ALBANIANS are today one of Greater Cleveland's most prominent ethnic communities, growing significantly since the fall of communism in Albania in 1992. They arrived in Cleveland in four distinct waves: late 19th century (1890s), early 20th century (1900-1938), post-World War II (1945-1992), and after the fall of communism (1992-present).
Cleveland's earliest Albanian immigrants arrived from Italy in the 1890s, as part of the large influx of ITALIAN immigrants. Known as the Arbëreshë, these Albanians were descendants of those who fled to southern Italy in order to escape the Ottoman invasion of their homeland in the Middle Ages. The second wave of Albanians came to Cleveland from Korçë, a major cultural and educational center in southern Albania. Attracted by Cleveland's labor opportunities, almost all of these immigrants were from the peasantry and possessed no formal education and meager financial resources. Most were men, originally not planning to remain in the U.S.; eventually most stayed and brought their families to join them. These immigrants settled on the West Side of Cleveland, on Detroit Ave. NW from W. 54th to W. 58th Sts., and in LINNDALE. Some also settled on the East Side around E. 30th and St. Clair. In their urban ghettos, social networks provided newcomers with the support necessary to adjust to their new environment. By the time Benito Mussolini's Fascist Italy invaded Albania in 1939, approximately 1,000 people of Albanian descent were living in Cleveland.
After the second World War, Albanian displaced persons arrived in Cleveland from refugee camps in Italy, Germany, and Austria. Others came from the Kosovo region of Yugoslavia. No Albanians were allowed to leave their homeland once the communists, led by Enver Hoxha, gained control of the country in 1946. In the New World, Albanian Clevelanders established several social clubs and founded three major newspapers: The Dielli, Liria, and Shqiptari i Lire. In 1938, ORTHODOX Albanians in Cleveland founded the Society of St. E. Premte. The Society purchased land at 10716 Jasper Ave. in 1944, and by 1952 a church hall was under construction, including a temporary iconastas. Regular church services were inaugurated under this arrangement with the coming of the first pastor, Rev. Stephen Lasko, in 1955. Ground was broken for the church proper in 1964, and regular services began in 1965. Bells were installed in 1975. St. E. Premte continues to serve the Orthodox Albanian community of Cleveland to this day.
After the fall of communism in Albania in 1992, Albanian immigration to the Greater Cleveland area from Albania (especially Fier) and other parts of Southeastern Europe (especially Kosovo) exploded. These new immigrants were religiously diverse - Orthodox, CATHOLIC, MUSLIM, and secular. Many arrived through the efforts of Albanian American Cleveland Councilwoman Dona Brady. Additionally, during the war in Kosovo in 1999, Cleveland was selected by President Bill Clinton as one of five U.S. cities to receive and resettle refugees from the conflict. Today, Albanians form one of the most visibly prominent immigrant groups in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. In the metropolitan area, they number approximately 20,000, comprising the largest Albanian American community between the urban centers of the East Coast and Michigan. Their numbers continue to grow with the arrival of new immigrants to the Cleveland area, with the heaviest concentrations in the West Side neighborhoods of Cleveland and the neighboring West Side suburbs of LAKEWOOD, ROCKY RIVER, and FAIRVIEW PARK. Of these, Lakewood has the highest concentration of Albanians in Greater Cleveland. In recognition of the growing community, Cleveland concluded a SISTER CITY partnership with the city of Fier in 2006, with Councilwoman Brady sponsoring the legislation.
In 1998, the Albanian American Association of Cleveland was founded by Dona Brady, Hasan Bakia, Arile Jani, Kleida Spirollari, Victor Thomas, Walter Vajusi, Burhan Vneshta, and Kutim Dauti. The association was instrumental in raising the funds to build the Albanian Cultural Garden among the CLEVELAND CULTURAL GARDENS in Cleveland's ROCKEFELLER PARK. Formally dedicated on September 22, 2012, the garden was designed by Cleveland architect Jim McKnight and features a sculpture of Mother Theresa by renowned Albanian artist, professor, and sculptor Kreshnik Xhiku. The dedication was attended by Councilwoman Brady, former Albanian President Bujar Nishani, Albanian Ambassador to the U.S. Gilbert Galanxhi, Fier Mayor Baftjar Zeqaj, and Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson. The second phase of the Garden was marked by the installation of an ornate fountain built in the 1920s. The fountain originally stood in Willard Park, but was removed by the city to renovate the park and install the Free Stamp. The fountain, long thought lost, was discovered by Councilwoman Brady dismantled in the parking lot of Harvard Yard. The City of Cleveland originally intended to discard the fountain, but donated it to the Albanian Garden after Councilwoman Brady intervened to save it. The fountain was dedicated as part of the Garden on November 24, 2013. At the dedication, Fier Mayor Baftjar Zeqaj addressed the crowd in Albanian, while Fr. John Loejos of St. E. Premte blessed the soil from Albania that was mixed into the soil of the Garden. The Albanian American Association is responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the Albanian Garden, a symbol of the vitality of one of Cleveland's most dynamic and growing ethnic communities.
Updated by the ECH staff, with special thanks to former Cleveland City Councilwoman Dona Brady for her input and assistance.
Nicholas J. Zentos
Lorain County Community College
Cuyahoga Community College
Works Projects Admin. The Peoples of Cleveland (1942).