Longwood (Area B) Urban Renewal Project

“Cleveland's Cabrini-Green”

Beginning in 1955, Longwood (Area B) was the first urban renewal project in accordance with the General Plan for Cleveland of 1949. The small, yet densely populated, neighborhood of about 56 acres was bordered by Scovill and Woodland Avenues to the north and south; and by East 33rd and East 40th Streets to the west and east. The project served as a model for subsequent urban renewal projects in Cleveland, though not always a positive one. Opposition and criticism to the project was visible since the beginning and would continue through the following years. Roadell Hickman stated in a Plain Dealer editorial in 1987, “Longwood became Cleveland’s Cabrini-Green, the notorious Chicago public-housing project. Both began with a vision to save a neighborhood but became a symbol of what was destroying it.” Longwood and Cabrini-Green did have some differences, however. The Cabrini-Green project in Chicago was intended to be public housing, whereas Longwood was not intended to be public housing, but rather low-cost housing.

The General Plan for Cleveland was formed as a flexible blueprint for city growth up until the 1980s. Longwood (Area B), among the other urban renewal projects in Cleveland, was a response to growing blight and decay in inner city neighborhoods. The city government of Cleveland was proactive about maintaining and developing its inner city since the beginning of the 20th century. A city planning commission was established in 1915, and in 1933 Cleveland established the Metropolitan Housing Authority. Local businesses and corporations also took action and formed the Cleveland Development Foundation in 1954 with a revolving fund of $2 million to invest in urban renewal. Businesses and corporations in Cleveland believed that by creating a better inner city in close proximity to jobs, they could attract middle class workers that relocated to the suburbs.

In 1955, the Longwood neighborhood had a total of 295 dilapidated buildings that housed around 1,500 families. The project called for the total clearance of the area, with the exception of a few churches and city buildings. The area consisted of five privately owned developers and called for the construction of 836 new dwellings throughout the neighborhood, as well as shopping centers and an improved street plan. Various city agencies touted the project as an almost immediate success story through multiple newspaper articles and city publications. The land was acquired, leveled, and rebuilt relatively quickly and new residents were moving in as early as 1958. Any small success of the project was covered in the local newspapers to paint a clear picture that Longwood was right on track to become the model that the city government hoped it would be.

Despite the proclaimed success of the project by city publications, problems and critics were prevalent and visible from the beginning. Critics claimed that the project was far too expensive and was taking too much time to fully complete with the quality that was initially envisioned. The project, as well as most urban renewal projects, also disproportionally affected African Americans, which caused many residents to speak out against it. According to Renewing Inequality, of the 1,100 people displaced by the project by 1961, 99% of them were people of color. Tenants also consistently made claims of mismanagement, pest problems, and poorly built structures. According to Residents also had to be relocated for the duration of the construction of the project and some found themselves in a worse situation than they were before having to move out of Longwood. Tenants also picketed and protested their grievances several times, with the first tenant strike occurring in 1958. Tenants in a small section of Longwood (Area B) called Longwood Village organized a strike with grievances that included high rents and rent increases, racial discrimination, rats, and property mismanagement. The primary cause for the strike, being rent prices, was never resolved on account of rents being set and controlled by the Federal Housing Administration. Everyone involved, however, did agree that the rents were too high to be considered low cost housing. The rent strikes reveal a major concern with urban renewal that civic and business leaders did not foresee. Longwood was still surrounded by other slums and dilapidated neighborhoods and the new housing was not affordable. Middle-class suburbanites did not want to move into the inner city and the inner-city community could not afford the new housing. Eugene Segal, a reporter for the Plain Dealer, stated, “If one group can’t afford the new housing and the other won’t have it, whom are we building for?”

The housing developments in Longwood (Area B) changed ownership multiple times over the decades following the project. Excessive vacancies in the housing developments caused the owners to default on their mortgage payments in 1963. To stop them from foreclosing, the Cleveland Development Foundation set up a subsidiary called the Longwood Housing Association to take advantage of a new Federal Housing Administration amendment and get a loan. The loan paid off banks and money lenders first, then a portion of it was used to pay developers to help recoup their losses, and what was left was paid to the city of Cleveland which was only about half of what the Cleveland Development Foundation initially paid in advance to the builders of the project.

The grand ambitions of the Longwood (Area B) project were unfortunately never realized. Financial, management, and vacancy problems continued to plague the neighborhood into the 1990s. A new type of subsidized housing was built in the early 2000s, which replaced Longwood Apartments. The new housing development was named Arbor Park Village and was intended to include educational classes, recreational activities, and resources to help people find better jobs. Though flaws persisted in Longwood (Area B) in the decades following the project, perhaps Arbor Park Village can fulfill some the original promises that were made.

