Waterloo Arts District

Wouldn't Napoleon Be Surprised?

The stretch of Lake Erie coastline known as Collinwood (original name: Collamer) was once renowned for its lush vineyards. The fertile land proved so hospitable for the cultivation of grapes that in 1870 the area was North America’s largest shipping point for grapes. But agriculture was not Collinwood’s only industry: By 1890 it was a major switching point for the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern (later New York Central and now CSX) Railroad.

Waves of European immigration—particularly Irish, Italian and Slovenian—fueled Collinwood’s expansion in the early 20th century. Proximate businesses such as Fisher Body, Lincoln Electric, Eaton Axle, and General Electric provided abundant employment. The interior of the Beachland Ballroom on Waterloo Road (originally the Croatian Liberty Hall) pays homage to the neighborhood’s ethnic heritage. Down the street, the Slovenian Workmen’s Home showcases a time when immigrant workers made their way to and from nearby factories and rail yards.

Tensions began to emerge after World War II, as more and more African Americans moved into Collinwood. A 1946 riot at Euclid Beach Park (which, at the time, excluded blacks) was one of the early red flags. Myriad plant closings, ongoing tensions among students, and predatory tactics of local realtors further undermined Collinwood’s stability, with large quantities of white homeowners leaving the area.

But new faces were also arriving. In the 1990s, lured by affordable rents, young people started to trickle in. Artists found inexpensive gallery and studio space. Others were drawn to the area’s growing underground music scene. Over time, Collinwood’s identity began to evolve from industry and rail to arts, culture and food & drink. And the epicenter was the intersection of Waterloo Road and East 156th Street.

Arts programs in Collinwood actually date to the 1960s when funding was provided to help children and adults deal with the community’s race conflicts. But since then Collinwood has further solidified its arts reputation: Waterloo Arts was formed in 2002, using seed money from The Cleveland Foundation. The Waterloo Arts Fest —an annual banquet of food, art, music and other street entertainment—was launched shortly thereafter. In 2004 the Waterloo Arts building opened and now hosts artists’ studios and galleries; a café featuring live music and open mic nights; and an annex for educational programs and performances.

Music, gallery and public art, street performances and plays along Waterloo Road are Collinwood’s new calling card. Swing dances happen regularly at the Slovenian Workmen’s Home and musical performances with national acts are held almost nightly at the Beachland Ballroom, whose name is a quiet salute to Euclid Beach. The neighborhood also hosts record stores, vintage clothing shops, craft stores, bars, cafes, and a recording studio. Small wonder that Collinwood was named one of America's Best Secret Neighborhoods by Travel + Leisure, or that The Wall Street Journal featured the neighborhood in a story about using the arts to fight blight.