In November, 1970, officers of Shaker-Lee Synagogue presented an $11,500 gift to the Jewish Welfare Fund Appeal for donation to the Israel Emergency Fund. The substantial gift fulfilled a pledge made by the congregation to its recently deceased members, Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Gordon. Committed to do everything in their power to aid the Israeli cause, the Synagogue’s Sisterhood had raised $1,500 for this “tangible demonstration of…support for the Jews of Israel.” The remaining $10,000 was acquired through the sale of their synagogue property at 3688 Lee Road in Shaker Heights. The sizable contribution marked an end to the small Orthodox congregation’s residence in Shaker Heights. Illustrated by persistent difficulties drawing ten male participants to hold minyan, changing conditions in the neighborhood were cited as a source of their depleted attendance. The 135-member Synagogue determined that their religious needs would be best met by joining another congregation, and quickly secured permission to worship at Warrensville Center Synagogue in Cleveland Heights.
The Jewish enclave surrounding Shaker-Lee Synagogue would also find a new home outside of Shaker Heights. By the turn of the century, a large Shield of David etched into the building’s polished sandstone facade remained as one of the area’s few visual reminders of the sizable Jewish community that once lived in the surrounding neighborhood. The structure’s history as a religious sanctuary, however, neither began nor ended with its use by the Shaker-Lee Synagogue. For over 60 years, the converted commercial building has been used by the communities of Shaker Heights and Mount Pleasant as a center for religious and cultural life. The physical transformation of the storefront space, and subsequent services and activities housed within its walls, reveal the dynamic character of the Moreland neighborhood and the diverse makeup of religious communities that have lived within its bounds.
The construction of the building at 3688 Lee Road occurred fairly late within the context of Moreland’s residential and commercial development. The southwest corner of the Kinsman-Lee intersection remained a homestead to descendants of the Manx farming community well into the first decade of the 1900s. Then the area was acquired, improved and allotted by the Shaker Overlook Company. In 1918, the grounds were opened up for sale. Antonio Lanese, an Italian sewer and water contractor, immediately purchased twenty-one lots along the boulevard that would become Nicholas Road. Lanese eventually acquired nearly all the lands on both sides of Scottsdale Boulevard and Nicholas Avenue between East 163rd Street and Lee Road. While most of the property was subdivided and sold to the Hillcrest Realty Company in the late 1920s, Lanese held onto a few allotments facing Lee Road into the mid-1930s. A building permit for the property at 3688 Lee Road was submitted in 1935, although 1937 maps do not reflect the presence of a structure. The property was eventually sold in 1941, four years after Lanese’s death.
Sophie Schechter, a Russian immigrant living nearby on East 163rd Street, held the deed for the 3688 Lee Road property from 1941 to 1946. Ownership then transferred to a dentist residing in Kenosha, Wisconsin. An April, 1947 advertisement for Culligan Soft Water Services offers the first evidence of a commercial structure having been built on the property. The Culligan franchise was operated out of this building until the early 1950s, but the entrepreneur eventually relocated his interests to the Lee-Miles neighborhood. In 1952, the property was deeded to Marguerite Kemmerling. Kemmerling’s husband, Burt, owned a Ford dealership on Buckeye Road in Cleveland; Opened in 1949, the 20,000 square-foot dealership was one of the largest Ford passenger car and truck operations in Ohio. Real estate agents for A.B. Smythe Company managed rentals of the couple’s commercial property on Lee Road.
By the time Kemmerling held the deed, the Moreland neighborhood housed a rapidly growing Jewish settlement. An era of economic prosperity had begun to spur rapid suburbanization in the region. Increased mobility and anxiety over racial transition in Cleveland’s east-side neighborhoods exacerbated this flight from the inner city. Previously centralized around the Glenvillle and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods, Cleveland’s Jewish population moved en masse into the inner-ring suburbs between 1940 and 1960.
