PARMA is situated southwest of Cleveland, and comprises 19.7 sq. mi., bounded by Cleveland and BROOKLYN on the north, BROOKLYN HTS. and SEVEN HILLS on the east, NORTH ROYALTON and BROADVIEW HTS. on the south, and BROOK PARK, MIDDLEBURG HTS., and PARMA HTS. on the west. In 2010 Parma was the seventh largest city in the state of Ohio and the second largest city in Cuyahoga County after Cleveland.
The tract that eventually become Parma and Parma Heights was surveyed in 1806 by Abraham Tappan of the Connecticut Land Company. The area’s first white settlers were the Benajah Fay family from New York State, who settled along the Cleveland-Columbus Rd. (now Pearl Rd.) in 1816. Designated Parma Twp. in 1826 the region soon became known as "Greenbriar" (also spelled “Greenbrier”), which referred to a weedy shrub common in the vicinity. “Parma” likely came from an identically named town in New York. During the 19th Century Parma residents worked mostly in AGRICULTURE; a clock shop owned by Dudley and William Humphrey was the sole manufacturing operation. In 1911, following a dispute over Sunday alcohol sales, a portion of the township seceded to form the village of Parma Hts. On 15 Dec. 1924, Parma was incorporated as a village and in 1926 it adopted a mayor-council form of government. On 1 Jan. 1931, after a proposition to annex it to Cleveland was defeated, Parma became a city. At that time, it had a population of about 14,000.
Consistent with a massive nationwide movement to the SUBURBS Parma’s population soared in the years following WORLD WAR II. Between 1950 and 1960, the number of residents rose from 28,897 to 82,845, peaking at around 100,000 in 1970. Many new residents had moved from traditional ethnic neighborhoods in Cleveland including TREMONT and SLAVIC VILLAGE and provisions of the GI Bill assisted in their ability to purchase new homes in the suburb. Parmatown Mall and Parma Community General Hospital opened during this period. Growth of INDUSTRY in the area paralleled the population increase, with corporations such as General Motors, Modern Tool & Die, the Union Carbide Research Center, and Cox Cable Television taking up residence.
Parma’s near-manic growth was an overwhelming “white” event—so unbalanced that on April 27, 1973, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice alleged that “the City of Parma has engaged in a pattern and practice of racial discrimination in housing in violation of The Fair Housing Act of 1968.” Eight years later, Federal Judge Frank Battisti ruled that, for at least the previous two decades, the city had practiced “deliberate racial exclusion” in multiple ways, including its rejection of a proposed federally subsidized housing project and its refusal to document the racial integration of future federally subsidized housing as a condition for receiving Community Development Block Grants (see Public Housing). Battisti mandated a variety of changes, including implementation of a fair-housing resolution, construction of low-income housing, and a promotional campaign to attract black residents. Implemented in what many believed to be a half-hearted way, these initiatives did little to rebalance Parma’s racial scale. In 1980 312 AFRICAN AMERICANS lived in Parma (.3% of the suburb’s population). By 2000 black representation in Parma had increased only to 1.0%; and as late as the early ‘90s observers noted that Parma police often stopped blacks to ask what their business was in Parma, and that security staff at local department stores were sometimes notified when African Americans entered the store. It was not until 1998 that a negotiated agreement with the Department of Justice was reached and Parma was ordered open a housing counseling office, market Parma to minorities, develop a mortgage incentive program, and accept federal funds for apartment renovations, with participating landlords giving prospective black tenants advance notice of vacancies. Even this milestone produced debatable results: on the cusp of 2020, Parma was only slightly more diverse: 86.9% white, 5.9% Latino and 2.8% black.
The 1980s and 1990s were hard on Parma in other ways. Layoffs at local manufacturers increased, school levies were defeated and a growing number of residents moved to exurban locations farther south and west. Between 1970 and 2000, the suburb’s population declined by roughly 15% to 85,655. In 2017 Parma’s population was 79,167. At that time, Parma’s median household income was $52,446, almost identical to that of Ohio as a whole.
Parma, Seven Hills, and Parma Hts. make up the Parma City School District, with 10 public elementary and middle schools; 9 private elementary and middle schools; 2 public high schools (Parma High School and Normandy High School); and 1 private high school (Padua Franciscan High School). The western campus of CUYAHOGA COMMUNITY COLLEGE is located in Parma. The suburb also boasts 9 parks (almost 90 acres of the Big Creek Reservation of the CLEVELAND METROPARKS SYSTEM are located in Parma) as well as 5 libraries and myriad recreational facilities, hospitals and shopping centers. The five largest ethnic groups represented in Parma are GERMANS, POLES, ITALIANS, UKRAINIANS and IRISH. In 2019, 8,319 Parma residents were foreign born—more than double the Ohio average.
Updated by Christopher Roy
Kubasek, Ernest R. The History of Parma (1976).
Parma Chamber of Commerce. Parma (1984).
Parma Sesquicentennial, 1826-1976 (1976).