History looms large in the neighborhood surrounding Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church. Immediately to the north, Interstate 90 is a noisy reminder of Tremont’s 1960s evisceration. Across Scranton Road from the church, a cluster of Victorian-era homes are in various stages of renovation. Two hundred yards to the west, three young women spent a decade or more in horrendous captivity. And throughout the area, optimism is widespread—with redevelopment on the rise, a massive, $400 million transformation of MetroHealth Medical Center’s main campus, and Scranton Road’s recent addition to the National Register of Historic Places.
Immanuel Lutheran’s own history dates to 1853, when Trinity Lutheran Church built a school on West 30th Street. At the time, however, many members resided in the Brooklyn neighborhood (which then encompassed what is now Tremont), so a second school was erected at the corner of Scranton Road and Seymour Avenue. The resulting Brooklyn Congregation was formalized in 1879 and a new structure—Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church—was dedicated the following year.
Beginning with 537 communicants and 58 voting members, Immanuel Lutheran grew rapidly. By 1881, school enrollment topped 400. By 1884 the congregation had 2,354 baptized members. In 1885, a balcony was built to handle the overflow of worshipers. Growth was so great that a second Lutheran church, St. Matthew’s, opened in 1885 about a dozen blocks south of Immanuel Lutheran.
A tornado devastated parts of Cleveland on April 21, 1909, carving a particularly damaging swath in a northeasterly direction through the Clark-Fulton, Warszawa (Slavic Village), and Cedar-Central neighborhoods. The worst church-related damage was to St. Stanislaus Church on East 65th Street and St. Wenceslas on East 35th Street (the latter’s steeple broke off, landing on two homes and reducing them to rubble). But Immanuel Lutheran was not spared: Several of the church’s upper segments were torn off. The steeple was cracked to the point where it had to be replaced. Two years later, a new social hall was built. More renovations were performed in 1930 and 1953. Still, the structure we see today is hardly different from 100 years ago: a square, segmented bell tower and open belfry, and Gothic-style detailing around the windows and doors.
In 1978, the elements threatened again. The nearby construction of Interstate 90 caused a shift in the water table that undermined the church’s foundation. The resulting renovation cost more than the church’s original construction nearly a century earlier. Today, however, the church and its congregation are stable, and the Word of God continues to be proclaimed in German and English.