From about 1915 to 1935, Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood became a major area of settlement for second-generation Jewish immigrants. By 1936, more than 70 percent of the total neighborhood population was Jewish. New immigrants and relocated residents from the Woodland Avenue area created a distinctively Jewish enclave, with Jewish-owned groceries, delis, shops, and synagogues. One of the city's largest synagogues was built during the years Glenville was becoming the heart of Jewish Cleveland. Constructed in 1920, the Cleveland Jewish Center was home to Anshe Emeth Beth Tefilo Congregation. When completed as the first "Jewish Center" west of the Alleghenies, it contained a 2,400-seat auditorium, a gymnasium, an indoor pool, and a branch of the Cleveland Hebrew Schools.
Anshe Emeth originated as an Orthodox congregation in 1869 with a small group of Jews of Polish descent. They met in rented halls until 1880 when they purchased their first place of worship near the Central Market on East Third Street. Around this time there were many who wished to become a Reform congregation, causing a temporary split within the membership. The influx of African Americans from the South into previously Jewish neighborhoods coincided with the eastward movement of Jewish population away from downtown. In 1903, the congregation built a new synagogue on East 37th Street near Woodland Avenue. By this time Anshe Emeth was recognized as the leading Orthodox congregation in Cleveland. In 1916, Anshe Emeth merged with Congregation Beth Tefilo and, four years later, it built the Cleveland Jewish Center on East 105th Street. Following rancorous internal debate, Anshe Emeth Beth Tefilo became a Conservative congregation. In 1946, the congregation sold the Cleveland Jewish Center to Cory Methodist Church. Four years later, Anshe Emeth Beth Tefilo completed its move to a location acquired earlier in the decade on Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights and took the name Park Synagogue. The Pepper Pike-based Brith Emeth congregation's merger with Park Synagogue in 1986 transformed Brith Emeth Temple into an eastern branch of Park, a response to the continuing eastward movement of congregation members.
Cory Methodist Church's move into the old Cleveland Jewish Center reflected a similar eastward trend in the city's African American population, with Blacks often following in the footsteps of Jews. Indeed, Cory's purchase was but one of several examples of black congregations succeeding Jewish ones on Cleveland's east side. In 1875, a twelve-member prayer group purchased land on the corner of Central Avenue and East 37th Street, just several blocks from where Anshe Emeth would build twenty-eight years later. Named for Rev. John Bruce Cory, a Methodist missionary, in 1911, Cory Methodist purchased the Scovill Avenue Methodist property at Scovill Avenue and East 35th Street. A fire in February 1921 forced services to be held elsewhere until repairs could be completed.
Between 1937 and 1943, over 600 new members joined Cory. Recognizing the need for a larger facility, Cory's congregation started a building fund in 1944. The members of Cory purchased the Cleveland Jewish Center for $135,000, making it the largest Black church in Cleveland and one of the largest in the United States. Since Methodist canon states that all debt must be paid before a church can be dedicated, the congregation officially moved in March 1947, with the dedication service and cornerstone-laying taking place March 9, 1958.
Cory's rank as Cleveland's largest Black church made it a nationally important stop for civil rights luminaries in the 1960s. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke at Cory in May 1963. Traffic came to a standstill for twenty blocks around the church prior to his arrival. During his address to an overflowing crowd, King stated that he had "never seen a more aroused response." Malcolm X also spoke at Cory on April 3, 1964, giving his famous speech "The Ballot or the Bullet." In his rousing speech, Malcolm X advised African Americans to exercise their right to vote, but cautioned that if the American government continued to prevent African Americans from attaining full equality, it might be necessary for them to take up arms.
The church, like its Jewish predecessor, also made ample use of its plant to minister to all its congregants' needs, including social opportunities. Cory Recreation Center offered church youth many opportunities for fun and learning. It sponsored little-league baseball and football teams, as well as dance and music classes, youth bands, and beauty pageants. It even provided an indoor swimming pool and gymnasium. Community outreach programs at the Cory Center include a Headstart program and daycare center, a senior program, and computer classes. The Eastside Hunger Organization opened its first Hunger Center at Cory in 1971, part of a long tradition of community outreach that continues to make Cory a beacon in the Glenville neighborhood.