Hebrew Academy to purchase CH portion of Oakwood Club

Hebrew Academy of Cleveland's early childhood and elementary school building on South Taylor Road. Photo by Deanna Bremer Fisher.

Hebrew Academy of Cleveland (HAC) will purchase the 92-acre Cleveland Heights portion of the former Oakwood Country Club from First Interstate Properties of Lyndhurst. In September 2014, HAC signed a letter of intent to purchase the property, and academy officials say they expect to finalize the acquisition within the next couple of weeks.

“This is an exciting development and I’m very pleased they are making this investment in Cleveland Heights. I look forward to their growth and bright future in the city,” said CH City Council Member Jason Stein.

The Oakwood Club, the first major Jewish organization located in Cleveland Heights, was founded in 1905 as a 159-acre golf club by prominent Jewish business and civic leaders. In 2010, the club merged with the Mayfield Country Club, located in South Euclid, and put its property up for sale.

First Interstate Properties purchased the 62 acres of the club that are located in South Euclid for $1.8 million in late 2010 and developed it into retail use. Walmart closed its store at Severance Town Center in Cleveland Heights on Oct. 15, 2013 and opened a new supercenter on the Oakwood site the next day.

First Interstate purchased Oakwood’s 92 acres in Cleveland Heights for $2.2 million in October 2011. The property is zoned residential, and the firm had said it was considering building senior housing on the site.

“The acquisition proposed by Hebrew Academy represents a tremendous vote of confidence in the Cleveland Heights area,” said Steve Hoffman, president of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, “It has the potential to maintain a significant and vital segment of the Jewish community in this neighborhood for many years to come, and should be welcome news to all concerned. It’s also a sign of confidence of Hebrew Academy’s leadership in its own future and potential for growth.”

“It’s going to be a game changer for the community at large,” said Rabbi Eli Dessler, HAC financial director. “It’s going to be transformational for our community.”

HAC, an Orthodox Jewish day school, provides a full religious and secular education from pre-kindergarten through high school. Dessler’s father, Rabbi Nachum Zev Dessler, helped found the school in 1943, and served as its dean for many years. He died in 2011.

“I worked side by side with him,” said Dessler. “He built the academy to what it is today.”

The school opened in September 1943 with a dozen or so elementary school students in the basement of the Cleveland Jewish Center in downtown Cleveland. In 1946, as enrollment grew and the Jewish population moved into Cleveland’s eastern suburbs, the school began construction of its current building at 1860 South Taylor Road in Cleveland Heights.

By 1993, HAC enrolled 800 students, and Dessler said it now educates more than 900 students in three facilities. The Taylor building serves boys and girls from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. The Beatrice Stone Yavne High School for Girls, established in 1957, serves 155 students in a state-of-the-art building in Beachwood. Yeshiva High School for Boys, created in 1965, serves about 81 students in grades 7–12 on its Jacob Saperstein Campus in Lyndhurst.

Dessler said that HAC operates the largest Jewish preschool in Ohio, and that its students come from all over the region, including Akron. “In the last 10 years, we’ve had about 250 new students,” he said. “Many are moving in from out of state. People are settling in Cleveland because of the growth in our medical field, so they are working at University Hospitals or the Cleveland Clinic, and Hebrew Academy has a stellar reputation.”

Dessler said HAC has no plans to replace its Taylor Road facility. “Our intention is to put the boy’s school [on the Oakwood site],” he said. HAC would build a facility to house its 250 elementary school boys. “Grade one through six for sure, and we may bring over the boys from Lyndhurst—but that needs to be determined,” said Dessler. “It is going to be a boy’s campus with ball fields. We are not going to use all 90 acres, but it gives us the latitude we need and enables us to plan for the next 50 years.”

Dessler said that the academy has no specific plans for the Oakwood clubhouse at this time. The building, which sits on the Cleveland Heights portion of the property, was completed in 1931. It was designed by George B. Mayer of Charles R. Greco & Associates, the firm that designed the Temple Tifereth-Israel at University Circle and the Temple on the Heights, on Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights. The French provincial-style interior was designed by Louis Rorimer, of Rorimer-Brooks Studios. During World War II, the U.S. Army's 729th Military Police Battalion used the Oakwood clubhouse as a barracks.

Because the Cleveland Heights section of Oakwood is currently zoned residential, HAC will need to secure a conditional use permit from the city’s Planning Commission in order to build a school on the property.

As for 1860 South Taylor Road, Dessler said, “It’s the hub of our Jewish community. We are an anchor in the community—we’ve invested several million dollars in the facility, added sprinklers, built three brand-new playgrounds. We’re proud and happy that we did it. We really are committed to the Taylor Road area—not because we have to, but because we want to.”

Deanna Bremer Fisher

Deanna Bremer Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights and publisher of the Heights Observer.

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Volume 8, Issue 4, Posted 1:44 PM, 03.30.2015