Rock Court

On August 16, 1979, bulldozers leveled three homes on Rock Court to make room for a parking lot and expansion of the Pick-N-Pay supermarket. In what was probably a last act of defiance by those seeking to save the buildings, someone concealed the gas valves of each home under piles of stones.

This wasn't Rock Court's first protestor uprising. The battle began earlier in the year when nine tenants ignored eviction notices from their landlord and hired a lawyer to block demolition of the three homes. Their efforts to save the aging structures walked the line between community organizing and theater. Tenants collected signatures, attended council meetings, filed court papers, and staged a rally complete with music, dancing, and a march. Their efforts obviously failed, but the widespread support of the neighborhood reflected the friction that frequently existed between Coventry residents and "outsider" developers.

From the start, it was unlikely that the tenants would win. There was no disagreement that the homes had seen better days, nor was the property owner beyond his rights to demolish the buildings. Yet the homes' impending doom attracted public interest because Rock Court embodied both the history and contradictions of the Coventry area.

The houses that lined this narrow, unpaved street (which, at the time, linked Euclid Heights Boulevard with Hampshire Road) were likely constructed in the late 19th century for workers on the interurban lines and streetcars. From the 1940s to the early 1970s, Rock Court was populated by Hungarian and Italian immigrants. The three two-family homes on the west side of the street (backs facing the parking lot) were purchased and managed as apartments by A. Siegal, who had also built Pick-N-Pay. The Rock Court neighborhood was overseen by self-proclaimed "street mayors," whose primary responsibility was to discourage non-residents from driving through their community. The road was (and continues to be) so hideously bumpy that the street mayors may well have saved many a car-owner's axle.

By the late 1960s, a wave of counterculture types had begun to settle in the houses and apartments along Hampshire and Lancashire roads. The three homes on Rock Court bordering the lot--as well as several Rock Court homes to the north--were soon occupied by artists, musicians, writers, photographers and neo-dadaists. One of the homes claimed by the Pick-N-Pay lot even housed a new-age church.

Coventry's metamorphosis in the late 1960s and early 1970s forged a new identity for the area: a sort of Midwest Greenwich Village or Haight-Ashbury. Local demand for unique goods and services was quickly met by mainly local entrepreneurs. Stores that previously catered to the immigrant community were largely replaced by unique specialty shops geared to sightseers and the neighborhood's left-wing residents: places like Bill Jones Leather, Record Revolution, Rainblue, Green Tomato and the first Arabica.

By the late 1970s, however, increased demand for housing and retail space pushed up rents, infuriating new and old residents who often railed against what they perceived as malevolent inflation instigated by greedy landlords and real estate speculators. By the time Pick-N-Pay announced plans to expand its Coventry Road store, the tenants of Rock Court had no trouble finding sympathetic ears. Beyond commiseration, however, little could be done. Not only was the landlord on the right side of the law, but expansion of the supermarket and lot were needed to support the changing community. A handful of forested homes still stand near Rock Court's terminus at Hampshire Road. In fact, those who venture in from Hampshire may still encounter self-styled "mayors," as well as an abrupt and poorly marked end to the road high above what is now the Marc's parking lot.

Images

The Condemned, 1979 The three homes on Rock Court were condemned by the City of Cleveland Heights. In 1962, the city established a housing code to avoid "deteriorating influences" in the community. Since the city only employed three housing inspectors, four general inspectors, and one zoning inspector, enforcement of the code was aimed at multiple occupancy dwellings. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Pedestrian-Friendly Road, 1979 Plans for the expansion of Pick-N-Pay threatened to destroy one-third of the wooded area surrounding Rock Court. The undedicated, unlighted, narrow road served as a point of pride for a community where the primary modes of transportation were walking and bicycling. Source: Cleveland Heights Historical Society
Pick-N-Pay Constructed in 1941, the Pick-N-Pay on Coventry Road was the second store built for the famous chain. Following a renovation in 1961/62, Pick-N-Pay was believed to be the first building in the Coventry business district to be remodeled. Plans for the 1979 expansion of the supermarket are noted on the lower map. Source: (Top) Cleveland Public Library Photograph Collection; (Bottom) Cleveland Heights Historical Society
Rock Court Homes Following the city's condemnation of the property, A. Siegler, the owner of the three homes on Rock Court, opted to have them demolished rather than repaired. According to Siegler, the renovations exceeded the value of the property. Advocates for the Rock Court tenants warned that the community would be compromising their pedestrian standard of living by converting a wooded area to parking. Source: Cleveland Heights Historical Society
Garage Mural, 1979 The Rock Court community was known for its artistic endeavors. The sides of homes and random walls were decorated with murals, while paintings and sculptures hung from trees ornamented the woods. Source: Cleveland Heights Historical Society
The End Is Here, 1979 A shopping cart found cemented into the woods may have indicated how one Rock Court resident perceived the need for a regional shopping center in the Coventry business district. Source: Cleveland Heights Historical Society

Location

Metadata

Richard Raponi, “Rock Court,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 26, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/452.