Like all houses of worship, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church’s spiritual focus was skyward when it opened its doors in 1919. However, the structure’s earthly perspective was quite different from today. Early on, Annunciation Church looked out to a crowded, largely blue-collar neighborhood. Immediately to the south, however, many of West 14th Street’s (formerly Jennings Avenue’s) great estates were still viable and occupied. By the 1960s, the wealthy were largely gone, and Interstate 90 had eviscerated the Tremont neighborhood. Annunciation Church’s neighbors were mostly poor and (instead of densely packed homes) Annunciation Church now had a freeway on-ramp at its front door. Today the freeway is still there but with the advent of a new bridge, the Cleveland Metroparks is building a small (four-acre) public park in front of the church. What a difference a century makes.
The Pan-Hellenic Union, formed in 1910, helped organize members of the Greek Orthodox faith in Cleveland, whose numbers had grown rapidly since the early 1890s. Most Greeks settled in the area around Bolivar Road between Ontario and East 9th Streets. Then known as Greek Town, the district encompassed the Central Market and now is occupied by Quicken Loans Arena and Progressive Field. Many Greek Town residents eventually crossed the river and settled in Tremont (then known as South Side), the only significant Greek area on Cleveland’s west side.
Prior to the Pan-Hellenic Union's founding, Greek Orthodox worship in the city had been sporadic and decentralized. In 1912, the Union purchased the West 14th Street homes of industrialists Thomas and Isaac Lamson and Samuel Sessions, and held services there for two years before moving to Greek Town's Arch Hall at Bolivar Road and Ontario Street. The first regular service at that location (above a movie house) occurred on Christmas Eve. When a traveling Greek priest was in Cleveland, congregants might also worship periodically at Saint Theodosius Russian Orthodox Church on Starkweather Avenue. When Arch Hall became too small to meet the needs of the growing congregation, the Pan-Hellenic Union (which by then had changed its name to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation) began constructing its own house of worship on the site of the Lamson and Sessions mansions in 1918. In 1919, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church became the first and only Greek Orthodox Church in Cleveland and remained so until 1937, when St. Spyridon was built at 6469 Saint Clair Avenue.
Father John Zografos became the church’s pastor in 1924. During his four-year tenure, he painted all 85 of the icons that still adorn the church’s interior. Father Zografos also helped establish the first Greek school.
Viewed today by tens of thousands of I-90 commuters, the golden domes of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church are Tremont’s most visible sight—a reminder that Tremont is still a hub of spiritual and architectural splendor. Every year, thousands more people experience it up close during the annual Greek Heritage Festival, held each Memorial Day weekend.