what they do, but I don't want to do it. So no, we're not gardeners.

Jean Latoski [00:21:29] Well, I've come to the end of the formal questions, but I do want to ask you if there's anything we didn't cover that you'd like, you'd like to discuss about Shaker Towers or the neighborhood.

Nancy Klein [00:21:42] Well, I'm going to let you start. Because he's a walker.

Robert Klein [00:21:44] Since we've been here, I mean, the neighborhood has certainly improved in the sense of life and vitality. The Square has revived, and that's the life... We love it. Actually, the neighborhoods have stayed pretty standard, you know, pretty standard, and I have a normal routine of wandering up to the Shaker Heights library.

Nancy Klein [00:22:10] And then the Cleveland Heights library.

Robert Klein [00:22:11] And the Cleveland Heights library, yeah. Well, one of the delightful things for me is I need a destination when I go walking and within two miles, in, not within two miles but at the two-mile point, I have two libraries. At a little more than two miles I have a wonderful bakery, On the Rise up on Taylor Road, and I can get... I also get down to where I have my car serviced at Fairmount and Cedar, and I have Appletree bookstore. And they're all pretty much exactly two miles away, so I feel this is a perfect location. I'm at the center of my walking universe.

Nancy Klein [00:22:51] And you know, the restaurants are just marvelous. You know, I wish we could afford it. We could go to a different restaurant every night [laughs] at Shaker Square and walk there. So, you know, and having the farmers' market here is just... It's terr[ific]... I mean, people come to us. So it's really an ideal neighborhood. And today I had an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic, and in fact, I had my eyes dilated. And the nurse said to me, are you with somebody? And I said, no. And she said, Do you have sunglasses? I said, yes. And she said, Do you have far to go? I said, No, just to the top of the hill. And as I was driving, and I was glad I didn't have any further to go, and I thought, how convenient. We, here we are, I'm five minutes away from the best, one of the best medical centers in the country, and it's just such an added benefit. So, you know, I think we are very lucky. I think the Square is full of life. I mean, in the summer on some of these hot summer day evenings, each of these restaurants is jumping. I mean, you know, the outside places, and you walk along and I say, first of all, what recession? [laughs] You know, with all these people. But it's just lively and it's spirited, and it's... It's just a good place. The building is a good place and the community is a terrific place.

Robert Klein [00:24:26] And of course, the other thing is we're very adjacent to University Circle, which means that we're adjacent to all the music institutions, the art museum and...

Nancy Klein [00:24:36] That we frequent a lot.

Robert Klein [00:24:39] You know, we come out of the concert and in five minutes I'm home. And downtown is close. I mean, this, you know we're only five miles from downtown. It's city streets. You don't have to deal with highways.

Nancy Klein [00:24:51] It's so true.

Robert Klein [00:24:51] It's a good location.

Nancy Klein [00:24:53] We go to...

Robert Klein [00:24:53] Yeah, it was true for us when we were in Cleveland Heights because we were just a mile north, due north, of here at that time, so.

Nancy Klein [00:25:05] Yeah, and, and, you know, it's very nice even in the winter. We do a lot of concerts in University Circle and being able to get home in 10 minutes, they always have the roads cleared, especially by the time we come out of a concert. That makes it very nice. You know, if you're tired and it's 10 o'clock at night, and you're home by 10:10. I mean, come on, can't get better than that. So.

Jean Latoski [00:25:33] Well, I think that's a wonderful note to end on.

Nancy Klein [00:25:36] [laughs]

Robert Klein [00:25:37] Hear, hear.

Jean Latoski [00:25:37] And I thank you both very much.

Nancy Klein [00:25:39] Oh, it was our pleasure.

Robert Klein [00:25:40] Oh, thank you for the opportunity.

Nancy Klein [00:25:43] Yeah. I mean, it's lovely to live in a place that you love to live with, among lovely people in a neighborhood. It's terrific. I mean, what could be better? [laughs] Seriously. Anyhow.

Jean Latoski [00:25:59] Thanks again.

Nancy Klein [00:25:59] Our pleasure.

Shaker Towers

Nina Friedlander Gibans initiated this interview series, which includes interviews with prominent Clevelanders living in Shaker Towers near Shaker Square.