Slovenian Cultural Garden

Originally named the Yugoslav Cultural Garden, the Slovenian Garden is located near the intersection of St. Clair Avenue and East Boulevard, adjacent to the Polish Garden.

Over 100,000 people paraded in support of the Yugoslav Garden's dedication on a rainy morning in May 1938. Dignitaries included Mayor Harold Burton, Governor Martin Davey, Senator Robert Bulkley, Judge Frank J. Lausche (later a United States Senator), United States Representatives Martin L. Sweeney, Robert Crosser and Anthony Fleger, Chief Ohio Supreme Court Justice Carl V. Weygandt, WPA Director Colonel Joseph H. Alexander, and Dr. Konstantin Fotic, the Yugoslavian Envoy in Washington. The garden reflected the culture of Cleveland's Croatians, Serbians, and Slovenians and their sometimes conflicted past. As Yugoslavia dissolved in the 1980s and 1990s, so too did the ideal of a unified Yugoslavian Cultural Garden. In 1991, the garden was rechristened the Slovenian Cultural Garden, and separate Serbian and Croatian Garden Delegations emerged.

In "The Paths Are Peace", Clare Lederer describes the Yugoslav Cultural Garden's design: "A circular fountain and pool are the central features of a paved court. Two stately linden trees, the typical Slovenian "lipa", whose sweet-scented, delicate blossoms are used in the brewing of a delightful tea, tower at either side of the garden entrance. The Jugoslav Garden slopes in three levels between the upper and lower boulevards. To the left of the entrance is a reposeful, formal, sunken garden to the right, a semi-circular section. A semi-circular stairway leads to the halfway lower level, and a wide stairway from the mid-level to the lower level, where there extends a spacious, stage-like paved court. Encircling this setting is a beautiful, natural amphitheatre formed of massive shade trees and the cooling stream of Doan Brook."

Over the years, statuary in the Garden has included Bishop Frederick Barago, a missionary to the Ottawa and Ojibway Native American tribes (1797-1868); Ivan Cankar, a poet and political activist (1876-1918); Simon Gregorcic, a priest and poet (1844-1906); General Rudolph Maister, a poet and political activist (1874-1934); Bishop Petar Petrovich Njegos, poet and ruler of Montenegro (1813-1851); and Ivan Zorman, a poet and composer (1885-1957).

Slovenians began settling in Cleveland in the 1880s. The first to arrive settled in the Newburgh area. By the late 1880s and early 1890s a much larger community began to form along St. Clair Avenue. At its peak in the 1920s and 30s, the community ran from E. 30th to E. 79th Streets between the lake and Superior Avenue. The Slovenians kept moving east until the 1980s, eventually establishing a sizable presence in Lake County. Few Slovenians settled on the west side of Cleveland. The two small communities that developed in the West Park and Denison neighborhoods later moved to Maple Heights and Garfield Heights.

U.S. Census data for 1910 lists 14,332 Slovenians already living in Cleveland. By 1970, the number had risen to include 46,000 foreign-born or mixed-parentage Slovenians living in Greater Cleveland area. In the 1990s, the community in the Cleveland area numbered well over 50,000.

After the establishment of an independent Slovenia in 1991, its government opened an Honorary Consulate and appointed a local Slovenian, Dr. Karl B. Bonutti, honorary consul. While the use of the Slovenian language has all but disappeared in large parts of the community, many Slovenians still support organizations and attend performances that reflect their ethnic heritage and traditions.

Audio

A "Kidnapping" at the Yugoslav Garden John Grabowski describes the conflict within the Cleveland Slovenian community in the 1930s over who to honor at the Yugoslav Cultural Garden. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Yugoslav Cultural Garden, 1938 Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Baraga Unveiling, Sep. 1935 Bishop James A. McFadden of Cleveland and Archbishop Gregory Rozuran of Ljubljana place a memorial wreath on the bust of Bishop Baraga on September 22, 1935. Bishop Frederic Baraga was one of the first, and perhaps also one of the most fascinating, Slovenians to come to America. Born in 1897 near the village of Dobrnic in what was then the Habsburg Monarchy, Baraga attended law school in Vienna before being ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1823. He traveled to America in 1830 at the request of Bishop Edward Fenwick of Cincinnati, Ohio. Baraga was sent to an Indian mission in Michigan and eventually went on to publish the first book ever written in the Ottowa language. His work also took him further north to Wisconsin, where he led a mission of Chippewa Indians. The "snowshoe priest", so called for the hundreds of miles of snowy American wilderness he traversed on these, was elevated to bishop in 1853 and became the first bishop of the diocese of Marquette, Michigan. By this time, he spoke 8 languages and had published a Chippewa language dictionary and grammar book. He dedicated much of his time in Marquette trying to ease tensions among the diverse Michigan population, which included Indians, French settlers, and German and Irish immigrants arriving to work in the growing mining industry. He died in Marqueete in 1868. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Cankar Unveiling, Aug. 1937 The caption for this August 13, 1937 photograph reads: "Dedicating bust of Slovene poet Ivan Cankar in Jugoslav Cultural Garden Cleveland Ohio. Left to right are J.L. Mihelich of Cleveland; Julius Slapsak, supervisor of schools in Ljubljana, Jugoslavia; Dr. Francis Trdan, prof. University of Ljubljana; Dr. Bozidar Stojanovich, Jugoslav consul general in New York; Anton Grdina of Cleveland, general chairman of the Jugoslav Cultural Garden in Cleveland, O." Cankar (1876-1918) is considered to be one of the great Slovenian writers. Throughout his lifetime, he defended the uniqueness of the Slovenian language and culture, not wanting to see it dissolved into a Serbo-Croat culture in the process of building Yugoslavia. He did, however, support the formation of a South Slav state so long as the Slovenians could maintain their culture within it. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Women at Garden Dedication, Sep. 1935 Women, including the President of the Jugoslav Women's Association (in all black), wear traditional dress at the dedication of the Yugoslav Cultural Garden on September 22, 1935. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Yugoslav Garden Construction, 1937 The Works Progress Administration (WPA) funded the building of the Cultural Gardens, including the Yugoslav Garden shown here in 1937 being built against the hillside along East Boulevard. The bust of Bishop Baraga, unveiled the year before, towers over the construction. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections
Construction, Nov. 1936 The Yugoslav Cultural Garden under construction on November 6, 1936. Image courtesy of Cleveland State Library Special Collections

Location

820 East Blvd, Cleveland, OH 44108 | East Blvd across from Maury Ave, 250 feet south of St Clair Ave., between Polish and Czech Gardens. Street parking is available.

Metadata

“Slovenian Cultural Garden,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 17, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/138.