Donna Belles lives on West 64th Street in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. She lives in a house that her grandmother owned. Donna tells the story of her grandmother who moved into the neighborhood in 1950. She came to Cleveland from Pennsylvania for work. At one time her grandmother owned three houses on the street. She was able to buy them because her uncles sent her money during the war. Belles has lived in the neighborhood her whole life. She reminisces about growing up in the neighborhood and how it changed for the worse over time. She believes that the 1970s were the low point. At that time the Gordon Square Arcade was a rooming house and was filthy and unkempt. The Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO) was started by concerned citizens in the area who didn't want to see the neighborhood deteriorate. Today DSCDO makes sure buildings are maintained. Belles talks about the importance of the churches in the neighborhood. She also discusses how I-90 disrupted the neighborhood and especially St. Colman's.
Belles, Donna J. (interveiwee)
Dorsey, Josh (interviewer)
Josh Dorsey [00:00:00] My name is Josh Dorsey, interviewing Donna Belles on March 21st, 2006 as part of the Detroit Shoreway Oral History Project. I am going to thank you for taking the time to do this today. If you just maybe start off by telling us, you know, kind of where you grew up and whether you were originally from the Cleveland area.
Donna Belles [00:00:22] Actually, I was born and raised here in the Detroit Shoreway area, I was born at the old St. John's Hospital on West 80th and Detroit, which is now St. Augustine's Manor. I live on West 64th off of Detroit Avenue between Detroit and Herman. And the house I live in is the house I grew up in. And. My grandmother, it was my grandmother's house, essentially. She had three houses, one on 67th, one on 64th the one I live in, and the one on 61st. What had happened? She had 12 children and she died without a will. Which was very comical. But eventually, I mean, we I lived there my whole life. And then when I was 18 or so, the estate finally got settled after about 12 years and I decided to buy the house for that. And then my children were raised there. So I've stayed same house. So I've seen all certain aspects of the neighborhood and and how it's changed.
Josh Dorsey [00:01:28] How did your, how did your grandmother come about buying three, three houses?
Donna Belles [00:01:32] I know, isn't that unusual? I mean, for me, it is. It's I was only five when my grandmother died. So I'm. How do I explain this? My mom was her youngest of twelve children, so I was very far removed from the history of my family. The older ones would know, you know, why grandma did this and did that. But I was only five when she died. I know that she came here in 1950 from Pennsylvania. And the last place she lived in Pennsylvania was Cassandra outside of Portage. And she came here. And I have not found out how she ended up with three houses. I know where she got the money for the three houses. My uncles, three of them, were in the service and would send her money home. So that's how she was able to purchase the houses. I know that. And they were done. The one on 67th was the first one. The one on 61st and then the one on 64th. But as far as how she got to West 67th and Detroit, I haven't figured that one out yet. So and I only have a few of my uncles left, you know. So I tried to talk to them and see if they remembered, but they were also in the service at the time so they don't really remember, you know. Or maybe I'm asking the wrong questions. I don't know.
Josh Dorsey [00:03:00] Do you, do you know why your grandma moved from Pennsylvania to like an urban center?
Donna Belles [00:03:03] For work. Because General Motors at the time and Ford. This was 1950, 1951. And you figure she had twelve children, nine boys, three girls. So the first five or six stayed back in Pennsylvania or had already started their lives. The other ones followed her here. So they essentially built a life up here because of the work that was afforded.
Josh Dorsey [00:03:36] Growing up, did you attend public school or private school?
Donna Belles [00:03:40] Public school. Watterson-Lake. And it was actually... Watterson-Lake was actually two separate schools, Watterson School and Lake School, and when I started school in 1969, that was the first year the new building had been completed. I started school in the old school that was just Watterson. And then in January, it was we went over to the new school part that was Watterson-Lake. And there, like on 73rd off of Detroit and the old school is still there.
Josh Dorsey [00:04:16] Did you, did you attend a university?
Donna Belles [00:04:19] University as far as college, you mean? Yes. Dyke College, which is now. God, I can't think of the name of it now. It's right in my head. Dave Myers College, is that it? Or did it switch since then? Myers College. Myers University. Now, it was Dyke College. And I went there from '81 to '86.
Josh Dorsey [00:04:45] What, what did you study?
Donna Belles [00:04:46] I have a bachelor's in marketing.
