In this 2005 interview, Raymond Pianka, Judge of the City of Cleveland Housing Court, discusses the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. He first discusses the historical ethnicity of the neighborhood, including the immigration of Irish, and then later Italians and Romanians, into the area. He also discusses his own Polish heritage, and talks about his father and grandfather's industrial employment in Cleveland for a large part of the twentieth century. Judge Pianka also talks about the architecture of the Detroit-Shoreway area, noting houses designed by a number of prominent local architects, including Frank Coburn, Frederick Baird, Hopkinson, and Charles Pennington. Having grown up in the area and gone to West High school in the late 1960s, Judge Pianka talks about gang violence, race relations, and the Vietnam War as each impacted his high school. He also talks about the maritime industry of the west side of Cleveland, and the departure of that industry from Cleveland during his lifetime. Also, Judge Pianka discusses his early involvement in the formation of the Detroit-Shoreway Association. He finally talks about Gordon Square and his own interest in Cleveland history.
Transcription sponsored by Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization
Ray Pianka [00:00:15] Oh, Okay. St. Barbara's Parish, yes.
Becky Solecki [00:00:19] Yeah, my mother is from Fleet and Madison.
Ray Pianka [00:00:20] Yeah. Streets of Fleet a or Fleet and well St. Barbara's is on Denison and Fleet is sort of like St. John Nepomucene.
Becky Solecki [00:00:26] If you go like.
Ray Pianka [00:00:26] St. Stan's.
Becky Solecki [00:00:26] On 77 and you get off on Fleet.
Ray Pianka [00:00:29] Yeah.
Becky Solecki [00:00:29] That whole area.
Ray Pianka [00:00:29] Okay, Warszawa.
Becky Solecki [00:00:33] Where she grew up.
Ray Pianka [00:00:33] Oh, she did. Okay.
Becky Solecki [00:00:36] So both of my parents are originally from here.
Ray Pianka [00:00:36] Oh, okay. And where in Poland are they from?
Becky Solecki [00:00:40] I don't know.
Ray Pianka [00:00:43] Oh, okay.
Becky Solecki [00:00:43] That's a good question. Neither of them are, they were not.
Ray Pianka [00:00:44] They're second, second, second-generation American right?
Becky Solecki [00:00:48] My mother's side. My mother is third and my father is second.
Ray Pianka [00:00:49] Oh, wow.
Mark Tebeau [00:00:51] So I am a professor at Cleveland State. And I am actually the architect of all of this.
Ray Pianka [00:00:57] Okay.
Mark Tebeau [00:00:58] And, so.
Ray Pianka [00:00:58] And you did the Tremont project too with Walter Wright?
Mark Tebeau [00:01:01] Yeah, yeah. I did the Tremont project.
Ray Pianka [00:01:02] Yeah, that was so impressive.
Mark Tebeau [00:01:04] And I've been actually I've done a project of the Cultural gardens that I did with students just like back in my class. It was aired. The results of the interviews were aired on WCPN.
Ray Pianka [00:01:14] Oh, isn't that great. Did you talk to any of the Karpinskis, like Diane Karpinski?
Mark Tebeau [00:01:18] I've actually met her in a separate context.
Ray Pianka [00:01:19] Yeah. okay.
Mark Tebeau [00:01:21] But I spoke to, you know, Ben Stefanski.
Ray Pianka [00:01:23] Yes.
Mark Tebeau [00:01:23] Who continues to be a resource.
Ray Pianka [00:01:25] Continues to garden there as well. Yeah.
Mark Tebeau [00:01:31] Yes, and, you know, his family of course has a great history.
Ray Pianka [00:01:31] Yeah.
Mark Tebeau [00:01:31] We just actually did an oral history with him, not about the Cultural Gardens but about when he was public utilities director.
Ray Pianka [00:01:36] Oh, yeah. Must be interesting on the Stokes' administration. Yes.
Mark Tebeau [00:01:38] And the burning of the river.
Ray Pianka [00:01:39] Yes.
Mark Tebeau [00:01:41] And we actually did some stuff about [inaudible]. We talked to him about the origins of the regional sewer district, but any way. I digress. So what we've done.
Ray Pianka [00:01:50] Well, wait a second. And what are your seminal roots here? Did you are you a Clevelander or?
Mark Tebeau [00:01:54] I'm what you... what they call an academic itinerant. I grew up in St. Louis. Went to college in Chicago. I did graduate work in Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon.
Ray Pianka [00:02:03] Oh, great.
Mark Tebeau [00:02:06] Then I did post doc, post-doctoral work at Ann Arbor, in Washington at the Smithonian, at Harvard, at Penn, and then somehow managed to end up here.
Ray Pianka [00:02:16] At Penn, were you, you weren't at Penn when Wesley Posvar was there were you?
