CUYAHOGA VALLEY NEIGHBORHOOD

The CUYAHOGA VALLEY NEIGHBORHOOD  is a Cleveland Statistical Planning Area (SPA). Comprised largely of the northernmost 8-10 mi. of the CUYAHOGA RIVER and the floodplain known as the FLATS, it encompasses all of what was formerly known as the “Industrial Valley” neighborhood. In addition, following a 2012 redistricting, small portions of the OHIO CITY and DETROIT-SHOREWAY neighborhoods to the north and the NORTH BROADWAY and SOUTH BROADWAY neighborhoods to the south and east are now considered part of the Cuyahoga Valley neighborhood. Thus its rough borders are Lake Erie on the North; the city of CUYAHOGA HEIGHTS on the south; the DOWNTOWN, CENTRAL and Broadway neighborhoods on the east, and Detroit-Shoreway, TREMONT and BROOKLYN CENTRE to the west.

The history of the Industrial Valley neighborhood is essentially the history of the Flats. Although the area’s northernmost reaches were home to Cleveland's first settlers, any residential attractiveness was undercut by a swampy, insect-laden environment and consequent unhealthfulness. Thus by the early 19th century few colonizers remained there, opting for higher ground in what are now the warehouse district to the east and Detroit-Shoreway and Ohio City to the west.

Commerce and industry quickly filled the void. The OHIO & ERIE CANAL opened in 1827, effectively completing the country’s first viable inland water link from east coast ports to the Mississippi River and points west. The result was a huge increase in lake shipping, with warehouses on both sides of the Cuyahoga River and docks lining the river and lake. The even plain of the Flats also was ideal for RAILROADS which began operating in the area by the 1850s. By the second half of the 19th century, the Flats was crowded with iron furnaces, rolling mills, foundries, lumberyards, shipyards, flour mills, oil refineries, paint and chemical factories, and other industries.

Despite its role in north-south connectivity, the Flats continued to divide Cleveland’s eastern and western halves. The problem lessened over time as more and more bridges were completed, including the Columbus Street Bridge, the Main Street Bridge (see MAIN AVENUE BRIDGE), the Seneca (W. 3rd) St. Bridge, the SUPERIOR VIADUCT and the final iteration of the Center St. Bridge. Industrial activity flourished throughout the 19th century but a residential presence was negligible. In the 20th century, as businesses became less dependent on water and rail transportation, the Flats lost some of its industrial caché. However, steel and metal making remained strong into the 1980s.

In the last quarter of the 20th century the northern end of Flats experienced a reinvention of sorts. Long-time pubs like the Harbor Inn and FLAT IRON CAFE  were joined by hip, albeit grungy, drinking spots such as Pirates’ Cove, Pickle Bill’s and Otto’s Grotto. More mainstream eateries (Cleveland Crate and Trucking Co., Fagan’s, D’Poos, Peabody's DownUnder, The Watermark, etc.) sprang up—many featuring live music and virtually all occupying former industrial structures. (In fact, Pirates’ Cove opened in an old warehouse that once housed JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER’s first business venture: a produce distributorship.) Strip clubs and sterile food service chains (Max and Erma's, Landry's Seafood, Hooters, Dick's Last Resort, Shooters) naturally followed. A few new residences also were built, including Riverbend Condominiums (1984) and The Crittenden (1996). Unfortunately, Cleveland demographics were largely a “zero-sum game” and, as crime rose and new hotspots burgeoned along West 6th St., West 25th St. and (somewhat later) East 4th St., the Flat’s entertainment stock swooned. However, the 2000s witnessed another rebound—this time anchored by new as well as revamped structures on both sides of the river, including a hotel and aquarium. Non-profits such as Downtown Cleveland Alliance, Canalway Partners and Flats Forward (successor to the defunct Flats Oxbow Assn.) added more dimensions by spearheading development of public spaces such as Wendy Park, Centennial Park and the northernmost extension of the Towpath Trail.

Today a vast majority of the Flats—i.e., the Industrial Valley neighborhood—is a dusty hodgepodge of rail tracks and industrial sites, bordered by trendy communities to the west and less gentrified districts to the east. However, vibrance increases the closer one gets to Lake Erie. The first (southernmost) sign of commercial life is STEELYARD COMMONS, a large strip mall near Tremont built by developer Mitchell Schneider on the former site of LTV Steel’s Factory #2. Nearer the lake, numerous apartment complexes have been built and scores of warehouses repurposed for residential occupants. Mixed in are pedestrian and bike paths, pocket parks and pubs. Particularly notable is the East Bank complex of residences, restaurants and entertainment spots built by The Wolstein Group and Fairmount Properties in the early 2010s. Roughly 5,000 people now live in the Industrial Valley, the great majority within a mile of Lake Erie. A majority are unmarried and only about one in four households have children. Renters outnumber homeowners by about 5-1.

Christopher Roy   

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