Josh Dorsey [00:04:57] After college, did you did you ever live anywhere besides the house you grew up in?
Donna Belles [00:05:02] No.
Josh Dorsey [00:05:02] Did you ever move out?
Donna Belles [00:05:03] Never. Well, no, I take that back. I moved down the street, another side of the street, down five houses when I first got married, we lived there for about. We got married in August. Ian was born in April and then the following October the house was ours. So a year? I'd say a little over a year, but on the same street.
Josh Dorsey [00:05:36] Did you, do you attend any of the churches in the? Church.
Donna Belles [00:05:39] Yeah. Yeah. I actually started out at Saint Colman's, which is located on West 65th closer to Lorain Avenue. And the reasoning for that was back when we were younger. The division line for the Diocese was West 65th. If you lived to the east of West 65th your parish was Saint Colman's. If you lived to the west of West 65th your parish was Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Even though we're actually closer to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, we went to Saint Colman's. So I went to church there.
Josh Dorsey [00:06:19] What. What was the purpose for the division of the two?
Donna Belles [00:06:23] Yeah, I'm really not sure. I think back then it was.
Josh Dorsey [00:06:26] This congregation was just so large for one church or.
Donna Belles [00:06:30] No, I wouldn't say that because Saint Colman's is actually very massive at that point, a very well-attended church. I think they were just they had very strict guidelines on where you went. Now, it's not like that, but, you know, it was I was all my friends went to Mount Carmel and I had to go to St. Colman's.
Josh Dorsey [00:06:54] St. Colman's was, I believe, first established by Irish immigrants or early Irish Roman Catholics is that is the congregation still really Irish or is it a mixture of like all Catholic.
Donna Belles [00:07:02] No.
Josh Dorsey [00:07:02] You know, age groups and ethnicities?
Donna Belles [00:07:06] And what had happened with St. Colman's was in about 75, 74, I-90 was being built. The freeway access I-90 on the West Side and it actually gutted the parish of St. Colman's because it was straight through the neighborhood. Lot of people, essentially moved and they moved to the suburbs because like you said, the mass exodus, but also because they needed to move. So they moved to different areas and eventually the church closed. I mean, sorry, the school closed down because most of the kids went to Mount Carmel after that. The church. I went to church there until I was a teenager, and I would have to say it had a good population of parishioners. The slow decline over the next 20 years brought it to a halt to where they actually even had a visiting priest there instead of a regular priest that would, a residence resident priest, I should say. And now it's more Hispanic. It's it's all Hispanic now, which is I'm glad they saved the parish because it's a gorgeous parish, gorgeous church. But my children go to Mount Carmel. They were. Yeah. So I switched when I got married.
Josh Dorsey [00:08:37] You say the congregation is mostly Hispanic. Is that mainly from immigrants in the Detroit Shoreway from like Puerto Rico or is it.
Donna Belles [00:08:48] Mixed. Their mixed.
Josh Dorsey [00:08:52] Okay.
Donna Belles [00:08:52] Mexican, Puerto Rican. Hispanic, as far as, I want to say, more South American than Central.
Josh Dorsey [00:09:04] Were you able to tell me you like the different ethnic groups that lived in the area, you know, in like in the early 20th century?
Donna Belles [00:09:07] Sure, to an extent. I mean, some of it's going to be from memory, some of it, you know, it's just assumed, I guess you would say. It was actually started out as an Italian neighborhood and a Romanian neighborhood population-wise. But I'm, I'm neither. I'm Polish. So the basis was Italian and Romanian down here by the lake, by Mount Carmel. The further you went towards, the further south you went was the Irish. That's why St. Colman's and all that. So it was a large influx around here at the beginning of the century, I would say. And it's it has stayed basically Italian. But we do have it's, it's mixed now. There's no doubt. But the Italian families that are here are linked to the history of the neighborhood. Same thing with the Romanians. Same thing with myself. You know, and I'm like, I'm half Polish, half Irish. So.
Josh Dorsey [00:10:17] I mean, you mentioned the Romanians right across the street. There's a Romanian church, St. Helena's, and then around the corner is the old St. Mary's Parish. Do you know why the two churches were, you know, so close together? And the only thing that separated them was just, just the difference between the Orthodox and the Catholic Catholic background?