Mark Tebeau [00:02:18] No.
Ray Pianka [00:02:18] Well, okay.
Mark Tebeau [00:02:23] I was at Washington at that time.
Ray Pianka [00:02:23] He was a chancellor of Penn State.
Mark Tebeau [00:02:24] Oh, he may have been. This was in the mid '90s.
Ray Pianka [00:02:26] Yeah, a Clevelander and a.
Mark Tebeau [00:02:28] Oh, really?
Ray Pianka [00:02:30] A West Sider.
Mark Tebeau [00:02:31] I didn't know that.
Ray Pianka [00:02:33] Yeah.
Mark Tebeau [00:02:34] In any case, so I made my way here. And as I do everywhere, you know, I do this engagement in the community and I'm interested. Actually, this project grows to a large degree at the fact that I am going to live here the rest of my life. So I might as well know.
Ray Pianka [00:02:39] Oh, great!
Mark Tebeau [00:02:49] You know, it's in a way of becoming associated with this place.
Ray Pianka [00:02:55] Yeah.
Mark Tebeau [00:02:55] So anyways. That's, that's.
Ray Pianka [00:02:55] Well, it is in some ways it's establishing the place because many of the people that you're talking to, no one's ever talked to them before about these things. You read what the Growth Association or all these things, things that have been written, but you're getting this right from the very basis you establish.
Mark Tebeau [00:03:14] That is precisely what we are doing.
Ray Pianka [00:03:20] Yeah, yeah.
Mark Tebeau [00:03:21] And in fact, we could not say it better. That's exactly what we are doing. And the Euclid Corridor thing and the way it relates to Detroit Shoreway is that they're part of the same place. Detroit Shoreway is not on the corridor. The corridor is just a vehicle for starting the process. Without asking about our region, and the neighborhoods are part of that story. And so we imagine being part of a bigger piece.
Ray Pianka [00:03:39] Oh, great.
Mark Tebeau [00:03:40] Library of Congress – I don't know if we've told you this – has emerged as a big partner with us. So all of these interviews may eventually end up in the Library of Congress. In the very least, they're being digitized right now. Becky will transcribe this interview. We will get you a copy of it.
Ray Pianka [00:04:02] Okay.
Mark Tebeau [00:04:02] And we see this as part of an ongoing process. We are probably going to want to come back and speak with you. Probably a second or third time.
Ray Pianka [00:04:02] All right. And with the Euclid Corridor project, with which this is part of it, but someone that is right close to that was Artha Woods and I had given her name. She was a clerk and city council, councilwoman. She lives on East 89th Street and she is a wonderful history of our that community along Euclid Avenue and more along Cedar, the clubs, the jazz clubs that were over there and all of those places.
Mark Tebeau [00:04:32] I'm going to violate your personal space.
Ray Pianka [00:04:34] Okay.
Mark Tebeau [00:04:34] You should just talk to Becky. Ignore me.
Ray Pianka [00:04:36] Oh, all right. Ignore the man behind the screen.
Becky Solecki [00:04:39] Tell me when to begin.
Mark Tebeau [00:04:46] You can begin any time, Becky.
Becky Solecki [00:04:51] Yes. My name is Becky Solecki. I'm interviewing Judge Pianka on 12 or December 9th, 2005. I'm going to start off with some background questions. Basically, where were you born? And, tell me a little bit about the area you were born in and raised.
Ray Pianka [00:05:10] Well, I. Born, physically born, at St. Luke's Hospital. But my parents lived, when I was born and I grew up in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood off of West 65th and Detroit, on the street at that time was called Clinton. It's now West Clinton. 6310. And my parents had moved there in 1950 and I was born in '51. They had purchased a house there on that street. And I lived in that area ever since.
Becky Solecki [00:05:46] Very good. Can you tell me a little bit about, a little bit about growing up in that area?
