Broadway and East 55th St.

The Slavic Downtown

The area around Broadway Avenue and East 55th Street was originally developed by Irish and Welsh immigrants, but in the 1880s large groups of Polish, Czech, and Slovak newcomers moved into the area for work in the Cleveland mills and steel yards. With this ethnic shift, the area took on a Slavic identity that has remained to this day.

The Broadway-55th district had a number of businesses and institutions that paid homage to the roots of its inhabitants. One of the earliest Slavic establishments of the area was Our Lady of Lourdes Church, showing the central role that religion played in the lives of settlers. Established in 1883 by Rev. Stephen Furdek, the current church was built in 1902. The church functioned as more than a religious center; it also provided a safe haven for incoming immigrants and a social hub with events to bolster community relations. For decades, Our Lady of Lourdes was the largest Bohemian parish in Cleveland and remains an integral part of the neighborhood.

The First Catholic Slovak Union was created by Stephen Furdek in 1890 to provide insurance and benefits to immigrant Slovaks living in America. As the organization grew it became obvious that larger offices were necessary. In 1919, the FCSU purchased a large house in Slavic Village at 3289 East 55th Street where it continued to serve the Slavic community for decades.

A few years later, Broadway Savings and Trust opened. Owned by Oliver Mead Stafford and Caesar A. Grasselli, it primarily served the financial needs of the Polish settlers and became a mainstay of the area. In the mid-1900s, the business was sold and the building became Fisher’s Dry Goods, catering to the needs of the neighborhood and selling products needed to make traditional Polish meals. While the building changed hands again in 1958, it maintained its Slavic roots. Yaros Podzimek, who emigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1950, opened Hubcap Heaven in the historic building, and the business still operates there today.

The area of Broadway and East 55th was also a central location of ethnic entertainment. In 1913, the Olympia Theater opened as a vaudeville house and in 1918 was renovated to operate as a movie theater. In addition to the movies shown, the theater was home to a number of performances by the Polish Opera, Polka performances, and local bands. Also in the area was Bundy’s Music Center. In addition to hosting performances by a number of polka performers and opera singers, the center was where Chester Bundy, who recorded polka music for Bravo, Dart, and Columbia Records in the 1950s, began his career. A block away was the Hruby Conservatory of Music, which operated from 1918 to 1968. Today it is the Broadway School of Music & Art.

More important than the businesses of the Slavic Village neighborhood is the sense of community and deep connection to traditions. Beginning in 1978, the area started an annual Broadway Fair and Street Sale. Businesses would have sidewalk sales, live music, and plenty of ethnic food such as kielbasa and Hungarian horns. Around the same time the area began hosting an annual Harvest Festival, the majority of which took place on Fleet Avenue but was celebrated throughout the entire area. There is an annual Polish Constitution Day Parade, a celebration of the 1791 creation of the Polish Constitution.

Over the decades, many changes have been made to the Broadway and East 55th neighborhood; businesses have come and gone, the population has declined with suburban migration, and other ethnicities have moved into the area. Despite these changes, Slavic pride and traditions have remained strong and show no sign of disappearing.

Images

Intersection of Broadway and East 55 The area of Broadway and East 55th was long considered a second downtown to the residents of the area(the area would later come to be known as the Slavic Village in 1977). First settled by the Irish and Welsh, by the late 1800s the neighborhood was predominantly Polish. Today the area is still a busy shopping district for the neighborhood with many retail stores and restaurants. Source: Photo courtesy of Tony Zajac
Olympia Theater Opened in 1913, the Olympia Theater was host to a number of performances by the Polish Opera as well as other local bands and singers. At the time of its opening, the Olympia was one of the largest movie theaters in the country with seating for 2,000. In addition to the theater, the neighborhood hosted polka acts at Bundy's Music Center and the Hrubry Conservatory of Music. Source: Slavic VIllage Historical Society
Polish Folk Festival While the neighborhood has changed over the years, becoming home to a wider varieties of ethnicities, the pride is still there. Through a number of events-festivals, parades, neighborhood improvement projects, and a community garden- the residents of the area demonstrate there is still a great love for their heritage and the future of the neighborhood. Source: Cleveland State University. Special Collections. Cleveland Memory Project.
Our Lady of Lourdes Church One of the earliest Slavic establishments of the area was Our Lady of Lourdes Church, showing the importance of religion to the settlers and the central role it played in their lives. The Church served as a social hub and allowed for community development and unity. Source: Cleveland State University. Special Collections.Cleveland Memory Project.
St. John Nepomucene While the area around Broadway and East 55th was at one point a mixture of Polish and Czechoslovakian immigrants, around the turn of the century a large population of Czechs moved to the adjacent area of Fleet and East 55th. The area came to be known as Karlin after a saloon owner who helped to settle the area. This movement, along with growing populations, led to the establishment of St. John Nepomucene Church in the Karlin area. Source: Photo by Danielle Rose
Street Changes, 1933 In 1933, a renovation project was approved with county commissioners agreeing to cover $40,000 of the costs. The plan would eliminate the traffic congestion at the intersection by widening and cutting off corners along Hamm avenue between Broadway and Dolloff Rd., giving the street cars on E55 a more direct route. The project cost $200,000 with the city agreeing to pay half. The reconstruction was completed on November 13, 1935 and to celebrate the opening of the widened road the district held a civic celebration. Source: Peoplemaps.esri.com
Warszawa While the Warszawa area is mostly thought of as East 65th St. and the area around St. Stanislaus, the Broadway and East 55th intersection was the center of Slavic life in the late 1800s and remains an important piece of ethnic identity for those in the area. Even as late as 1985, the population of the neighborhood was 85% Polish and remains the largest Polish settlement in Cleveland and second largest in Ohio (Toledo being the largest). Source: Photo by Danielle Rose

Location

Metadata

Danielle Rose, “Broadway and East 55th St.,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 26, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/727.