Donna Belles [00:10:39] The the faith. Not real sure on that I know that if you look at most of the beginning of the 19th century. 1900s, I'm sorry. That a lot of churches here in Cleveland were. There was. Down in the Tremont area there are for a church on each corner of the intersection. They wanted their own parish. And if they were able to afford it, if they were able to to break off, they did. Religion played a large role and I would say all the immigrants' lives, one way or another.
Josh Dorsey [00:11:18] Do you know who currently who currently owns the old St. Mary's Church building?
Donna Belles [00:11:24] Oh, no, I don't. Not offhand. I could check that for you. I'm a librarian but.
Josh Dorsey [00:11:29] But regarding, you mentioned the exodus from the urban to the suburbs. Do you think that that puts a strain on some of the urban churches, you know, financially and the surrounding community, community economically? Just because, you know, they don't have the mass amount of people living there to kind of support, support the community in certain ways?
Donna Belles [00:11:53] Yes, it did. And actually, most neighborhoods or parishes faltered in the 70s because of that mass exodus. If they weren't strong enough to keep their parishioners there. Mount Carmel was strong enough to, you know, to keep their parishioners for different reasons. St.Colman's, I wouldn't say it was so much on the mass exodus. What really, really played a role in the downfall of St. Colman's was I-90 going through. That just ripped and the same thing that did the same thing to St. Ignatius up on West Boulevard. It just ripped the neighborhood in two. Split it right down the middle. But, yeah, if you didn't have a strong parish, if there weren't ties to keep the neighborhood together. Most neighborhoods were just devastated by the residents moving out of the city.
Josh Dorsey [00:12:55] And also from from the residents moving out. You could lose a lot of like what seemed like a lot of small business, probably on business.
Donna Belles [00:13:01] Yes.
Josh Dorsey [00:13:01] Especially from different ethnic groups like, you know. Say, for example, certain restaurants certain, certain stores. Have you, have you ever you experienced any changes like that in the area growing up? Like you just know certain businesses moving out are closing down to get away for more commercial, commercial?
Donna Belles [00:13:26] Yes and no. You said as far as growing up. A lot of businesses that were around family businesses growing up are no longer here. And it's not always the mass exodus. It wasn't always new technologies. Sometimes it was just they weren't able to keep the business up. There was [Anton] Bily's bakery right next to St. Helena's. That went out of business. I must have been seven years old. So that was probably '72 or '73. Best bakery, best doughnuts. But they did because that was because of new developments. They wanted him to change all his baking equipment to stainless steel instead of the old school type equipment that he had. And it was just too much money. He couldn't do it. So he just essentially closed the doors on that. Now, the flip side is Fiocca's is a bakery on West 69th, an Italian bakery that they didn't close until a few years ago. And that was because the family died out. The people that wanted to run, that ran the bakery finally died and nobody wanted to take it over.
Josh Dorsey [00:14:55] Aside from business, as well. What other types of, what other types of building are the Detroit Shoreway that are, you know, kind of historical to certain ethnic groups that might have been victim to shutting down or being changed into something else or still trying to fight to preserve, you know, that certain heritage?
Donna Belles [00:15:17] I think we hit bottom in the '70s with a lot of things and now we're finally bringing it out. What I mean for that is where we're sitting. The Gordon Arcade back in the '70s, it was a rooming house had turned into a charge by day, week, month rooming house for people to, you know, have a room to stay in. It was filthy in here. It was unkept. A lot of the buildings around here were like that. No new businesses coming in, and they just boarded them up and let them sit there. And that's when Detroit Shoreway came in. And. Detroit Shoreway was founded by concerned residences. Residents, sorry! That they didn't want to see these buildings go into such a deteriorated shape that they couldn't be saved. So we've went from that to almost 30 years later of it. The majority of our older buildings that could be saved and at least kept up are being kept up.
Josh Dorsey [00:16:33] You mentioned that the Community Development Organization was founded by residents in Detroit Shoreway. How, how did that, you know, come about? Was it just, you know, meeting from a group of people said, you know, we need to do something or was it, you know, kind of a more timetable process?