Ray Pianka [00:05:47] It was a wonderful area to grow up in, and of course, many people have wonderful childhood stories growing up in Cleveland's neighborhoods and I do as well. It was a neighborhood that had immigrant populations which were primarily Italian, Romanian, and Irish. And in our area, the Irish were from a specific spot in Ireland called Achill, Achill Island, Achill Sound, and which was a sort of a hardscrabble area in Ireland. And they relocated to the Detroit 65th area and the Irish that lived around Detroit 65th were even different than some of the other West Side Irish. And in fact, they were called the Irish of the Cheyenne and had located there. Many of them worked in public service jobs. They they were the first group in the area, the Irish. And they were also involved in every level of neighborhood social interaction and commerce and good and bad taverns. And there was a gang called the McCart Street Gang in the, in 1895 that was a plague upon the city. And of course, McCart Street was West 69th Street close to this area. The Romanians were from a specific area. And there were three groups of Romanians, the Orthodox the Catholic, Byzantine Catholic, and the Baptists. And they all had churches in the area. And so with the Irish, you had certain cultural attributes and of course, with the Romanians as well. But in a little different way almost, you know, Eastern European. But the Romanians were sort of a merchant group: very upward mobile, very much into education. And they had a bank which is still there, which is the Pioneer Savings and Loan. Originally, that was a Romanian savings and loan that people there Byzantine Catholic. There is was the America the Romanian Daily News there. There was the Club Carpentina, the Club Dragalina, which the buildings are still there, but they're gone. And so the Orthodox Church moved out probably late '50s. And it's now owned by Cleveland Public Theatre. It moved over to Warren Road, St. Mary's Romanian Orthodox Church, the oldest Romanian Orthodox Church in the country. The Romi oldest Romanian church in the country is St. Helena's Church, which is at 1367 West 65th Street. And the Romanians, many of them are Transylvanians and Transylvania, of course, is a particular area shared by Hungarians and Romanians. And the reason the Romanians moved to our area is because there were Transylvanians there. In fact, there is a West Side Sachsenheim Club up on Denison, which Sachsenheim is the Saxons. And so there were Transylvanian Saxons in the area which made the Hungarians and Romanians more comfortable with moving to that area of the West Side. They're also off of Buckeye Hungarians, some Romanian, and more specifically Romanians St. Clair-Superior. So those were the the three groups, although there are other groups in smaller numbers like the Mexican Hispanic groups now primarily Puerto Rican. But on 57th and Detroit is Club Azteca, which is the oldest Mexican club in Ohio. And because there are a number of people who had relocated to the area who were of Mexican descent. And then there are other eclectic little groups. And there's one group which I belong to sort of isn't part of those groups that moved in, but I'm of Polish descent and at least on my paternal side and [there's a] three or four of our families there who located a number of them from the East Side, the Near East Side to the Near West Side.
Becky Solecki [00:10:38] Speaking about your family at the moment, I understand your grandparents met and got married in Cleveland? Do you want to.
Ray Pianka [00:10:42] Yes, my paternal grandparents met and were married in 1913, July of 1913, and they married at St. Josaphat's Church, which was established, but the church was not built. And so in the St. John's Cathedral, they had a Polish chapel where they were married and then the church was later built. And that's over on East 33rd Street off of Superior. And my grandfather and grandmother lived at 2400 Lakeside. Then they moved to 2163 Lakeside. Then, 2222 Hamilton Avenue, and then made the big move in the late '30s to 1429 East 43rd Street. And, the housing stock was the most basic housing stock, immigrant housing. They're, they were just shacks in a way. And there's you can still see a few of those homes, although that area's industrial now. And then East 43rd was nice, had indoor bathrooms and that type of thing. So that was my father's cousin said they were moving to the Heights.
Becky Solecki [00:12:05] Where are your grandparents from and what brought them to this area?
Ray Pianka [00:12:06] My grandmother Wladyslawa Zalewski and my grandfather, Alex Pianka, both immigrated from a small village in northeast Poland called Lomza, near Lomza, and the village is called Dobry Las. We are of the Korpi clan, which is a grouping of people who live in the forest and the Korpi are divided into the white Korpi, which is called Bialy, and the green, Zielony, basically because of the white being the birch and the green being the pine trees in the area and we're of the green variety. And so that area is in northeast Poland and was an area where many of the royal families, when fleeing Warsaw ran to hide in the woods and they're forced people of primary industry being beekeeping. And in fact, their whole legal system is called the beekeeper's law. So that's what their code of law was. And they were expert marksman, of course, because of the hunting. And in Poland, in the insurrection of 1863, they played an important role because of their marksmanship. It's on the border with the East Prussia and Lithuania, and so a lot of groups traveling through there. And so my grandparents immigrated my grandfather to Fall River, Massachusetts, where there were some members of his family and then on to Cleveland were joining other people from our village here. The Piacek family the Plona family, and many of them belonged to St. Josaphat's. And my grandmother, also from that village but came later and her sister and brother also located here. So Cleveland provided some attraction. My grandfather listed that he was at one point going to work at Otis Steel and there was a little steel blast furnace on 30th and Lakeside called. I don't know what the word for blast furnace is, I forgot, but it's maly, little in Polish. I think blok nowy, which is a little blast furnace at 30th and Lakeside. So that's really worked for a while. It was at a chair company. My grandfather, then went to work at W.S. Tyler where my uncle and father also worked. And then my grandfather and uncle retired from there. But my father went to work for the Republic Steel River Terminal Railroad.
Becky Solecki [00:15:24] I am familiar with the steel strike of the 1950s. Was your family involved? Were they involved?
