The old neighborhood
My mother was born in Pittsburgh. Her mother died when my mother was 11 months old. Her father married a woman from Cleveland when my mother was 2 or 3. But when my mother was 10, and right before her stepmother gave birth to my mother’s brother, my mother’s father died. Within a couple of years, her stepmother brought my mother and her baby brother to live in Cleveland Heights. My mother’s older sister stayed in Pittsburgh to finish high school.
That was during the Great Depression. They lived in an apartment on Coventry Road, where most of the buildings are the same ones that stand there today. My mother attended Roosevelt Junior High. When the interior of their apartment building (above what is now the Hunan Coventry Restaurant) was destroyed by fire, they moved in with relatives nearby.
So, then my mother had cousins to play with. On many Saturdays during the Depression, the kids’ entertainment consisted of trying to scrape together 10 cents so that one of them could go to the movie at the Heights Theater (later the Heights Art Theater, then the Centrum, and then a lot of other things). The kid whose turn it was to go to the movie that day would then come home and spend the rest of the afternoon regaling the other kids with every detail about the movie—telling the whole story and describing every scene.
In her teens, my mother became friends with Mrs. Mitchell, at Mitchell’s Candy, which was next door to the Heights Theater, and is now on Lee Road; and she shopped at Heights Hardware, which is still in its original location on Coventry near Mayfield Road; and did her banking at the bank at the corner of Coventry and Lancashire roads, which is still a bank (a different bank, but it still looks—and, oddly, smells—the same). And, as a teen, she worked in a dentist’s office above what is now the Pacific East restaurant, at the corner of Coventry and Mayfield. And she shopped at the fish market on Coventry (the site of which became the original location of Big Fun) when my father worked there delivering fish.
My father’s family moved to Cleveland Heights, from the Glenville neighborhood of Cleveland, when my father was 5—the same year the Heights Theater showed the first talking picture, "The Jazz Singer," starring Al Jolson. They first lived in a house, which is still there, on Washington Boulevard, a few houses back from the Coventry Library, which is still there. During the Depression, they moved two or three times, but always stayed in the same neighborhood.
My father also attended Roosevelt Junior High, two years ahead of my mother. They both were also members of Euclid Avenue Temple, two or three miles west of Cleveland Heights, and both sang in the temple’s junior choir. My mother thought my father was cute, so when he brought in some music he had written, and the choir director asked if anyone was interested in writing lyrics for his melody, my mother immediately volunteered. That’s how they met. And neither of them ever dated anyone else, all through their years at Heights High. And then they got married shortly after high school, during WWII, when my father was serving in the Navy.
During the war, they lived in San Francisco, where my father was stationed—sailing back and forth from there to the Philippines on a troop transport ship, delivering soldiers to the combat area and returning with wounded ones; and my mother worked in an office for the U.S. Department of the Navy (where, believe it or not, she met, and processed the papers of, future President John F. Kennedy). After the war, my parents moved back to Cleveland Heights.
My brothers and I also grew up around Coventry Road, where I took my first guitar lessons, for what became a very long, and still going, career in music. We also attended Coventry School, Roosevelt Junior High and Heights High. I moved to New York City for a few years, but I came back to Cleveland Heights. I got married and we had two kids—who went to Cleveland Heights schools. My son got married to a woman he had gone to school with, starting at Roxboro Elementary and through Heights High. They both were members of the Heights High Swim Team. After graduating from college, his wife began teaching at Heights High. My son is the coach of the Heights High Swim Team.
Now they have two little kids. The plan is for their kids to attend Heights schools.
My grandparents, my parents, my generation, my kids, and my grandchildren. All of us live or lived in Cleveland Heights. It’s a new year, and this year is almost 100 years since the year my father was born. The world has changed in thousands of amazing ways during that time. But, it occurs to me, some things stay the same.
David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.