LEE-HARVARD NEIGHBORHOOD

LEE-HARVARD is a Cleveland neighborhood and Statistical Planning Area (SPA) on the city’s southeast side. It is roughly bounded by Miles Ave. on the south, Scottsdale Blvd. on the north, E. 154th St. on the west, and E. 190th St. and Shadywood and Larkspur Lns. on the east. Lee-Harvard and its neighbor to the south, LEE-SEVILLE, were both parts of the old WARRENSVILLE TWP. (see HIGHLAND HILLS). In 1927 the new Village of Miles Heights was carved out of the township. Five years later residents approved annexation to the City of Cleveland and for decades the combined area was a single administrative section known as Lee-Miles, which was subdivided into Lee-Harvard and Lee-Seville in 2012.

Like Lee-Seville, what is now Lee-Harvard was mostly undeveloped farmland up to the 1920s. But unlike Lee-Seville, developers of the area north of Harvard Ave. (which adjoins the southern border of SHAKER HEIGHTS) envisioned an upper-class residential area, complete with racial restrictions that would forbid home sales to AFRICAN AMERICANS. Early on, therefore, most purchasers of lots in this section were native-born white families of middling economic status. In contrast, the area south of Harvard Ave. developed more haphazardly, with early buyers including HUNGARIANS, CZECHS, and POLES coming from neighborhoods closer to downtown. Housing construction in the area stalled during the Great Depression but picked up after WORLD WAR II; two thirds of the neighborhood’s houses (mostly single-family ranches and colonials) were built after 1950.

Lee-Harvard took on special significance in the context of an artificially-induced housing shortage for African Americans. Unequal access to credit, combined with the unwillingness of banks to lend to black prospective buyers seeking homes outside of established African American neighborhoods produced overcrowding and structural conversions to multifamily occupancy in Cedar-Central (See: CENTRAL NEIGHBORHOOD), GLENVILLE and nearby MOUNT PLEASANT. This situation was exacerbated further by the second Great Migration still growing strong, with Cleveland’s black population increasing from 148,000 in 1950 to almost 251,000 in 1960.

In 1953, the first African Americans --Wendell and Genevieve Steward -- moved to Lee-Harvard.  Despite the couple's solid middle-class background, the move sparked opposition from white neighbors, precipitating a crisis that culminated in Cleveland Mayor THOMAS A. BURKE's pledge to support the Stewarts’ right to live there.  By 1961 many black families were relocating, as Lee-Harvard became the destination of choice for black middle-class families leaving older inner-city neighborhoods. Underhanded real estate sales tactics (“blockbusting”) resulted in a ced a rapid white-to-Black turnover; real estate brokers routinely played on white racial fears, acquiring homes at a discount and then hiking prices charged to incoming Black buyers. Obtaining credit was another serious challenge, but many African Americans found creative workarounds such as purchasing through a supportive white intermediary, arranging mortgages with individual owners instead of banks, and working with Quincy Savings and Loan (see: CLEVELAND COMMUNITY SAVINGS CO.), a black-owned institution since 1952.

By 1965 African Americans represented 75% of Lee-Harvard’s population; by the early 1970s only a handful of (mostly elderly) whites remained. Around this time the Urban League (see URBAN LEAGUE OF GREATER CLEVELAND)  determined that southeast Cleveland was the highest-income area inhabited by African Americans in the state of Ohio. This was supported by the 1970 census which found that Lee-Harvard‘s median income, stoked by many Black professionals and breadwinners with unionized jobs in the city's manufacturing firms, was more than double the city average. The neighborhood supported a lively organizational life, including the Lee-Harvard Community Association, numerous street clubs, and even an auxiliary police force. Local business development also seemed promising. In 1972 African-American investors created Southeast Renaissance Inc. which purchased the Lee-Harvard Shopping Center. Celebrated at its opening as the “largest black-owned commercial complex in the nation,” the project foundered by 1978, partly due to competition from the newly-opened RANDALL PARK MALL.

As of 2020 Lee-Harvard enjoys one of the highest percentages of home ownership in the city of Cleveland. According to a 2015 citywide property inventory, only about 5% of the area’s homes are vacant. Schools and churches have always reflected the area’s strength. A new John F. Kennedy High School—a unique “double high school” at 15111 Miles Ave.—opened in Sept. 2020 to replace the original school built in 1965 at 17100 Harvard Ave. Thriving churches include Lee Road Baptist Church at 3970 Lee Rd. (1959), Advent Evangelical Lutheran Church at 15309 Harvard Ave. (1962), and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church at 18615 Harvard Ave. (1945). The former ST. HENRY PARISH at 18200 Harvard Ave. opened in 1950, with a convent and school added in 1954. In 1969 the church closed the convent, which then became the Harvard Community Services Center, and in 1993 the former parish school became Archbishop Lyke School, named after Cleveland’s first African American bishop. Lee-Harvard and Lee-Seville also are home to ample green space, including Kerruish Park, Idalia Park, Jo Ann Park and Arthur Johnston Park.

Larger than its Lee-Seville neighbor, Lee-Harvard currently has a population of about 10,000 people, 97% of whom are African American. The neighborhood’s poverty rate is lower than any Cleveland neighborhood except KAMM'S on the far west side.

Todd Michney


Michney, Todd. Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900-1980 (University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

Michney, Todd, and Carolyn Gimbal. The Making of Cleveland’s Black Suburb in the City: Lee-Seville & Lee-Harvard (Cleveland: Cleveland Restoration Society, 2019).

 

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