Ray Pianka [00:15:25] Yes, yes. Yes, we were. And my father was on strike, so [the] mill was closed and so they weren't hauling steel around there. So it was a time when, luckily, in our house, there was an apartment upstairs. And so my parents moved all the furniture from the first floor where we lived to the second floor and rented the apartment as furnished. And my father was able to get odd jobs. But, it was sort of lean times then. But, but my parents were extremely frugal. So they were able to survive. Of course, they grew up in the Depression. So they were able to survive that and then in later years even, you know, they kept that that I think that was one of their hobbies was saving money. You know, the utility companies would come out to check the meters to make sure that they were working because the consumption was so low.
Mark Tebeau [00:16:28] I am going to jump in about the strike. How long was that? Was that a long strike?
Ray Pianka [00:16:33] It. I was probably two or three years old. So, you know, I only hear about it. I don't remember it, but it seemed like it was a year and a half, two years or something. It seemed like a long, long time.
Mark Tebeau [00:16:45] Because your dad didn't work.
Ray Pianka [00:16:47] Right. Yeah. He didn't work at, at the mill. He had Republic Steel. But he, you know, he also did jobs with friends of his wallpapering, all that type of thing, you know, to bring in funds that type of thing.
Mark Tebeau [00:17:04] And then he went back to the mill?
Ray Pianka [00:17:05] Yeah. Yeah. At River Terminal Railroad, which is a subsidiary of Republic Steel. So he's a brakeman and he retired as a brakeman from River Terminal.
Becky Solecki [00:17:20] I wanted to step back to your youth. If you could tell me what your community was like as a child and your experience.
Ray Pianka [00:17:28] Well, it was. It was a wonderful street to grow up on a great many children. I went to public schools, so we had I went to Waverly School, which was on West 58th at the time. They built a new one on West 54th. But Waverly School was named after Waverly Street, which is West 58th Street. And so it was. Had a lot of friends from the school and the different streets, although it was not a wealthy area by any means. I remember one time in one class, you know, they'd have health people come out and you're talking about brushing your teeth and in front of the class they said, well, how many children here have toothbrushes? And half the class raised their hands. And then they said, how many have their own toothbrush? Well, only about ten percent raise their hands. So, that was something I remember. But it. We played on the streets on 57th Street, on West Clinton, Herman Playground. We had. There was church Bible school at Bethany Presbyterian Church. And we were busy all the time.
Becky Solecki [00:19:01] You just mentioned Bethany Presbyterian Church. Can you describe the church and is it still there today?
Ray Pianka [00:19:09] Yeah. Bethany Presbyterian is, began as an outgrowth of Old Stone Church and they decided to build a church on the West Side. And that church was formed in 1889 and the building was built in about 1894. Very stark almost an arts and crafts movement and it has some Akron plan features of it, where the walls between the chapel and the church go up and you can have a larger area there. It primarily had Scottish immigrants or people who have that origin, although there was a large Italian contingent that was there as well. That had when they closed the Church of the Redeemer on West 69th Street joined in with Bethany Presbyterian.
Mark Tebeau [00:20:10] How did your family come to join the church? It seems like a far cry from St. Josaphat's.
Ray Pianka [00:20:15] Yeah, it is. Well, you know, my mother grew up in a Methodist church. And so this church was on the corner of the street. So that's where we went. My father wasn't particularly religious, but he. He certainly wasn't Presbyterian, but, you know, he's Catholic all along. But we went to Bethany. It was there on the corner and convenient. My mother, then was a deacon and on the session and then I was a deacon and then on the session and the church is still there. It's about 100 members. Small. It has a bit of a Hispanic ministry. But there are people that are still there.
Becky Solecki [00:21:02] Is it still a Presbyterian church?
Ray Pianka [00:21:04] It is, yes.
Becky Solecki [00:21:05] It is. I understand that you've lived in the Detroit Shoreway area your entire life. And are still there today.
Ray Pianka [00:21:16] Yes, yes.
Becky Solecki [00:21:16] And you're familiar with a lot of the housing.
Ray Pianka [00:21:19] I have some familiarity, yes.
Becky Solecki [00:21:22] Do you want to explain some of that to me or explain some of your favorites?