Donna Belles [00:17:00] I think it started out as just concerned citizens headstrong. That said, we need to do something. And then turned into a small grassroots project of making sure that the neighborhood, at least at that point, was at least not deteriorate anymore. You know, and over the years, Detroit Shoreway role has grown, no doubt. But the beginning was was to save the neighborhood, to save the culture of the neighborhood. Even though the buildings are very important and Franklin Boulevard has gorgeous homes. Yes. You want to save the buildings, but you need to save the culture within and behind them.
Josh Dorsey [00:17:47] What. How do they. How are they funded? Is it, you know, private donations? Is it from different churches in the area?
Donna Belles [00:17:53] As far as Detroit Shoreway?
Josh Dorsey [00:17:56] Yeah.
Donna Belles [00:17:56] Detroit Shoreway is basically funded from different grants from the city of Cleveland. Excuse me, through the Economic Development Department, through the city of Cleveland. Part of that part of the money comes from there. The councilman, whoever it might be at that point, every councilman, I should say, of the ward has money allocated to him for the neighborhood. And he gives it as he sees the need for different community neighborhood developments. Because with the ward, it's not just Detroit Shoreway. There are other community development areas that he might also want to give money to for that. But also state of Ohio funding, federal funding. A lot of the different grants for economic development. We. Most of our money comes from grants. We have to just keep pushing to make sure that we keep the money.
Josh Dorsey [00:19:05] You mentioned that your organization was founded to kind of preserve culture in your... Is there any relation between the Detroit Shoreway Organization and kind of the Cultural Gardens on the East Side?
Donna Belles [00:19:21] I don't know. I'm not sure on that.
Josh Dorsey [00:19:22] How long have you been involved in all of the?
Donna Belles [00:19:28] Detroit Shoreway? Oh. Been a while. I think it's 17 years that I've been on the board. Now.
Josh Dorsey [00:19:38] Okay.
Donna Belles [00:19:39] And as a residential board member.
Josh Dorsey [00:19:39] How did you become involved? I mean, what I mean is how do you become. How do you become a member of the Detroit Shoreway Development Organization?
Donna Belles [00:19:50] Okay, anyone that's a resident could become a member of as far as, you know, an official member. You sign up to be a board member, a board trustee, you are run for office. And the officers or I should say the board is elected annually at their three-year term mark. Not all of us. Our terms are do not expire all on the same year. Mine expires next year with probably three other board members. And then the next year other ones. So we're on like a rotating term. If you understand what I mean. But it is annually, too, that the ones that come up for election that year are elected in February at our annual meeting.
Josh Dorsey [00:20:42] How does it come to be determined what, you know, what the organization focuses on at a particular time? Is there. You mentioned annual meetings. Is there votes at the meeting or is it all decided by board members?
Donna Belles [00:20:53] It's the majority is. Let me go backwards instead of forwards. The only thing decided at the annual meeting could be that you would put to a vote of the whole membership. By law, changes, or amendments. The election of the officers or anything that you see a majority vote. A need for a majority vote. And that would that only happens once a year. Then there is the board of directors or board of trustees that govern the staff of Detroit Shoreway, and we stay out of the day-to-day dealings of that. Our role is more so to as an overview and we do ultimately have to approve all resolutions. But, I want to say more than half of them go through the executive committee of the board first, which has usually three to four members on it, so that all the work that needs to be done is done in the committee before it comes to the full board. But yes, they all require resolutions or, you know, approval.
Josh Dorsey [00:22:08] Growing up in the area and being here pretty much your whole life, do you, do you see a certain part of the Detroit Shoreway area that should be concentrated on more so than others? Do you have any opinions on on what any pros or cons about what the program is currently, currently doing?
Donna Belles [00:22:30] You mean as far as Detroit Shoreway doing?
Josh Dorsey [00:22:32] Yeah.
Donna Belles [00:22:32] Or just. Okay. The the economics and the building of things. I think they've done pretty well. I mean, yes, would I like to see certain things done. Yes. But that's being, you know, in your mind you're going geez I wish they would have done this instead of this, you know. They've done very well on Franklin Boulevard and Detroit Avenue, even though there's, you know, little things they could still do from doing those two main streets. Now they are, focusing more on side streets that are main streets, if you know what I mean, like West 65th is a main street. West 85th is a main street. West 45th is a main street. So instead of looking at the streets that run east to west, the large avenues, they're looking at the other ones now and renovating on those. So they're trying to spread what they're doing out and around the neighborhood. And I think they're doing a pretty good job.
