ST. CLAIR-SUPERIOR NEIGHBORHOOD

ST. CLAIR-SUPERIOR is a Cleveland neighborhood and Statistical Planning Area (SPA) east of downtown. It is bounded by Lake Erie on the north, Superior Ave. on the south, E. 55th St. on the west and E. 72nd, E. 78th and E. 99th Sts. on the east.

Industrial development in 19th Century Cleveland followed a common pattern, with most large concerns locating along or near transportation arteries. Thus the FLATS was the city’s first major industrial venue. However, manufactories proximate to Lake Erie and the Michigan Southern and Cleveland & Pittsburgh Railroads also were prominent on Cleveland’s near-east side. By the early 20th Century, industries had overspread much of the land from St. Clair Ave. north to Lake Erie and east from the E. 20s to ROCKEFELLER PARK. Companies such as Otis Steel Co., United States Cast Iron Pipe and Foundry Co., and American Steel and Wire Co. occupied land west of East 55th St. (formerly Willson St.) in what is now called the GOODRICH-KIRTLAND neighborhood. Cleveland Gas Light & Coke Co. (later EAST OHIO GAS CO..), The King Bridge Co. (see KING IRON BRIDGE & MANUFACTURING CO.), CLEVELAND ELECTRIC-ILLUMINATING CO., the WHITE MOTOR CORP. and many others operated east of E. 55th St. in the area now referred to as St. Clair-Superior.

This massive industrial strip drew workers already living in the densely populated neighborhoods within and proximate to downtown. And immigrants by the thousands made their first U.S. homes slightly farther east—along and around St. Clair Ave. just south of the industrial belt. The entire area thus became an ethnic stew, consisting first of SLOVENES and POLES. Asians—KOREANS, VIETNAMESE and particularly CHINESE—also trace their Cleveland beginnings to the late 19th Century, and this group still comprises a strong presence in the Asiatown area around East 30th St. and Superior Ave. In somewhat smaller numbers, LITHUANIANS, ITALIANS, GERMANS and CROATIANS also moved to the St. Clair-Superior area. Slovenes, however, were the dominant ethnic group. By the early 1900s Cleveland had the largest Slovene settlement in the U.S., retaining that status into the 1990s.

As the population of Poles, Slovenes and other southern and eastern Europeans swelled, local businesses, churches and social clubs emerged to foment assimilation. The Polish parish of St. Casimir was established in 1891, with services launched the following year in the not-yet-finished church at Pulaski Ave. and Kossuth St., near what is now E. 84th St. ST. VITUS CHURCH opened its doors on Dana St. (now E. 61st St.) and soon was hosting more congregants than almost any Slovenian church in the U.S. By 1902 the church was expanded to include a school and convent. An entirely new facility was completed in 1932. The SLOVENIAN NATIONAL HOME opened in 1924, providing a hub for fraternal, political, social, cultural and sports activities. To this day, it is among the largest and most significant social and cultural centers for Slovenian Americans. Eastern European immigrants also brought with them a long beer-making tradition; at the turn of the century the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood frequently was referred to as "the mecca of breweries in Cleveland."

On Friday, October 20, 1944, one of the most horrific events in Cleveland history struck the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood when a natural gas leak at the East Ohio Gas Co.. caused an explosion and subsequent fire that killed 130 people, mostly company employees. More than one square mile between E. 55th St. and E. 67th St. was virtually leveled. (See EAST OHIO GAS CO. EXPLOSION AND FIRE.)

After World War II, the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood began to experience a drastic shift in population as returning GIs and their families left for the suburbs. But until the 1990s most residents in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood were still Eastern European Caucasians. However, the demographic shift continued and, by 2014, 79 percent of neighborhood residents were AFRICAN AMERICAN, 13 percent were white and 5 percent were Hispanic. The transition was bumpy—beset by vacancies, demolitions, rising poverty rates and falling educational levels.

While the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood, like many inner-city communities, continues to struggle, the number of positive and progressive responses is increasing. The ST. CLAIR SUPERIOR COALITION was founded in 1976 at the GOODRICH-GANNETT NEIGHBORHOOD CTR. (6408 St. Clair Ave.). In cooperation with the Famicos Foundation, the Coalition launched a variety of revitalization efforts focused on safety, beautification, structural rehabilitation and new housing. The Coalition merged with the St. Clair Business Assn. in 1999 to form the St. Clair Superior Development Corporation. The new organization has since expanded its coverage westward to East 30th St. and now serves the ASIATOWN district; myriad programs—from home-building and land-clearance initiatives to youth activities and public art—have since been undertaken.

ST. MARTIN DE PORRES— a non-sectarian facility named for the patron saint of mixed-race and working people—opened at 6202 St. Clair Ave. in 2004. In 2015, Hub 55 on E. 55th St. was launched, featuring a café, market, meeting space and office space. The next year—reviving the Slovenian beer-making tradition—Goldhorn Brewery (named for the famed mountain goat of Slovenian folklore) opened on East 55th St. And in 2019 Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry kicked off a $3.5 million affordable housing initiative to buy and renovate 20 homes in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood, which has a current (2020) population of about 7,200 people.

Christopher Roy

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