Ray Pianka [00:21:25] Well, we have a poster which I'll certainly give to you with some of the homes on Franklin Boulevard, but the the area. That's from what my perception is it has grown in three stages. Sort of the period that is even to, let's say 1850s, 1860s, when shipping started to be an important feature in Cleveland. And a number of the people who worked in the shipyards and the shipping industry on the ships unloading the ships lived in this area. And so there is a almost a vernacular Italianate type structure. There aren't many left, but there are some around. Then in 1880s, more properties were built in the eastern end of the Detroit Shoreway area and then 1890s, things really began to move up in sort of a Victorian stick style, Eastlake. As you see the city's boundaries moving further and further west. This area was the western edge of the city, West 65th street. And so it was called the West End. And then after the Victorian era, a small period when arts and crafts movement homes and then after the arts and crafts movement, the colonial revival homes were built. So they're styles from all of those eras there. One of the unique things about this area is that on West Clinton, on Franklin Boulevard, on West 58th Street, there are many homes that are designed by leading architects at the time. Forest or Frank Coburn built his house there. He designed many homes, buildings in Cleveland and was a prolific architect. Frederick Baird also grew up in the area and he designed many buildings throughout Cleveland. But in this area he was a West Sider. Hopkinson also grew up in the area, went to West High and was an architect for the Cleveland school system, but designed many buildings. There's Alexander Pennington was a builder, but his son Charles Pennington was a architect. In fact, designed my house and he was more arts and crafts type architect. And he moved to Lakewood and designed many of the properties in Lakewood on Clifton and Lake Avenue. And you can see his signature on those properties. Once you've become familiar with a few of them, you can point out the Pennington properties. He was also on the Lakewood Planning Commission, and there's probably about five other architects that had worked in that area. The, the Italianates properties there are some good examples of those in the area, as well. And so has a rich architectural heritage. And I should state and it was almost hidden from sight, but because Cleveland was a major shipping port in the United States and in fact, it was second after Clyde, Scotland as far as shipping. There were so many people tied to the maritime trades that were here, shipbuilders, ship captains. And of course, the Irish were unloading the ships. And in fact, they viewed the Irish as that was their providence was to unload these ships. They called them coal heavers [or] terriers. And so you'd, you'd be able to tell there if they were pulling coal off because they'd come home all with soot, black soot on him or with sort of the reddish-orange soot on them. And then the, the unloaders came in and then the clamshell unloaders and then the hulett on loaders. And so they didn't need all those people. And so they went on to other trades and businesses.
Becky Solecki [00:25:58] I can tell you have a vast knowledge of local history. Let's start with where you went to school as a child up through, you know, post.
Ray Pianka [00:26:04] Oh, OK.
Becky Solecki [00:26:07] And a, go ahead.
Ray Pianka [00:26:09] All right. I attended kindergarten and grade school at Waverly Elementary School on West 58th Street, and the building was built by civil war veterans, and then went on to West Junior High School, West Senior High School. West High School was the after Central High School closed was the oldest high school west of the Alleghenies founded in 1855. And the building that I was in on Franklin was built in 1902. But it was West High's fourth building, and then that was closed in 1970 and consolidated with Lincoln High School, so it became Lincoln-West. And then the, they put a junior high at that location which is called Gallagher. The West High School, wonderful high school to go in. Although there were probably urban issues that were there, but it was a wonderful community. We had great teachers there. And then I went on to Cleveland State University and received a my degree in political science and I had enough credits, but they didn't allow dual degrees and also communications, as well. And then left from there on to Cleveland Marshall College of Law, where I attended the night program while I was working at Detroit Shoreway. And then, graduated from Cleveland Marshall, and that's about it for my schooling.
Mark Tebeau [00:27:51] I'm going to ask, Becky where you have a question I know at the end and I want to interrupt with two quick questions because we have a limited amount of time. So we see this as part of two or three-stage interview.
Ray Pianka [00:28:01] Oh, okay.
Mark Tebeau [00:28:01] We are just laying the foundation for our next conversation.
Ray Pianka [00:28:04] Oh, okay.
Mark Tebeau [00:28:05] Just so you know because we can't cover everything. So we are kind of, that's why Becky asks just these basic bio questions
Ray Pianka [00:28:11] Right.
Mark Tebeau [00:28:14] You mentioned, I have two questions. You went, and I know that Becky has three or four questions. You have. Firstly, you have mentioned that there were some urban issues when you went to high school. What, you know, tell us about the neighborhood at this particular moment and what you mean by that. What's it like going to West High School in the you know late '60s, you know, early.
Ray Pianka [00:28:33] Late '60s, yeah. Late '60s, I graduate in '69. Urban issues. There were gangs. There were the 58th Street Gang. There was a gang that had somewhat died out by the time I graduated, which was called the Dago Bombers from the leaders lived on West Clinton and on West 69th. And although I never had a problem because I went to school with the individuals. There, there probably was some turmoil over that. And school at the time, of course, the Vietnam War was starting to percolate up. Some of our West hires were killed in the Vietnam War. We had a memorial put up for some of the all the people that went to Vietnam and the ones that died. And of course, you knew these people personally. My brother went to West Tech, which was another school, but then he he was in the Vietnam War. There were probably issues of poverty to some degree, although it wasn't something that I noticed. We had it at West High, who is head of, oh, I think there are about 20 to 100 students there and primarily from the West Side, but also included was the area which is CMHA Lakeview and Riverview Terrace. So we had probably out of those students 30 African American students. But it seemed to work. Well, at least in our particular environment, Sharon Dumas, the assistant finance director of the city was in my class and she was crowned the track queen. You know, one of the few African American women there. And there are a number of other African Americans that were active in sports and part of that grouping. So it seemed like it was worked out.
