GREEKS form one of Cleveland's smaller but most cohesive nationality groups, preserving their culture through their central institution, the Greek Orthodox church. The first Greek to settle in Cleveland reportedly was Panagiotis Koutalianos, a fabled "strong man," who is said to have come ca. 1880s. Out of 370,007 Greeks emigrating to the U.S. between 1890-1925, 5,000 settled in Cleveland, mostly coming because of difficult economic conditions in Greece. Because most early Greek immigrants initially intended to return to Greece, about 95% of them were male; however most remained in Cleveland, eventually having their families join them, or, if unmarried, returning to Greece to find a wife to bring to the U.S. Without women, most of the men formed nonfamily groups averaging 4-8 individuals, renting or leasing apartments and sometimes entire houses. The largest concentration of Greeks formed around Bradley Ct. off Bolivar Rd. between Erie (E. 9th) and Ontario, known as "Greek Town." A second area evolved along Woodland Ave., E. 79th, and Hough Ave.
Because of their lack of skills, their limited knowledge of English, and the discrimination generally directed against southeastern Europeans, Greeks were initially forced to accept menial work. Despite their predominant agrarian background, Greeks took such jobs as railroad construction, bootblacking, dishwashing, waiting tables, cooking, hat cleaning, and street vending. Within an average of 5 to 10 years, many were able to become managers or owners of coffee shops, grocery stores, barbershops, restaurants, candy stores, bakeries, florist shops, and laundry services. Involvement in small businesses established the pattern for Greek economic development in Cleveland through the early half of the 20th century, with the largest concentration of Greek enterprises, patronized by Greeks and other East Mediterranean immigrants, on Bolivar Rd. Larger enterprises, such as Perides Bros. Cigarette Mfrs. and Peppas & Alex Co., manufacturers, wholesalers, and exporters, also developed; the latter, in 1922, had capital stock of over $1 million and offices in Cleveland and Chicago. In 1922 there were at least 137 Greek-owned enterprises in Cleveland, including 5 coffeehouses, 6 grocery stores, 25 confectioneries, 27 shoeshine parlors, and 60 restaurants. There was also a print shop, and in the 1930s, a newspaper, the Mentor, serving the Greek community.
The Greek Orthodox church, from the beginning, was the cultural and social center of Cleveland's Greek community. During the early years, religious services were held in private homes. By 1910 space was rented in Arch Hall on Ontario St. In 1912 the former mansion of industrialist Samuel W. Sessions was purchased on the corner of W. 14th and Fairfield Ave., the site of the first, and until 1937 the only, Greek Orthodox church in Cleveland,
Greek culture was also preserved and taught in schools. Besides Annunciation Church School, 4 other schools were established, resulting in 3 on the east side of the
Outside the church, a favorite meeting place for men—in addition to the many coffeehouses—was the regional or provincial social club which, by the 1930s, had developed into self-help or beneficial associations including women; they mostly persisted into the 1990s. They included the Achaean, Arcadian, Chian, Cretan, Karpathian, Lacademonian, Laconian, Macedonian, Messinian, Microasiatic, Mykonian, Pan-Icarian, Rhodian, and Samian societies. Two national organizations appeared in the 1920s: the American Hellenic Educational & Progressive Assn., founded in Atlanta in 1922, with assimilation as one of its major goals; and the Greek American Progressive Assn., founded in Pittsburgh in 1923, with, in contrast to the AHEPA, ethnicity as its major purpose. Both organizations had chapters in Cleveland by 1925; AHEPA had 3 chapters as of 1984. After World War II, the Hellenic Univ. Club and the Hellenic Preservation Society, with professional and educational aims, were organized in Cleveland. Restricted to college graduates of Greek birth or descent, HUC had fewer members than the other 3 organizations. But HUC and HPS have made an impact through their community-wide programs of lectures, seminars, and panel discussions on current topics, as well as dramatic and musical presentations. HPS has as its purpose the establishment of a Hellenic cultural and educational center or museum.
Most of these organizations provide activities for youth, including sports, dances, and other forms of recreation. They also offer scholarships and internships for Greek students. Both the AHEPA and GAPA have encouraged high school graduates to attend college. The Hellenic Univ. Club concentrates its scholarships on Greek Americans already in college or graduate schools. Noneducational activities included a boys' marching band sponsored by the local GAPA chapter, performing demand appearances in many cities during the 1920s and 1930s and which, each year, with the Annunciation Church Choir, accompanied Christ's bier on Good Friday as it was carried by mourners to neighboring St. George's Orthodox Antiochian Church on W. 14th, and then to St. Vladimir's Ukrainian Orthodox Church on W. 11th. In the late 1930s, the Sons & Daughters of Hellas, for teenagers, was formed. Following World War II, with the return of the veterans—many of whom were former members of SDH—the Hellenic Orthodox Youth League was formed for young adults to present the youth's view of community affairs. HOYL became increasingly involved in parish and community activities. Both SDH and HOYL published during the 1940s and 1950s a community newspaper, the Hellenic Herald, which ceased publication soon after the appearance in the 1960s of the archdiocesan-sponsored national youth group, the Greek Orthodox Youth of America, which replaced both SDH and HOYL. Two other youth societies have been formed since then: the Jr. Orthodox Youth for 8-to-12-year-olds, and the Greek Orthodox Young Adult League. HPS began publishing a community newsletter in 1991.
World War II marked a major turning point in Greek acceptance by other Americans. Although it defended itself successfully against the Italian invasion, Greece was crushed by superior German forces. But through its unexpected resistance effort, Greece became overnight a much admired and appreciated member of the Allied Forces. In America, the Greek War Relief Assn. was formed to assist the Greek people under German occupation. AHEPA and GAPA, along with Annunciation Church, probably exerted the greatest efforts at the local level; Cleveland Greeks frequently oversubscribed the quotas assigned to them.
Following the war, the Greek population of Cleveland, mostly by natural increase, doubled, reaching approximately 10,000. Since 1965, with passage of the non-quota immigration law, the Greek population in Greater Cleveland has been estimated at 15,000-20,000. In 1990 there were 1,491 people of Greek birth living in Cleveland proper, and 1,939 in the county as a whole. Because of increased population, the elimination of St. Spyridon in 1950, and increased movement of parishioners into the eastern suburbs, SS. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church was built in 1956 on Mayfield Rd. in
On the whole, Greek descendants seem to follow the Protporoi (pioneers) in their involvement in small and middle business enterprises. While many have remained in the retail business of their forebears, increasingly younger Greeks are entering real estate, insurance, small manufacturing, and stockbroking, with more choosing the legal, academic, medical, and service professions. Economically conservative, Cleveland Greeks, with few exceptions, did not generally involve themselves politically until after World War II. While most voted as Democrats prior to the war, afterward the Republicans attracted many.