In Shaker Heights, affordable housing and discriminatory real estate practices steered the settlement of middle- and working-class Jews towards the Moreland and Lomond neighborhoods. The proximity of these neighborhoods to the Orthodox Jewish community of Mount Pleasant, which had steadily expanded east along Kinsman Road since the 1920s, provided additional incentive for settlement in the area. Drawn by Shaker Heights’ superb school system and tree-lined lawns, a substantial Jewish community emerged near the Kinsman-Lee intersection.
The impetus to renovate the building at 3688 Lee Road grew from this rapid demographic shift. A study of the surrounding Kinsman-Lee neighborhood undertaken by the Jewish Welfare Federation in the late 1940s found the area lacking in adequate services and facilities. In February, 1950, the Jewish Community Center purchased an eight-bedroom house at 3638 Lee Road to use as a branch in Shaker Heights. With pre-existing locations in Glenville, Cleveland Heights and Mount Pleasant, the Cleveland-based organization provided cultural, recreational, and educational programming to Jewish communities throughout the city and its surrounds. Due to the proximity of the Mount Pleasant and Shaker-Lee branches, the former would eventually discontinue services in 1952.
One resource offered by the Jewish Community Center was its Drama Department. Guided by an objective to revitalize and reinterpret traditions of Jewish theater, the department staged productions of Jewish-themed plays. Since the establishment of the theater group in 1949, however, it lacked a central facility to house productions, rehearse and store equipment. The Jewish Community Center’s Board of Trustees approved the proposed costs of rent and equipment in 1953, and negotiations with A.B. Smythe commenced for use of the nearby commercial building at 3688 Lee Road. The brick structure was zoned as retail property, and contained 6,600 square feet evenly divided between two floors.
Funded by Friends of the Drama Department, the building was redesigned as a 175-seat playhouse that included a permanent stage, dressing rooms, rehearsal areas and workshop space. It was dedicated in October, 1954. The Drama Department raised its curtains for the first time the following month for a presentation of Jan de Hartog’s “Skipper Next to God.” Chosen to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Jewish life in the United States, the play depicted the struggles of postwar Jewish refugees as they were refused entry into the Americas. Both the staging of culturally relevant programming and the new playhouse were well received, and the theater group quickly garnered over 500 subscribers to its three annual productions. The Drama Department’s value as a community service was also realized through the many hours dispensed training Jewish Community Center members in acting, directing, set design, makeup and lighting.
The Drama Center annex would also be used for a variety of recreation and ceremonial functions, such as banquets, religious ceremonies, fundraisers and dances. Due to the lack of any large Jewish-operated facilities in the Kinsman-Lee neighborhood prior to the opening of Beth El Synagogue in 1957, the new theater acted as both a cultural and recreational center for the Moreland neighborhood.
While the Jewish population of Shaker Heights steadily grew through 1961, Mount Pleasant’s Jewish community neighborhood had all but disappeared. Religious institutions that remained behind quickly atrophied. As early as 1954, Mount Pleasant’s once-popular Kinsman Jewish Center regularly rented the Drama Center hall to hold religious services within the neighborhood’s growing Jewish community. The impact of this population shift became apparent as membership at the Shaker-Lee Jewish Community Center began to fall in 1956. While the Kinsman-Lee neighborhood was noted as being “enthusiastic” about the center, efforts to draw new members from other parts of the suburb proved futile. The house on Lee Road did not “compare with the type of homes” that they were used to, and the Center did “not attract their interest or their parents.”
With trends in Jewish population movement appearing to shift towards Cleveland Heights, the Jewish Community Center elected Mayfield Road as the site of a new central facility in 1955. Plans for the structure included a dedicated theater space, complete with graded seating. Following a performance of “The World of Sholom Aleichem” in May, 1960, the Drama Department began the process of relocating to their new air-conditioned quarters in Cleveland Heights. The doors of the Shaker-Lee Jewish Community Center closed the following year.