Mark Tebeau [00:31:00] It doesn't sound like it was the racial conflict that you might have encountered on in the East Side, because this is about the time of the desegregation.
Ray Pianka [00:31:04] It was just before. Yeah. Just before that. There wasn't that conflict there. And, perhaps there wasn't the stress and strain of people moving into the area. African Americans moving into the area and there were very few African Americans that were there, lived there, and been there, and part of the school system. But it wasn't a change for anyone. But one of the changes in the area now is that it is integrated in a much more dramatic fashion than it was when I was growing up. And I see that as a particular strength for the community. When I was growing up, there weren't any African-Americans living in the immediate community. A few Hispanics and a few Hispanics were moving into the area, but it didn't have the strength of racial diversity. It had a strength of diversity, of some cultural diversity Romanian, Irish, Appalachian. But it didn't have the strength of the racial diversity, which it does now. And in the area, it. That strength, I think, shows in some of the developments that are going on in the community and there isn't a lot of stress and strain in the community this day, even though it has been integrated to a large degree.
Mark Tebeau [00:32:42] Now, you started Detroit Shoreway, is that correct?
Ray Pianka [00:32:45] I was one of the people involved with Detroit Shoreway and sort of, Detroit Shoreway started when the Economic Development Department of the city of Cleveland, Lee Lybarger and Joe Ferber were looking at the loss of industrial jobs in the city.
Mark Tebeau [00:33:03] When was this?
Ray Pianka [00:33:04] This was in the early '70s. And so they looked at the Detroit Shoreway community that in 1960 had the highest number of people walk to work. And then by 1970, it was falling apart and they said, we have to do something as a city. So they came and approached Mike Zone, the councilman, and other people in the area about setting up something to stop this hemorrhaging of industrial jobs and the way the community was put together. The decision was made. Well, we're just not going to approach this from an industrial economic development, but a social development of having a residential, industrial and commercial. So all three groups on the board of Detroit Shoreway, I was organizing the block clubs on West 76th Street, and I was doing that I was a councilmatic intern in a joint program between political science and somehow Tom Campbell was involved. But it wasn't a College of Urban Affairs, the name was the Institute of Urban Affairs. And so I took a course and was a councilmatic intern to Mike Zone. Then from that councilmatic internship, I took a course in public administration from Roberta Steinbacher and one of the things I did and continue to do, even when the course was over, was block club organization. Working with the Otis Material Handling, Otis Elevator Company, which was at the bottom of West 76th Street from that the West 76th Street Block Club was established, which was the first regular block club presence in Detroit Shoreway. There'd been other block clubs, but this one was had an organizer and developed and Irene Catlin was the chair of that block club. And so with that block club, Detroit Shoreway then had a component and I was involved in the meetings with Detroit Shoreway with the commercial interests in the area. And James Ross was the first chairman of Detroit Shoreway and he was with a group called Ohio Home Remodelers. But then the oldest material handling and Union Carbide Corporation battery division was involved, as well as Harris Calorific and the Westinghouse Corporation. So we designed this organization. Jerry Meyer was there most certainly from the beginning, and he was representing West Side Ecumenical Ministry. And so I was then in law school. And then in 1974, I was hired part-time to be the executive secretary, then executive director of Detroit Shoreway. And so I was involved from the beginning with it and some of the seminal roots, which is the residential roots of it, and also working with the companies Union Carbide on some expansion and also Otis on some expansion. But the industrial sector is almost completely gone.
Mark Tebeau [00:36:26] When did it disappear? And then Becky you can go.
Ray Pianka [00:36:26] I'd say it disappeared probably into the to the '90s. Otis closed down. Some of the other smaller companies like a Tube Craft closed. Union Carbide closed about five, six years ago. A Westinghouse moved out. Paramount is in the Westinghouse plant. Harris Calorific closed down HKM is in there now. And so there is a broad shift, of course, out of multistory industrial buildings. And of course, this area had multistory industrial buildings that went back to the 1860s 1870s. Some of them.
Becky Solecki [00:37:16] I know the Detroit Shoreway community is located in Gordon Square Arcade.
Ray Pianka [00:37:21] Yes.
Becky Solecki [00:37:21] Do you have knowledge of the Gordon Square Arcade history and would you inform me of it?
