ALTA HOUSE, one of the city's oldest SETTLEMENT HOUSES, was established in 1895 as a day nursery for working Italian immigrant women in LITTLE ITALY. In 1898 the nursery came under the administration of the CLEVELAND DAY NURSERY AND FREE KINDERGARTEN ASSN. and rapidly expanded under the direction of Louise (Mrs. Marius E.) Rawson. Rawson and neighborhood leader JOSEPH CARABELLI approached JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER, who agreed to finance a new building in 1898, at 12515 Mayfield Rd. By the facility's dedication, 20 Feb. 1900, the nursery had expanded to a social settlement. Named after Rockefeller's daughter, Alta Rockefeller Prentice, Alta House provided clubs, classes, and a community center, as well as a nursery. During the settlement's early years, Rockefeller provided operating funds and added to the physical plant. In 1910 he purchased adjacent land for a playground and in 1913 donated another building, which eventually housed a library, swimming pool, and gymnasium. In 1921 the Rockefeller family asked to be relieved of its responsibilities, and the next year the Cleveland Community Fund began to fund Alta House.

Throughout its history, the settlement maintained a close relationship with area residents. Its Board of Trustees (est. 1900) always included neighborhood leaders, and its programs often reflected their cultural background. In the 1960s and 1970s, Alta House expanded its programs to include education and elderly aid services. In 1985 the City of Cleveland awarded a $50,000 Community Development Block Grant (see: COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATIONS) to renovate the facility. These funds also allowed for the hiring of a caseworker for the community's senior residents. Services greatly expanded in the late 1980s to include escorts for the elderly, Meals on Wheels, and visiting/telephone "reassurance" programs.

Despite the area's shifting population and the destruction of the main building by fire in 1981, Alta House remained one of the city's most viable neighborhood centers and an active member of the Mayfield-Murray Hill community. 

Throughout the 1990s, Alta House worked successfully to diversify funding, extend community outreach, and expand its programs beyond Little Italy into the greater Cleveland area. An opportunity to partner with the CLEVELAND MONTESSORI SCHOOLS system came in 2015. The two organizations renovated the aging structure and integrated the school with the building in Jan. 2016. In 2020, Alta House strengthened its role as a gathering place for the local community, adding an industrial kitchen, TVs, bathrooms, and resources to host weddings, meetings, and community events. Large glass doors were added to connect the new space to the piazza that contains Alta House's renowned bocce courts.


Updated by Christopher Roy

Last updated: 9/5/2023

Black, white and red text reading Western Reserve Historical Society

Finding aid for the Alta Social Settlement Records. WRHS.

Finding aid for the Alta Social Settlement Records, Series II. WRHS.

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