Street Clubs of the East Side

"We Do Our Own Thing Ourselves"

In August 1940, residents on East 85th Street on Cleveland's east side decided to organize their efforts for the betterment of the their block and Mrs. Beatrice Beasley, a citizen of the street, founded the E. 85th Street Club. In its beginning stages, the E. 85th Street Club held meetings at members' homes routinely every month, whereas after the Fairfax Recreation Center was completed in 1958, meetings were held weekly. The street club served members from East 85th between Cedar Avenue and Central Avenue in Fairfax. The club was dedicated to doing good within its own block by holding an annual spring cleaning program, which entailed older members as well as the youth raking leaves, painting houses, whitewashing trees and curbs, and remodeling abodes. The organization also held a "Back to School" dance for the children, which included refreshments, prizes, and music disc-jockeyed by Eddie O'Jay, who was known for discovering and managing the R&B music group "The Mascots," later known as the legendary "O'Jays." Other community outreach events included giving fruit baskets to the sick, donating money to various Fairfax events, and holding neighborhood picnics and banquets.

"We do our own thing ourselves," "Improve, don't move" - These are the mottos that spearheaded street clubs into action. When federal urban renewal programs fell short in their attempt to stabilize urban neighborhoods, street clubs tried to fill the void. While the E. 85th Street Club's work may have been the most publicized, other street clubs took very similar actions to make their neighborhood a better place to live. Christmas parties, home renovations for the poor and elderly, and voiced opinions regarding community renewal were not unusual. Street clubs, also known as neighborhood clubs or civic clubs, were prominent especially on Cleveland's east side neighborhoods, such as Fairfax, Glenville, and Hough. An annual meeting called "Street Club Organization Day" started in 1968 to bring together street club presidents to lead combined efforts to address problems plaguing the community. Workshops were led by the Street Club Presidents League, as well as representatives of various community non-profit organizations such as Citizens for Better Housing Inc. and University-Euclid Development Center. Through the meeting, combined club efforts yielded clean-up campaigns and an award banquet. Street clubs also participated in yearly beauty contests known as "The Beautiful Block Contest" and "The Bright and Beautiful Contest," conducted by the Cleveland newspaper The Call & Post. Contests were judged based on appearance and the total house participation. While this encouraged blocks to clean and renovate homes, other streets sometimes experienced difficulty contending, for they were plagued by absentee landlords and even rats. Since then, street clubs and neighborhood associations have expanded to the outer parts of Cleveland, including Shaker Heights as well as the west side of Cleveland.

Audio

"Little Spots of Burning Leaves" Debra Martin recalls the appearance of her neighborhood's brick-paved street in Glenville in the fall. When residents would finish raking leaves, they would burn the leaf piles. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

E. 85th Street Club Cleanup, 1952 The E. 85th Street Club between Central Avenue and Cedar Avenue was able to get the youth of the community involved with caring about the community. The boys' jobs were to pick up newspapers, plastic bottles, and other miscellaneous debris, while the girls would check on them to make sure they were doing their duties. The boys that picked up the most trash received prizes at the street club's picnic. Mrs. Thelma Jamison was the street club president at the time when this photo was taken in 1952. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
E. 151st Street Neighborhood Club, 1959 Albert P. Stokes, president of the E. 151st Street Neighborhood Club, is shown on a snow plow with neighbors nearby. It was not uncommon for street club members to shovel sidewalks for easier travel for pedestrians during the long Ohio winters. Neighbors also assisted seniors in home renovations, such as painting homes for those who might not have the monetary or physical means to do so. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Hough Area Cleanup, 1959 In the spirit of street clubs, macro-level cleanups were held by nonprofit neighborhood revitalization groups as well as for-profit companies. This Hough area clean-up in 1959 was sponsored by Goodrich Corporation, a local landing gear corporation located at 3734 East 78th Street. Even though companies started sponsoring neighborhood cleanups in the late 1950s and 1960s, street clubs had been doing the same thing since the 1940s. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
East 90th Street Rehabilitation, 1964 In an example of a larger scale neighborhood revitalization effort by Reality Enterprises, old apartment houses at 1876 and 1873 East 90th Street were "rehabilitated" to enhance the appearance of the street. The University-Euclid Project hoped by rehabilitating homes to certain standards, the area would quickly develop with new businesses, widening University Circle into the Hough and Wade Park neighborhoods. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Mayor Addresses Street Club Members, 1979 Street clubs' efforts did not go unnoticed at City Hall. In many cases, street clubs provided a viaduct of communication with local city officials and ward representatives. In 1979, twenty-five members of the E. 91st Street Improvement Club were able to meet with Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich to discuss civic concerns. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections

Location

Metadata

Julie A. Gabb, “Street Clubs of the East Side,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 26, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/666.