Ray Pianka [00:37:16] Yes, in fact, I have two articles I don't know if you've seen them about the Gordon Square building, but this was a tremendous real estate project to build a significant building. The most significant building on the west side, probably one of them in the city and certainly in a city neighborhood. And it's the only arcade that's in an actual city neighborhood, unless you include downtown as city neighborhoods, which I guess some people can do now that there are people living there. But it was a tremendous investment opportunity. In fact, I have one ad here that said that you need to buy the stock in this building because look back five years at Euclid and 105th and look at it now. This is in 1920. So step forward and buy some shares of this building. And what a unique building this is. There isn't another building like this, I think, anywhere in the city. It had a 70 room single-room occupancy hotel, which is called the Gordon Square Gentlemen's Club. And when it opened, Patrick F. Kennedy was the manager of it. And Patrick Kennedy, a real estate investor, had built two of the other buildings on the corners there and 70 room hotel. Of course, only four bathrooms in those 70 rooms. So that was a sort of a hindrance. And then 20 offices on the second floor, professional offices. And of course, when I was growing up, that's where the doctors were, the dentists, the lawyers. And in fact, it was the only building that I knew of. St. John's Hospital, I guess, would be another, that had an elevator. And what and what a what a unique thing for us to do is ride on that elevator and of course, go in that arcade which was built. And with all of that echoing going on, although at the time I was growing up, it was starting to spiral downward. But the dime store, the men's store, the restaurant, there was a Marshall's Drug in there at one time. There was a market in the area, 72 stall market. There is a billiards club in the basement. There was La Conga Club down in the basement. That was also a roller rink. The Irish American Club started in the Gordon Square Building. The Capitol Theatre, which was a Allen's Capitol Theatre, was built as a movie theater, had a class F theatre organ in it, and had about 1200 seats.
Mark Tebeau [00:39:54] The same as the Allen downtown?
Ray Pianka [00:39:56] Yes. And this was at the same time and these were the the Allen brothers, I guess they were built the Capitol Theatre. And so it was just a wonderful commercial building. It was a commercial failure in the during the Depression because everyone lost their money on the stocks in the building because it crashed and had to be refinanced. And of course, it's been refinanced several times since that time.
Mark Tebeau [00:40:28] What you remember about it growing up actually is kind of interesting. How did, did you view this as the like place to go then?
Ray Pianka [00:40:28] Well, it was a place to go to go to the dentist, to go to the doctor. My doctor, Dr. [Eliseo] Biagiotti, had an office there. He also lived on the other side of West Clinton. And, you know, because he was there and he was an elderly Italian doctor. But I know one time I was my I was very sick. And he ran from that building over to my house and got emergency medical. And basically my life was saved. I had to get my tonsils out later on because it was an inflammation. But, so it played a key role with us interactions in the community. When we bought clothes, we went to Murray's Men's Shop. And when we bought our school supplies, we went to the Myer's Five and Ten or there was another store next to the drugstore, which is called Rothman's, a variety store. We went there. The shoe store was across the street. There was the theatre. We went there, the Capitol Theatre. That was the first movie theater I had ever gone to. [inaudible question] I don't. No, I don't.
Mark Tebeau [00:41:49] Do you remember seeing any particular movies?
Ray Pianka [00:41:50] I don't. I remember going in there. It was. It was more refined then the theater that many. We went to many times, which was the Madison, which was just a free for all type theater up on Madison and 95th. The, the Capitol had a balcony and staircases and.
Becky Solecki [00:42:12] Do you remember when it closed?
Ray Pianka [00:42:21] It closed probably in the late '80s, maybe early '90s, although you're able still to see films. When I was director of Detroit Shoreway, we ran it. It was the Deutsche Kino, the German show, and was run by a fellow named, Willy Schneider, who ran it for probably 20 years. And then we brought in Joe Saletski, who had a Polish radio program and he ran ethnic films there. And then we had a couple of performances there, film performances, the International Film Festival. We had a couple of vaudeville shows there. And then I don't know when the last film was shown in there, although everything was intact. The movie projector, although it was an old type that was all there and it could be operated. I don't know what the situation is now.
Mark Tebeau [00:43:16] So this was when you were director when you were talking when you were describing the late '70s?
Ray Pianka [00:43:19] I was director of Detroit Shoreway from 1974 to 1985. And so it was during that time and even a bit after that time. Detroit Shoreway purchased the building in 1979 from Harvey Oppman and Melvin Ross and. Then started renovating it, using a Urban Development Action grant.
Mark Tebeau [00:43:50] So it seems to me, the arcade is really the symbol of Detroit Shoreway as a neighborhood it has become that.
Ray Pianka [00:44:01] Yeah.
Mark Tebeau [00:44:01] I mean, is that a correct assumption?
