Spirit Corner transforms a nuisance property

Neighbors talk during a jack-o-lantern carving party on Oct. 27. Photo by Megan Rochford.

Neighbors called it the ghost house.

For decades—some say 61 years—the corner of Hampshire and Cadwell was thought to be possessed.

Shadowy, slanting maple trees surrounded the drab maroon colonial, lit dimly at night by a 25-watt lightbulb. Under the ownership of Carl C. Kornicks, empty of any authorized inhabitants, 1779 Cadwell Ave. had fallen into a state of primordial disrepair.

Hidden behind the forest canopy, carloads of college students would sneak in and have raucous parties. The house’s paranormal mystique attracted generations of curious neighborhood children, who would knock on the door and sometimes break in.

In November 2011, neighbors say that events took a more sinister turn when a woman allegedly was robbed by a mugger hiding behind the trees.

After decades of mounting exasperation from both the local community and the Cleveland Heights police, in February 2012 the city acted to label the house a nuisance property. The Cuyahoga Land Bank placed a $10,000 lien on the house, which convinced Kornicks to donate the property to the bank instead of paying. The house was razed and the land became the property of the City of Cleveland Heights.

Neighbors met twice in the fall of 2012 to discuss their ideas about the future of the property, debating and eventually rejecting a proposal to use the land for a community garden.

Then, Mayor Edward Kelly chose Laura Marks, a green activist who lives on Hampshire Road, to lead the development of a new neighborhood park on the property. It was named “Spirit Corner” in honor of the local legend.

Marks was surprised. “Mayor Kelley approached me," said Marks. "I don’t know why he chose me. I hadn’t done anything on this scale before.”

Working with landscape designer and Cleveland Heights resident Elsa Johnson, Marks transformed the remnants of the urban jungle into a sleek, humming center of community life.

Carefully arranged rock circles, wood chips, stone benches and a massive boulder have replaced the gnarled trees, patchy grass and weeds. Large mounds of straw-covered compost mark the exterior of the park, which will be wheelchair accessible.

Marks has taken steps to minimize fossil fuel usage and prevent wasteful use of gasoline by lawnmowers. She said she incorporated aspects of sustainable architecture and permaculture in sculpting the park.

“Part of permaculture is having a food forest,” Marks said. “I’m planning to plant strawberries on the mounds.”

Although the city still owns the property, Spirit Corner has become an integral part of the neighborhood. Marks said she wants to preserve the park for the long term.

“The more permanent and beautiful we make it, the less likely it is to be developed into something,” Marks said.

Neighbors said that the process of working toward a solution for the “ghost house” has brought them together. Cadwell Avenue resident Frank Jenkins believes the community has built lasting bonds over the course of the project.

“It’s been a great thing to have a common space for the neighbors to meet, share ideas, work experiences, philosophy and the things that a common space can elicit,” Jenkins said.

Although he recognized the benefits of the new park, Hampshire Road resident Arthur Chan was regretful that the home’s potential had not been realized.

“Green space is always a plus,” Chan said. “It was a nice house. If only it had been taken care of.”

Chan lives almost across the street from Spirit Corner, and witnessed much of the worst of the juvenile delinquency that used to be endemic to the property. Carting rocks from his backyard to the new park, he seems at peace, using his own hands to work toward the transformation of his community.

He and Marks are hopeful for the future of their park. Marks said she knows what she wants it to look like.

“I hope to see kids playing there, and me calling Arthur and saying, ‘You bring the salad, I’ll bring the dessert.’”

Alastair Pearson

Alastair Pearson, a Cleveland Heights resident, is a student at Saint Ignatius, where he edits the school newspaper and literary magazine. He was a summer intern at the Observer.

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Volume 6, Issue 11, Posted 5:09 PM, 10.28.2013