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Lee Harvard: Part 1

 This was my first run of the Lee Harvard neighborhood.

Map: Run 1, Run 2, Run 3, Run 4

Distance This Run: 20 miles

Distance So Far: 704.8 miles

Lee Harvard has been called 'the suburb in the city' given the fact that much of its housing developed in the mid-20th century. However, this beauty on Biltmore Ave was built in 1929 and is the oldest on the block. It truly stand outs out among the other homes. In fact, it was one of if not the coolest looking house I saw in this 20-mile segment of the neighborhood. They just don't build them like they used to.

Lee Harvard has a canopy cover rate around 20% with the capability of possessing upwards of 57%. However, canopy cover is no issue on Invermere Ave, the northern limit of the neighborhood.

Lee Road is the commercial spine of the neighborhood. While the surrounding residential areas are stable/inviting, Lee not. The photo above shows how wide and barren large swaths of the road and sidewalks are. This has led the Bibb administration to make Lee Road a pillar of the Southeast Side Promise. The City will spend at least $15 million for a total rehabilitation of Lee in 2027. Those improvements will try to mimic Shaker Heights award-winning plans for their portion of Lee just north of the city border. That plan includes a sidewalk-level cycle track, medians, and increased green infrastructure. This is a project I'll be working on quite a bit in my job at City Hall and I'm pretty excited about it. This neighborhood desperately needs and deserves a safer and more attractive main corridor.

According to Vision Zero Cleveland data, the Lee Road/Harvard Road intersection is Top 25 for crashes in Cleveland. With 4 lanes of traffic, no center turn lane and no other meaningful traffic calming measures, the road is full of rear end collisions, sideswipes and turning collisions. It's a very dangerous street for pedestrians trying to cross the road. And don't even try cycling on it. The road rehabilitation project should make a huge improvement.

Here's an example of the types of crashes at the intersection we're trying to prevent. Yes, I actually took this on this run. Notice the damage it did to the fence in the back.

Here's an example of pedestrian trying to cross Lee & Harvard. Notice the volume of traffic, the 5 lanes the individual has to cross, the faded crosswalks, etc. Now imagine if there were only three drive lanes, better pedestrian signalization, enhanced crosswalks and curb extensions and/or daylighting. We will make this happen in 2027.

This commercial building was built in 1950 and is one of the oldest still standing on Lee Road.

Some sidewalk flair on Lee at Shaker Hair & Beauty Supply. Check out owner Tony's Instagram for some promotional humor.

According researcher Dr. Todd Michney, author of "Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900 - 1980", Lee Road Baptist Church was established 1944. The first African American member joined in 1960, and the congregation became majority-black as Lee-Harvard’s demographics shifted rapidly during the following decade. It served as the headquarters for the highly active Lee-Harvard Community Association (founded 1957) for much of its history.

This is E. 155th Street, the western border of Lee Harvard. When the neighborhood was first developed, it was nearly 100% White. This street was referred to as the "38th Parallel", a reference to the dividing line between North and South Korea during the Korean War. However, in Lee Harvard, it meant the boundary Blacks were warned not to cross in terms of homeownership. That would change in 1953 (see next photo)...

According to the article 'Beyond White Flight':  "In July 1953, Wendell and Genevieve Stewart, an African American couple, purchased the house at 15508 Talford (above), touching off a furor that challenged Cleveland’s reputation for relatively placid race relations. Wendell Stewart was a mortician at the city’s largest black-owned funeral home, the House of Wills. He was a deacon at the prominent Antioch Baptist Church, a member of the NAACP, and a board member at the Cedar Branch YMCA. Genevieve worked as a retail supervisor and hosted a weekly radio program. Despite the couple’s solidly middle-class background, white residents’ immediate response was outrage. A neighborhood committee met with Wendell Stewart and his lawyers, alongside Cleveland Mayor Thomas Burke, in an attempt to de-escalate the situation. Once it became apparent that the Stewarts intended to stay, Mayor Burke made a public address to Lee-Harvard residents, where he told an angry crowd of over five hundred people that he would continue to provide police protection to the Stewarts and defend their right to the property. Through such interventions, and the courage of 'pioneering' black families like the Stewarts, Cleveland maintained its reputation for tolerance into the following decade. Talford neighbors grudgingly accepted the Stewarts after the tense first six months, but the house was vandalized on two occasions, and other African American families avoided Lee-Harvard until 1957. In 1961, however, a rash of “blockbusting” ensued. Aggressive real estate agents played upon white homeowners’ racial fears to generate rapid turnover, buying low and then selling at a substantial markup to black middle-class families desperate to improve their housing situations. In fewer than five years, Lee-Harvard was overwhelmingly African American; most of the remaining whites were either poor or elderly."