Images

Plan for Longwood Community Center and Pool, 1957 The Longwood (Area B) project was intended to have a community center with a pool, as the sketch depicts. The lack of recreation facilities as such were among the primary concerns for the 1958 tenant strike in Longwood Village. The community center and the pool were never built. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: February 11, 1957
Proposed Longwood Housing Development Map, 1957 The proposed development for Longwood (Area B) included multiple affordable housing units, two shopping centers, and a playground. The plan also called for the construction of a new street designed to cut down on through traffic that would connect East 35th, East 37th, and East 38th. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: March 19, 1957
Demolition of Homes for Longwood Housing Development with Former Occupants, 1955 Families were interviewed by city officials while they were being relocated to discuss their housing needs. The interviews were done in an effort to ensure that everyone had housing for the duration of the project, though some still had trouble finding adequate housing during the demolition and rebuilding process. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Glenn Zahn Date: March 18, 1955
Demolition of Abyssinia Baptist Church, 1955 The Longwood (Area B) Project called for the total destruction of nearly all of the existing structures in the area. Among the buildings that were to remain standing were three churches. Abyssinia Baptist Church, however, was demolished in 1955 at the beginning of the project. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: George Grant Date: April 22, 1955
Children Playing Behind Building Children playing in and around dilapidated housing was a primary cause for concern among residents of Longwood. The image depicts two children playing near a house on Scovill Avenue. The state of the building and the refuse behind it are noticeable. Residents after the project was built were concerned with “Ghost Houses,” or abandoned houses that children might play in and get hurt because the structures were in such bad shape. Source: Jasper Wood Collection, Cleveland Public Library Digital Gallery Creator: Jasper Wood Date: ca. 1947-1955
1949 General Plan of Cleveland The General Plan of Cleveland was meant to be an adaptable guide for city growth up until the 1980s. The intent was to revamp the city and make it function better. This map outlines the neighborhoods planned for either urban renewal or industrial renewal. Longwood can be seen in the red section. Creator: Cleveland Public Library Date: Ca.1949
North Side of 3700 Block of Woodland Avenue, 1955 The Longwood (Area B) urban renewal project called for the construction of two new shopping centers. This unfortunately meant that all of the shops along Woodland and Scovill Avenues had to be demolished. Many local businesses within walking distance of the project also saw a decline in their clientele because they were displaced by the urban renewal project. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: January 19, 1955
Plan for Longwood Shopping Center, 1957 The Longwood (Area B) was originally intended to have two new shopping centers. One shopping center was intended to have on site parking, while the other would utilize street parking. The sketch above depicts the shopping center with on site parking, but was never constructed. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: February 11, 1957
3628 Longwood Court All of the previous housing in the Longwood area was demolished and replaced with low-cost housing apartments. The previous residents were interviewed to determine their housing needs so they could be rehoused for the duration of the project. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Clayton Knipper Date: January 18, 1955
Congregation Shomre Shabos, 1959 Located on East 37th street, the dilapidated Congregation Shomre Shabbos was acquired by Russian immigrants in 1921, but was sold in 1923 and the congregation relocated. The building appears to be abandoned and was one of the many buildings demolished for the Longwood (Area B) project. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: 1959
Playground at Longwood Apartments, 1964 This picture depicts children playing in the Longwood Housing Development, which started construction in 1957. Although the project had five different private developers throughout the neighborhood, the apartment buildings all roughly had a similar design. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Date: May 21, 1964
Housing in Longwood, 1964 This is an example of the the type of apartment building that was built in Longwood. Many of the houses and buildings in the area were torn down and replaced by apartment buildings such as this. Many residents often complained of mismanagement in the new facilities, which were the site of multiple rent strikes throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Paul Tepley Date: October 23, 1964
Out of the Frying Pan---Area B DP's Worse Off Now The development for Area B forced the families in the neighborhood to relocate for the duration of the construction. Some families, such as the Whittsit family, found themselves in a worse situation because they only affordable housing they could find was in Area O, which was referred to as Cleveland’s worse slum. This article headline invokes the term "DP's," or "displaced persons," more commonly associated with refugees from Eastern and Central Europe, including Holocaust survivors, following World War II. Source: Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections Creator: Richard Murway Date: June 6, 1956
Cabrini-Green Public Housing Complex Located in the Near Northside of Chicago, Cabrini-Green was a housing project that was implemented in 1942 and was extended various times during the 1950s and 1960s. The public housing project quickly became synonymous with the problems of urban renewal. The project faced many of the problems that Longwood faced; mismanagement and poorly built structures. Many of the original structures have been demolished. Source: Digital Public Library of America in Association with the University of Illinois at Chicago Creator: Charles William Brubaker Date: 1976

Location

Metadata

Matt Saplak , “Longwood (Area B) Urban Renewal Project,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 17, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/854.