Josh Dorsey [00:23:39] What. What in fact, exactly do they renovate? Do they, do they renovate, you know, the residential dwellings? Do they, you know, give loans for new businesses coming in?
Donna Belles [00:23:49] No, we don't give loans. That's the... Well, I should say Detroit Shoreway itself does not give loans, but we are usually a partner or oversee the renovation or the building of new houses or old older houses in the neighborhood. We're involved because we want it to be a certain. We want it to fit into the neighborhood, but that doesn't mean that we don't. We have grants for low income housing. Middle-income family housing. So it's not like we're grabbing all the money out there and applying for grants that are all for low-income housing. We try to do a variety so that the neighborhood stays diverse. You know, I. We have the Painters Lofts that are on 85th right now. So it's just I think we're trying to just make sure that the quality of life that we want here is achieved and maintained. And that doesn't mean by how much money you make. It means by, you know, being part of the neighborhood and and growing in the neighborhood.
Josh Dorsey [00:25:08] Does any of the road renovation is it done by is any of it done by private companies that live in here, live in the area? You know, private construction companies, to you know.
Donna Belles [00:25:20] I'm not sure. Yeah. I'm not sure if they live in the area. But I know a lot of different grants and fundings have to be bid out also. And certain banks take on renovation and economic loans and other banks don't. I don't know a lot about the financial like that. I do know that a lot of people that have might have had some type of connection with the building contractors. I don't want to say eventually some of them have moved into the neighborhood. They've seen what a nice building it is in a nice neighborhood and they've moved in. That does happen. If that's what you mean, you know, it might be that they didn't start out living here and the the owner of the company doesn't actually live here. But maybe someone that was involved in one of the projects liked it so well or liked a certain area of the neighborhood that they moved in. Yes.
Josh Dorsey [00:26:20] Okay, we are kind of back tracking here but you mentioned you are a librarian. Where?
Donna Belles [00:26:23] I'm actually a librarian assistant. I'm in school for my MLS. At the Walz Branch Library. That's right up the street across from the old St. John's.
Josh Dorsey [00:26:32] Okay. Has that, has that been renovate by?
Donna Belles [00:26:36] No, it was. No, no. It was built back in 1967. So it's actually a newer facility as far as libraries go.
Josh Dorsey [00:26:55] Is there anything you want to add, anything that?
Donna Belles [00:27:00] Do you want stories of the neighborhood of growing up or of?
Josh Dorsey [00:27:04] Yeah, I mean, just. Just on, you know, your childhood experience living in Cleveland, living in the area. Maybe on the school.
Donna Belles [00:27:19] Okay.
Josh Dorsey [00:27:20] Good. What was the conditions of the schools good?
Donna Belles [00:27:22] Brand new school loved it. We were. The street that I live on, West 64th, I'd like to talk about that a little bit. It's feels to me. It's a unique street within the neighborhood because it's like it's like sometimes walking into another world. Okay, West 65th is a main street. So it does go through changes. And whatever changes happen show they're very apparent on a main street. West 64th has always been a quiet street. As a child, I didn't realize that, you know, is just where I lived. But now when you go on to West 64th, I mean, most of the houses are well-kept, always have been. And that is due to part of the fact is that the people that have lived there, they don't sell to outsiders. And I don't mean that in a bad way. You know, they don't say, well, I'm not selling to this person. What it is, is it is mostly Romanian. So they'll sell to other Romanians or they won't put their house up for sale by a realtor. They will first ask their family and their friends, you know, about purchasing the house. So in doing that, they have. How would you say they have controlled the environment of the street. You know, not knowingly doing it, as far as saying we don't want anybody here because new people do move in. But the majority of the people that live there now, half of the street have had relatives live there, direct relatives, or cousins that came over from Romania that needed a place to stay. And then they bought the house. They lived there ten, fifteen years. Their family grew. They moved on. But they might have a cousin that was starting a family and would buy the house. So it has stayed very. How would you put it? Continuous. I don't know how else to put it. Not a lot of rental property on that street. So it's just it's like taking that street. That street almost doesn't belong to this neighborhood. Twenty years ago belongs to it now. But back when bad things were happening in every neighborhood where 64th was very stable. You didn't have renters that were ruining, you know, the what the old people were saying? You know, you're running on my grass. You're ruining my grass all this stuff, you know. I did that as a kid. But, you know, it was very stable, very good street to grow up. I mean, I raised my kids on it. It's how I looked at it, you know. And I'm glad to give them some kind of basis. I mean, that's home. You know, that house is home. That that house has been in my family since 1957 when they bought it. I think it was 54, 57. I mean did it start out like that as a child? No. I thought I'd move away, you know, and all that. But it didn't, it ended up to where I bought the house. No one else was going to live in that house. That was my family house. You know, my sister, she lives on 67th. But that's just a house to her on 67th that she bought. Her home is where she grew up. And a lot of people from the neighborhood feel like that. That's the difference with that.
