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Cleveland Neighborhoods

Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River influenced the development of Cleveland’s early neighborhoods, based on where factories and mills were built along the riverbanks and the lake’s shore. In general, the west side of Cleveland became predominately working class, and the east side was traditionally where wealthy, more educated people lived. Downtown around Public Square became the financial district and railroad hub. Between there and the mouth of the Cuyahoga and the lake, the Warehouse District became the first neighborhood that was a mix of residential buildings and businesses connected to shipping and industry. As early immigrants arrived, including Eastern Europeans, Germans, Italians and Irish, they settled in their own enclaves, where factories and mills were part of the neighborhood landscape. Although the ethnic enclaves are shrinking, and people have mixed it up, Clevelanders still retain a pride in their ethnic roots. Traditionally working-class neighborhoods like Tremont and Ohio City are now economically diverse, and the Warehouse District has become urban professional. Getting from one neighborhood to the other generally involves a bridge, a railroad trestle or a highway overpass. Depending upon your mood and interests, you can definitely find a neighborhood to fit your tastes.

Ohio City

Ohio City, on the opposite side of the Cuyahoga River from Downtown, is Cleveland’s most ethnically diverse neighborhood, and a gastronomical show-off. It’s home to 15 different ethnic groups, and Asians and Hispanic Americans are the neighborhood newbies. Shoulder your way through the West Side Market’s food stalls or stand on the corner of West 25th Street and Lorain Avenue and behold the bounty. At night, the neighborhood buzzes with a mostly young professional date-night scene, thanks to restaurants that range from the high end Flying Fig (farm to table contemporary) to the casual Great Lakes Brewing Company (which carries on Cleveland’s beer-loving glory days). Oh, yeah—there’s shopping. One must-see is the Glass Bubble Project.

Coventry Village

Technically not in Cleveland but in Cleveland Heights, Coventry Village is a hippie-turned-hipster hangout. Close to John Carroll University and Case Western Reserve, it draws the college crowd, but is an at-any-age destination. This is not a head shop kind of place. Shops lean toward the ethnically inspired and fun-loving, with Big Fun as the most famous of the bunch. Along with an active literary scene, here’s where you’ll find Cleveland’s best live local music. The surrounding residential streets off Mayfield and Coventry Road are upwardly middle-class enclaves. Next to Little Italy, Coventry Village is an excellent starting or ending point to pair with a visit to University Circle and Lake View Cemetery. Or just hang out here for the day, enjoying the neighborhood. It’s made for puttering, feeling smart and picking up creative inspiration.

Gordon Square Arts District

At the edge of Ohio City, the Gordon Square Arts District is Cleveland’s latest development success story. This once mostly working-class neighborhood fell, in the 1970s, into urban decay and gang activity. But it’s been revitalized by entrepreneurs and artists who recognized the opportunities in its architectural bone structure. The Cleveland Public Theatre, a venue for local theater productions, is being restored and the Near West Theatre is being built for additional live performance space. The Capitol Theatre, a 1930s-era movie theater, has also been restored and shows first-run movies. As a result of this transition into an arts district, crime has gone down and the neighborhood is considered safe. The working-class roots are still intact, however. This is where longtime residents, suburbanites who’ve moved back in search of urban energy, and artists who need affordable housing have found a shared community. The Gordon Square Arts District is also within walking distance of Edgewater Beach, a public beach on Lake Erie.

North Coast Harbor

At the edge of Downtown on Lake Erie’s shore is Cleveland’s trophy case. North Coast Harbor was developed to be a tourist draw. Here you’ll find the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Great Lakes Science Center, Brown’s Stadium and the Goodtime III. This is the closest place to Downtown that offers a great vantage point for watching boats sail on Lake Erie. Voinovich Bicentennial Park, in back of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was developed, in part, as a way to show off the lake and to add another area of interest to North Coast Harbor. Lakefront Airport and the 1925 Steamship William G. Mather, now a museum, are also here.

