OUR SHARED HISTORY
OUR SHARED HISTORY
1960 – 2016
BY CARTER ELLISON
Self-proclaimed “Mayor of Ohio City,” John Katynski, 1917-1999, roamed his neighborhood during the 1970’s and 80’s in his red and white Thunderbird, license no. ”OC-I,” taking thousands of 35mm color slides of the people, places and events around his home. Over 2000 of his images depicting the Ohio City neighborhood during this transformational period were given to Bruce Hedderson by Bea Katynski, John’s widow, before her death in 2007. The Ohio City History Project (OCHP) is chronicling the development of Ohio City with this photographic history to build a stronger community through developing a sense of shared common history.
One of the ways it is doing this is by recording the oral histories of the people who witnessed the neighborhood’s development, capturing the current appearance of the neighborhood and contrasting it with its historical appearance in photographs, and making the oral histories and photographic records more public. As funding is acquired, OCHP will host an exhibition and display of Katynski’s photographic legacy and a commemorative book to more fully document the neighborhood preservation movement that made today’s Ohio City neighborhood possible.
This effort began in 2012, when a group of Ohio City neighbors began hearing talk from older residents about the early days of Ohio City revitalization when block club meetings happened in people’s backyards and the Ohio City Tavern was ground zero of the neighborhood’s growing community of “urban pioneers.” Two years ago, Hedderson gave the Katynski slides to his neighbor, and my brother David, who began to catalog and research the history depicted in the images. Most of the slides have been digitized and many of them have been labeled through a process of comparison to current locations and by asking long-term residents of the neighborhood to help with the identification of events and individuals. As part of this research, each of the streets where Katynski took photographs have been re-photographed, and over 15 interviews have been conducted to learn more about the people, the times, and the places shown in the photographs.
Realizing the social and cultural value of the collection of images and the stories they illustrate, OCHP is seeking to help bring the images and the stories to the public and involve a larger number of people in the ongoing history of community involvement and social activism of the neighborhood. The research reveals how Cleveland’s Near West Side was the focus of mid-century idealists who sought to organize the unemployed, of local residents who struggled for tenants’ rights and better city services, of individuals in the 1970’s who thought the neighborhood had potential and made a cause of recruiting young suburbanites to move to the neighborhood and live “in the city.” It recounts the accomplishments and blunders of a neighborhood that emerged from the grim effects of urban blight, the flight of population to the suburbs, of empty houses, fires, piles of trash and scurrying rats in the 1960’s. All the current conflicts and controversies have been present throughout Ohio City’s last half century and probably go back even further. History shows how our neighborhood has become the thriving, walkable residential and commercial neighborhood it is today through 50 years of rough and tumble politics and policy.
We’ve interviewed some of the native West Side residents who were born and raised in its enclaves and clung with determination to their homes and businesses during the hard times, the visionary people who moved to the West Side in the early days of its revitalization, and the most recent newcomers drawn to the inner city by its historic charm, diversity, and current prosperity. Interviews continue to be conducted with residents, business owners, religious leaders, politicians, planners, developers, architects, and others who have played a role in and witnessed the development of Ohio City. The interviews recall the red-lining by banks and insurance companies in the 1960’s, the wide-spread arson of the 1970’s, and the ongoing struggle of residents to save the houses on their blocks from demolition in the 1970’s through the present. People interviewed have remembered the creation of the Cleveland Landmarks Commission, the registry of the historic districts, and the landmarking of local buildings. They tell a story of the constant tension of preserving Ohio City’s unique character from the encroachment of crime, trash, spot zoning, drugs, asphalt, and other ubiquitous neighborhood challenges.
Current times are creating new stories of community activism and organization. The neighborhood and its many voices and proponents are revealed in OCHP’s images and form a backdrop for what is happening today. We are all in this living history together. If you have stories or photographs to share of Ohio City’s past 50 years, please contact the Ohio City History Project at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carter Ellison lives and works in Ohio City. She moved here from Boulder, Colorado where she worked as Director of Constituent Services for Congressman and Senator Mark E. Udall. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities.
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I moved to Ohio City in February 2015 from Boulder, Colorado and am presently working with the Ohio & Lake Erie Institute for Classical Architecture & Art, the Ohio City History Project Inc., and the D.H.Ellison Co. on Lorain Avenue.