Ray Pianka [00:44:03] Well, I think it is. The more people know about that building. And they're people who've never been inside of the building. The more people know about the building. I think the more people will appreciate what a asset it is to the community. It's the bomb shelter for the area. You know, there were bomb shelter signs. I don't know if they're still there, you know, you could fit 200 people in in there and then it had these doors that came down. And it is a unique neighborhood building and not every neighborhood. And in fact, this is the only one that has a building of this scale and quality, I think. Just that it would come to my mind.
Mark Tebeau [00:44:48] I think, you know, in respect to your schedule, we're about 2:20, so I know you have something.
Ray Pianka [00:44:51] Okay, well, at three and I just have to be available if you want to take a juncture, I just have to see if I have to sign things. One of the things that this position is that there are always things I have to sign journal entries and that type of thing and people are being moved out or they want to stay or whatever. And I have to sign.
Mark Tebeau [00:45:09] Well, why don't we take a quick break?
Ray Pianka [00:45:11] Yeah.
Mark Tebeau [00:45:11] We'll get a couple last questions. Strategize.
Ray Pianka [00:45:13] Yeah, that'll be fine. Did you want some water? Some bottled water?
Mark Tebeau [00:45:16] I'm fine.
Becky Solecki [00:45:17] I'm fine.
Ray Pianka [00:45:17] Are you sure? Okay.
Becky Solecki [00:45:22] We just have a couple more questions.
Ray Pianka [00:45:22] Oh, okay.
Becky Solecki [00:45:27] Do you have a sense of knowledge of [inaudible] and I was wondering were what motivated this? Like, where did it begin?
Ray Pianka [00:45:36] Well, I've been interested in history all along, the history of that community, and many times it felt like the more I'd find out, the more in aww I was of the community. And sometimes I felt, here I was walking through the remnants of a great civilization. All of these things happening. The Gordon Square being a good example. When I was growing up, the market wasn't running the lower arcade. There weren't businesses in there. But at one time there were and just to, to read about what had happened. Or, most importantly, for me to talk with people who had been there. And so my entire life I've been able to learn from other people what it was like. What was it like when you arrived here from Ireland? What did the neighborhood look like or from Romania, or what was it like in Italy and, or your father was a ship captain, and so how, how was that and or you were at Saint Colman's Church. And so all of those things and was able to take those then step further and look at things in a citywide basis as well, in which this job is that I'm in presently has given me a great opportunity to do that because I love structures in the city. I love people and various groups and what their stories are. And so I've been able to learn from that. And so it's a learning experience and I've been able to uncover certain things that have been hidden from sight, although people can research them and find them out for themselves. But every corner of the city of Cleveland has stories and people who've grown up there, in fact, I was thinking we're going to do a story on a house over on Lakeview Avenue, which Lakeview Road, which is built by a design by a premier architect. The mayor of Glenville lived in it and the family that's in there now and just loves this house. And you know, what a great story that is, that they love this house. They live in the house. They live there. Their grandkids, their children live there. And it's, it's continuing. You know, this house, after 100 years is continuing to contribute and be important in people's lives.
Mark Tebeau [00:48:11] Which house?
[00:48:11] It's over on Lakeview. It's the Schellentrager House, 690 Lakeview. And it was the Oldham family lives there now. And one of the things I do is I have a cable Cleveland Access cable TV show called Home Court. So we have about, oh, 27 shows that go on, mainly how to keep out of housing court. What do you do if you have a slate roof? How do you repair it? If you have a roach infestation or pigeon infestation, but there are certain properties that we go to that are restoration projects. We did one on Scranton. So I've been able to research the history of the house. Who built it? Why they build it in their particular style. There's the Lakeview House. We're working on a house on Rockwell. And I just talked with the family yesterday who had lived there for about 75 years and what it was like living in that house. And so, [it's] something that I enjoy doing and make some of the other things that I don't enjoy so much doing tolerable.
Becky Solecki [00:49:22] One last question, is there anything you'd like to tell me that I haven't asked you? A great story. Anything we didn't cover?
Mark Tebeau [00:49:26] I know we have more. I mean, like I said, we are going to come back, but anything you'd like to say today?
Ray Pianka [00:49:34] See, I. I don't know.
Becky Solecki [00:49:38] If not, no pressure.
Ray Pianka [00:49:39] Yeah. I don't know.
Mark Tebeau [00:49:41] This is great.
Ray Pianka [00:49:41] Okay.
Becky Solecki [00:49:43] Thank you. Becky Solecki interviewing Judge Pianka on December 12th, 2005. Thank you.
Ray Pianka [00:49:49] Okay.
Interviews in this series were conducted by students and researchers in the History Department at Cleveland State University in partnership with Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO). Interviews took place at Gordon Square Arcade and in other venues in the neighborhood. Select oral histories were accessible for several years in listening stations in the Gypsy Beans coffee house at Detroit Avenue and West 65th Street.