Downtown

Cleveland’s downtown, uphill from Lake Erie and edged by the Cuyahoga, is a mix between Beaux-arts grandness, Victorian brick buildings and modern skyscrapers that grew shabby as businesses and people starting fleeing for the suburbs in the 1970s and 1980s. But since the early 1990s, Downtown has been the comeback kid, as restaurants, hotels, nightclubs and condos full of young professionals have transformed once-empty buildings into unique, desirable destinations. Downtown, specifically the Gateway, Warehouse and Theater districts, is where most of Cleveland’s entertainment goes on. Progressive Field, where the Cleveland Indians play, Quicken Loans Arena (The Q), where the Cavaliers play, the five historic theaters of PlayhouseSquare, House of Blues, a bustling nightclub scene and Cleveland’s best restaurants are all within blocks of each other.

The Flats

Called The Flats because it’s, well, flat, this is one of the most visually interesting and historic sections of Cleveland, and the one that’s had a difficult time keeping its economic footing. Too bad. Located on both sides of the Cuyahoga River, downhill from the Gateway and Warehouse District, The Flats is a testament to Cleveland’s uniqueness. Here’s where the angles and sweep of the bridges that cross over the Cuyahoga are most visually arresting. The Flats is where Moses Cleaveland landed, and where many Irish immigrants settled. Next to the 109-year-old Center Street Swing Bridge (one of the ones that move to allow river traffic by) are the Irish Famine Memorial and the replica of Lorenzo Carter’s log cabin. In the 1990s, The Flats was a hopping club scene, which has grown lackluster now that the Warehouse District is the happening spot, although, the Nautica Entertainment Complex on the west side of the river has remained robust, particularly with outdoor summer concerts.

Tremont

Of all of Cleveland’s neighborhoods, Tremont feels like a small town, with Lincoln Park at its center. The dog- and kid-friendly park has a swimming pool and well-tended flower beds. Mostly working class and ethnic European until the economy started to slide in the 1970s, Tremont has been revitalized by boutique eateries like Michael Symon‘s Lolita and specialty shops and book stores. Refurbished Victorian houses and quiet tree-lined streets make Tremont one of the best neighborhoods for walking. On your amble, don’t ignore Tremont’s churches (as if you could—they’re everywhere). The domes, steeples and spires mark the United States’ largest collection of historic churches in one neighborhood. Look for the onion-shaped domes of St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Church, one of the grandest. A bit of movie trivia—this church was used for the wedding scene in “The Deer Hunter.”

Little Italy

The sound of Italian music and the smell of simmering tomato sauces and Italian seasoning waft over the intersection of Mayfield Avenue and Murray Hill in Little Italy. No wonder. There are more than 20 Italian restaurants within a few short blocks, keeping vibrant the heritage of the first Italians who settled here. Within the array of tidy red brick and wood-framed buildings in this mostly residential area are close to two dozen art galleries, mostly along Murray Hill. Many of them are in what’s known as the Murray Hill Schoolhouse, a former red-brick elementary school reconfigured into separate high-end gallery spaces. Lake View Cemetery is at one end of Little Italy, and Coventry and University Circle are within close range.

University Circle

For the best of Cleveland’s highbrow culture, University Circle, 5 miles east of downtown, is the place to be. Severance Hall, home of the Cleveland Orchestra, stands at the entrance of University Circle Avenue as a fitting greeter for the cultural wealth around Wade Oval. The oval, named for Jeptha Wade, the business tycoon who donated this tract of land, is a lovely haven of 100-year-old trees and expansive Victorian-style houses. This is where Cleveland’s early moneyed folk once lived. Severance Hall’s blend of Neo-Georgian Classical and art deco architecture is only part of the bounty. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Botanical Gardens, Museum of Natural History, Children’s Museum and the Western Reserve Historical Society are within walking distance of each other. This is where you’ll also find Case Western University. Look for the Frank Gehry-designed Peter B. Lewis building, home to Weatherhead School of Management (Lewis is chairman of the Progressive Corporation). The building bears the curved metal expanses that are Gehry’s signature.
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