Address signs endure as pieces of Heights school history

A reproduction shop-class address sign, recently made by the writer of this article.

Forty years ago, the sounds of ball-peen hammers striking wrought iron on the horn of an anvil, and power tools shaping a piece of poplar, echoed through the basement of Roxboro Junior High School. This was the din of students in a mandatory shop class crafting projects that remain fixtures throughout Cleveland Heights.

In the early 1980s, (the era when I was in junior high—now called middle school) seventh-graders had one class period divided over the year into three courses: Home Economics, Art, and Industrial Arts, or “shop,” as it was called.

Shop exposed students to an industrial world that most students today are unaware of. In shop, seventh-graders learned about electrical wiring, woodworking, and metalsmithing, among other skills. They learned through hands-on experience, making individual projects under the tutelage of two barking World War II veterans.

One project that all students worked on during their rotation in shop was fabrication of an ornamental house sign. Given a design to follow, the students worked with steel, wood, and hardware to shape and assemble distinctive house signs.

Fabrication of a house sign involved cutting four pieces of steel into specific lengths, curling them around a jig, drilling rivet holes, then pounding malleable rivets at several points to bind the pieces into a handsome design. A wooden plank was trimmed with a band saw, numbers or text were routed into its face, and it then was hung from the metal frame with eyebolts. 

Completed signs were taken home to adoring parents and proudly displayed on porches, posts, and trees throughout the city. Home remodeling and the enveloping growth of tree trunks have claimed many signs over the decades, but the observant pedestrian will still spot them.

One former classmate, David Koses, now living in the Boston area, recalled making an address sign in shop class: “My sign, with the number 3317, was posted on a tree in front of our house on Tullamore Road in 1982. We sold that house decades ago. Yet, whenever I returned to Cleveland Heights, I’d drive by, and was always happy to see that the new owners kept that small sign, on that old pine tree, for many years.”

The house sign project was part of junior high education for only a small period, from the early-1970s to the mid-1980s. Shop class eventually gave way to academic demands and is no longer offered in middle school.

If your home is still adorned with one of these handcrafted signs, know that you have a special piece of Heights history.

Michael Bier

Michael Bier is a 1986 graduate of Heights High, and grateful for shop class at Roxboro Junior High.

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Volume 16, Issue 5, Posted 1:57 PM, 05.01.2023