Early winter streetscape on a residential street north of Harvard Ave.

This vacant lot is the site of the former Gracemount Elementary School which was built in 1947. In 1950, nearly 60% of Black students in the Cleveland schools attended schools that were 91-100% Black. However, the Board of Education chose to add temporary classrooms at Gracemount Elementary for black students, which, at the time, was 100% white. Gracemount was known for its gifted student programs. A notable physical feature of the school was a multi-colored glass block wall (seen here).The school was closed and demolished in 2012. Residents and alumni received "Gracemount bricks" as a commemorative item.

Not surprisingly, this was one of the more colorful houses on the run (literally). It's proudly flying the flag of Turkey. Also, notice the solar panels on the roof.

This barricade on E. 173rd (and another like it on E. 177th) at the border of Shaker Heights was first introduced in 1959, removed, then reinstalled in 1976 in what was explained at the time as a means to reduce vehicle traffic. However, some considered it racially motivated given the long-standing tensions between Shaker and Cleveland. The battle over its removal made it all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, who ruled in favor Shaker. In the years that would follow, it became a symbol of division and protest (more on the full history here). Over the past 10 or so years, planning has focused on making it into a bike boulevard. The project would serve as an alternate route for cyclists trying to head north/south, north of Harvard Ave. Shaker designated their portion of the street a bike boulevard in 2015. Cleveland will likely look at their portion (plus redesigning the barricade) as part of their upcoming Citywide Mobility Plan.

Powerful image on a back lot off Lee Heights Blvd. Kind of represents the historic expectations of the neighborhood well. Read this story by Lisa Price regarding what it was like growing up in Lee Harvard as a kid in the 1960s.

Jo Ann Park is an 8-acre park established in 1952 and features baseball field, spray park and fitness walking trail. It's also kind of the "backyard" of Adlai Stevenson School (next).

Adlai Stevenson School is a K-8 elementary school that serves 415 students. It opened in 1967 and a new school was built on this site next to Jo Ann Park in 2010. Home of the Sharks.

According to the book 'The Making of Cleveland’s Black “Suburb in the City”: Lee-Seville & Lee-Harvard': "The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepperd was formed in 1946 and held services at Gracemount School. In May of 1949, the congregation broke ground on a simple frame church with a steeple (to the right of the church above but out of picture). The congregation broke ground in Feburary of 1959 (for the church above). With a sanctuary for 350 people, overflow space for 100, an office and pastor's study, mother's room and sacristy, it was a modern facility. The 1949 church was moved to join the new (church) and is utilized for fellowship space."

Lee Harvard has always been a proud and important neighborhood in Cleveland (and beyond). By the 1970s, it was the highest-income area inhabited by African Americans in the entire state of Ohio. The neighborhood's median income was more than double the city average. Today, the neighborhood remains strong but is showing signs of distress. In fact, it is the only Middle Neighborhood in Cleveland in which the appraised value of homes are greater than arms-length transactions. That's a big red flag. It's also the neighborhood with the largest population of residents aged 65 years or older, meaning that longtime homeowners are aging out. It's imperative that neighborhoods like Lee Harvard remain stable in Cleveland. This is why the current administration's promise for investment - neighborhood master planning; millions for home repair; the redevelopment of the JFK High School site; the Lee Road project - are so timely and crucial.