EAST CLEVELAND, originally part of East Cleveland Twp. (organized in 1845 from parts of Cleveland, NEWBURGH, EUCLID, and WARRENSVILLE Twps.), was incorporated as East Cleveland Village in 1895 and as a city in 1911. (An earlier village of the same name formed in 1866 but was annexed by Cleveland in 1872.) A residential city located about 7 miles from downtown Cleveland, it occupies 3 sq. mi. It is adjacent to Cleveland’s UNIVERSITY CIRCLE and GLENVILLE neighborhoods on the west and COLLINWOOD neighborhood on the north and bounded by CLEVELAND HTS. on the east and south. Approx. two-thirds of the city (northwest of EUCLID AVE.) lies on the Lake Erie Plain at an elevation of approx. 630-690’ above sea level. To the southeast of and parallel to Euclid Ave., is a steep hill known as the Portage Escarpment, which marks the western edge of the Allegheny Plateau. The remainder of the city lies atop this bluff at an elevation of approx. 800-850’. The oldest remaining house is that of Thomas Phillips on Eddy Rd., where it was moved from Euclid Ave. The name East Cleveland has been carried by at least 5 political entities in Cuyahoga County—township, hamlet, and villages, reduced by annexations by the City of Cleveland.
A period of growth followed incorporation: gas and water lines were installed, Euclid Ave. was paved, and streetcar service from Cleveland began. The population reached 10,000 in 1910; the new city first adopted the mayor-council form of government. In 1910 and 1916 the city rejected annexation with Cleveland. A charter was drafted in 1915, and in 1918 the city adopted a city manager plan. The charter adopted in 1916 provided for women's suffrage in municipal elections—then the only such franchise east of Chicago (see WOMEN). The majority of the city's housing was built during the 1910s and 1920s. Commercial centers developed at the Euclid Ave. intersections with Superior, Taylor, and Lee Rds. In 1920 the population was over 27,000. One of the early manufacturers was the National Bindery Co. (1905). Beginning in 1911, the National Electric Lamp Assn., later the lamp division of the GENERAL ELECTRIC CO., began the construction of NELA PARK on Noble Rd. Other light industries developed along the NICKEL PLATE and NEW YORK CENTRAL railroads during World War II. In 1920, Case School of Applied Science (see CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY) built an observatory on a knoll above Taylor Rd. that operated until 1980. In 1929-30, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., began a residential development on the Forest Hill estate that had belonged to his father, but only 81 of the planned 600 homes were built before the Depression. In 1938 he donated FOREST HILL PARK to the cities of East Cleveland and Cleveland Hts. The Rockefellers also contributed land for the East Cleveland Public Library (opened in 1916, with a donation from Andrew Carnegie), the HURON RD. HOSPITAL (moved from downtown Cleveland in 1931; closed in 2011), and the junior high school. The A.M. MCGREGOR HOME for the elderly was built in 1908 and enlarged in 1941.
East Cleveland reached its population peak of 40,047 in 1950. It was the most densely populated Cleveland suburb for the next decade despite a 5% decline in population. The CLEVELAND TRANSIT SYSTEM opened 2 rapid transit stations in East Cleveland in 1954. In the second half of the 20th century, small businesses, motels, and fast-food outlets replaced many Euclid Ave. homes. Many of those that remained attracted an influx of mortuaries that led to the nickname “Funeral Row.” Although the housing stock was aging, Charles A. Carran, who served as city manager from 1922-62, operated a strong housing inspection program, and East Cleveland enjoyed a reputation as a stable, well-run city. The city regained most of its 1950s population loss in the 1960s thanks to a building boom in the Forest Hill area. The undeveloped lots of the Forest Hill subdivision rapidly filled with California-style ranch houses, and several high-rise apartments, most notably the 27-story Forest Park Tower (later Lake Park Tower) (1963) and 22-story Crystal Tower (1964), rose along the forested slope overlooking Terrace Rd. Between 1960 and 1970, East Cleveland’s population rose approx. 4% to 39,600.
During the 1950s, the neighboring Glenville experienced a rapid flight of JEWISH residents, most of them leapfrogging the city to resettle in Cleveland Hts. A corresponding rapid growth in Glenville’s black population in the 1950s spilled over into East Cleveland’s westernmost neighborhoods. In the 1960s, especially the second half of the decade, East Cleveland experienced a major population shift, as AFRICAN AMERICANS constituted an increasingly larger proportion of the population. Blockbusting real estate tactics stoked panic selling, causing a rapid racial turnover in which East Cleveland’s population went from 2% black in 1960 to 67% in 1970. Some community agencies such as the EAST CLEVELAND THEATER (est. 1968) dealt positively with integration while cases like the CITY OF EAST CLEVELAND, OH, VS. MOORE revealed fear and distrust. By 1980, 86% of East Cleveland’s population of 36,957 was African American, ranking it second nationally to E. St. Louis, IL, among major suburbs.
Fiscal problems and corruption led to a citizen petition that replaced the commission-manager form of government with a mayor-council form in 1986. In Sept. 1988 the state formed a governor's commission to manage city finances. Throughout the 1990s, despite bond sales, cutbacks and layoffs, East Cleveland remained in a state of fiscal emergency. Community efforts to address these problems included the East Cleveland Coalition for a Better City and housing renovation by the city and the Lutheran Housing Corp. Nevertheless, in 2003 East Cleveland was owed $7.8 million in back property taxes, over half the city's $15 million tax base. The city continued to languish in fiscal emergency for most of the first two decades of the 21st century. By 2019 the East Cleveland school system, which included 4 elementary schools, 1 middle school, and Shaw High School, was also in fiscal emergency.
In 1990 the population stood at 33,096 but by 2000 was 27,217, down 30% from 1970. Battered by redlining, population flight, and the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-10, by 2018 East Cleveland had only about 17,000 residents (93% African American) and a 42% poverty rate, ranking it as the poorest municipality in Ohio. Riddled with dilapidated houses and buildings, East Cleveland also endured the presence of a massive illegal dump in 2014-17 that brought yet another form of remedial state oversight. Discussions of annexing East Cleveland into Cleveland in 2016 failed to reach fruition, leaving East Cleveland in fiscal precarity. A special election in that year led to the recall of the city’s embattled Mayor Gary Norton. East Cleveland’s proximity to University Circle, however, has prompted some redevelopment, including a 6-acre solar farm operated by Evergreen Cooperatives Corp. and an adjacent townhouse row called Circle East along Euclid Ave.
Updated by Mark Souther
Last updated: 5/11/2020
Keating, W. Dennis. The Suburban Racial Dilemma: Housing and Neighborhoods. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994.
Wiese, Andrew. Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
See also SUBURBS.