I find it interesting when people call me a “pioneer” for opening Sweet Moses Soda Fountain & Treat Shop in Cleveland’s Gordon Square Arts District. If they knew the area’s history of grassroots efforts, determined leaders, and visionary collaboration, they would know how much hard work was done before I began renovating our storefront building in 2010.
Long before it earned the moniker “Gordon Square Arts District,” this tight-knit neighborhood on the west side of Cleveland was a thriving home to many of the city’s Italian, Irish, German, and Romanian immigrants. But like many of the city’s neighborhoods, the once great community was negatively affected by the flight to the suburbs in the 1950s and onward. In 1974, when economic decline threatened the future of the neighborhood, a group of forward-thinking residents created the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Association (DSCDO), with the goal of preserving the character of their beloved neighborhood, preventing further decline, helping its residents, and fostering economic growth. As part of their efforts, they bought up abandoned and neglected buildings to preserve a sense of neighborhood, including the Gordon Square Arcade complex – home of the formerly closed Capitol Theatre.
Capitol Theatre Then and Now
For years, it seemed like most west side residents only viewed the area as a convenient detour when the Shoreway was backed up during their commute to and from downtown. The more adventurous made the trek into the neighborhood for a casual dinner on the patio at Snicker’s restaurant – next door to the abandoned Eveready Battery plant. Or they could catch an experimental performance at Cleveland Public Theatre.
The goal of transforming this urban neighborhood through the arts really shifted into high gear in 2006, when Cleveland Public Theatre joined forces with the Near West Theatre and DSCDO. These three organizations launched the Gordon Square Arts District (GSAD) and spearheaded a $30 million capital campaign for the district. The most noticeable first step was a $3.5 million streetscape improvement to Detroit Avenue, completed in 2009. That was quickly followed by $7.5 million renovation and reopening of the Capitol Theatre, $7.8 million in renovations to Cleveland Public Theatre, and a new $7.3 million home for Near West Theatre. Notably, this privately-funded investment in the neighborhood continued through the economic downturn. While plans may have slowed, they continued to move forward.
While GSAD and their partner organizations were busy laying the foundation, private developers began to take notice. Neighborhood staples like 78th Street Studios and Parkview Nightclub were soon joined by Gypsy Beans & Baking Co., Luxe Kitchen & Lounge, and Stone Mad Pub. The renovated Capitol Theatre reopened, drawing in a new crop of visitors to the area. The old Eveready Battery plant made room for the Battery Park townhouse development. The West Shoreway was transformed, giving neighborhood residents better access to the lake. And MetroParks didn’t just take over the management of Edgewater Park, they transformed it in the process. Now countless new shops, restaurants, apartments, and condos call Gordon Square Arts District their home. In the middle of that, the neighborhood even got its very own old-fashioned ice cream soda fountain and treat shop.
I believe what continues to make Gordon Square Arts District special is that same sense of pride that brought the neighbors together back in 1974. Today, it’s one of the most racially and economically diverse neighborhoods in the city. Even with all of the new development and hip destinations, there’s a conscious effort not to displace the very people that have called the area home for decades. And I’m proud to say that Sweet Moses strives to have a staff that reflects our neighborhood’s diversity. Whether you’re looking for a dog-friendly patio to enjoy a weekend brunch; want to play pinball before heading to a thought-provoking, Spanish-language performance; or want to go to a block party with three generations of the same Italian family…you’ll find it all in Gordon Square Arts District – a Cleveland neighborhood, through and through.
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