Even though the Jewish Community Center continued to work and hold functions out of the Kinsman-Lee Drama Center until late 1960, ownership of the property at 3688 Lee Road was transferred to the Ohel Jacob Anshe Sfard Congregation in November, 1957. At the time of the sale, the formation of Ohel Jacob Yavneh Congregation was announced. The merger consolidated members of two Mount Pleasant Orthodox synagogues, Ohel Jacob and Ohel Yavneh. As with many Jewish religious institutions that had grown along Kinsman Road, the two congregations were faced with dwindling membership. Re-centering their new synagogue within Kinsman-Lee’s Jewish community presented an opportunity to remain relevant in the religious lives of its members, and to grow. Following its purchase in 1957, the Drama Center auditorium housed the new congregation’s religious services. For over two years, both the Theater Department and Ohel Jacob Yavneh shared use of the building. The Ohel Jacob Yavneh Congregation also merged with members of Mount Pleasant’s Tifereth Israel Anshe Shard Congregation, and became known as Shaker-Lee Synagogue in 1959.
The building on Lee Road was once again remodeled, this time into a house of worship, following the departure of the Jewish Community Center Theater Department. In May, 1961, Shaker-Lee Synagogue was dedicated before a crowd of 300. Mayor Wilson G. Stapleton of Shaker Heights addressed the audience, welcoming a new Synagogue to the City. Under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Isaac Krislov, the synagogue would serve the religious needs of the Kinsman-Lee Orthodox community for over a decade. The congregation maintained an active Sisterhood, regularly offered adult study groups, and hosted gatherings associated with religious holidays. Both the Rabbi and congregation members were also active in fundraising for pro-Israeli causes. A shrinking congregation impelled the congregation to sell the synagogue in 1970. As with the Jewish Community Center Theater Department, the congregation relocated to Cleveland Heights.
The closure of Shaker-Lee Synagogue in 1970 was indicative of a declining Jewish population in Shaker Heights. Estimations of Jewish public-school enrollment as a percentage of total enrollment plummeted from its peak of 47.3 percent in 1961 to 33.1 percent by 1968. The Kinsman-Lee enclave soon gave way, as Orthodox communities increasingly centralized in University Heights, South Euclid, Beachwood, Cleveland Heights and Wickliffe.
These changes were most pronounced below Van Aken Boulevard in Shaker Heights, particularly within the Moreland community. Ten percent of the neighborhood’s 600 homes were placed on the real estate market in both 1962 and 1963. This was a sharp increase from prior years, and allowed for the rapid development of a Black enclave within Shaker Heights. Moreland, once known for its Italian and Jewish populace, quickly became a haven for an emerging middle-class African American community. This transition was not uncharacteristic for Moreland, as witnessed during the Jewish migration into Shaker Heights at mid-century. While both an Italian and Jewish presence remained within the neighborhood, African-Americans comprised two-thirds of the Moreland population by 1970.
Following the sale of Shaker-Lee Synagogue, the building continued functioning as a religious sanctuary. Converted into a Christian church, the structure housed the religious activities of Full Gospel Assembly Church from 1970 to 2001. This evangelical congregation was led by Reverend Joseph Frano, an ordained minister of the Christian Churches of North America. Rooted in the Italian Pentecostal Movement, the religious institution was known as the Italian Christian Church prior to 1948. Reverend Frano was noted for teachings that blended traditions of Pentecostalism, Protestantism and Catholicism.
The Chapel of Hope Christian Fellowship has continued in the tradition of housing religious and community services for the surrounding neighborhood since 2001. Founded by Reverend Willard McFarland, development of the inclusive, non-denominational Christian congregation was guided by a belief that members should exemplify Christian teachings through daily actions in order to effect positive change in the world. Congregation members have sponsored a variety of aid programs over their many years of service in the Moreland neighborhood, including food drives, blood drives, and clothing giveaways. An annual Angel Tree outreach program is also sponsored during the Christmas season for children of incarcerated men and women. Community services offered by the church have included raking leaves for elderly neighbors, jail ministry, financial seminars and leadership training. As the Chapel of Hope Christian Fellowship proceeds along a storied path of community outreach and faith-based service, the converted storefront at 3688 Lee Road acts as a reminder of the many religious communities that helped define the distinct character of the Moreland neighborhood.