Josh Dorsey [00:31:13] Would you like to keep keep the house in, you know, in like a family tradition like your kids living in it?
Donna Belles [00:31:15] Yep. I told my kids. I told my children that I am going to put it in my will that they cannot sell the house. That they have to. And they can't rent it out to just whoever and move away. It has to be taken care of. And I mean, I have a regular what you would call colonial house that was built. It's nothing extravagant that's like on Franklin Boulevard or anything. But it's a nice home. And my fear was that if something happened, happened to my myself or my husband before my children were ready to settle down. You know, at 19, they don't think about, oh, this is house. They think, oh, if I sell the house, I could go get that car that I wanted. So I would rather them always have a home. So, yes, very selfish on that. They are not allowed to sell the house.
Josh Dorsey [00:32:29] Is there anything that you would like to add Mark?
Mark Souther [00:32:32] Sure I can, I can jump in. Feel free to jump back in yourself as well, as you think of things. Tell us both a little bit more about the neighborhood around where you grew up, all your memories of it as a child and perhaps some of the businesses that were within walking distance.
Donna Belles [00:32:48] Okay.
Mark Souther [00:32:48] That you have fond memories of?
Donna Belles [00:32:51] Oh, yeah. While we used to walk to school up to 73rd to Watterson-Lake School and going past there. This is really kind of hilarious, I guess, where the McDonald's is on West 70th that was built probably when I was like 6 years old. There is no such thing as fast food in this neighborhood. And there are these two huge old houses up there that they were actually kind of like up on the hill. There was like a long front yard before the hill or before the house, you know. So as a little child, they looked kind of like gloomy and booming up there, you know, and you scared the heck out of us. You'd have to go past those two houses to go to school. Well, here they build a McDonald's there. And I remember for the first two years that that McDonald's was there, you had to stand in line for about, oh, god, half hour to get something to eat. I mean, and it was booming. You know, all the time. So that was the first fast food place in this walking distance area for that. And let's see. West 65th and Detroit, that at one time at least me growing up, it had eight bars on each. You could. Around that corner, that intersection, there were at least eight taverns and you'd have winos sitting out front. And I know that sounds kind of unusual and weird in a way, but. They didn't. They were part of the scenery, I guess you'd say. And they were nice to us as kids. During, you know, as a few years went by, the bars got a little worse. Little, you know, harsher crowd. And then they eventually got closed down back in I want to say 1977. Most of them got closed down. A lot of their liquor licenses were pulled because at that point it had went. It was just very bad. As far as fights, drugs, gangs, stuff like that. But when I was growing up, it wasn't like that, you know, it was my dad was at the City Grill, you know. And it was like if my mom needed something seven o'clock at night when I was real little, she'd have me and my sisters and run to City Grill. Tell your dad I need four dollars and then run to Leader Drug right on the corner and get some milk. And you thought nothing of it. Why? Because we weren't staying in the bar. We went to get her dad get, you know, a few dollars off of him and cross the street to go to Leader Drug to get some milk. So, I mean, it was. It was a safer time or it seemed to be I should say, should say a safer time. You know, as I ran the streets as a child, as far as you knew, what backyards to cut over, which ones, not to where your friends lived. You know, it was okay to walk down the park with your friends. It was okay to do all these different things because there were so many people in the neighborhood that knew who you were that if you did something bad. By the time you got home, your mom was waiting on you. I mean, there was never the, you know, if you did something bad, you knew your mom already knew and you knew you're going to get it when you get home. So there were always the people, the older people were always looking out for you. Of course, as a child, your going, oh God, I wish they would mind their own business, you know. But when you look back, it's actually a very good thing that I was like that.
Mark Souther [00:36:51] Did your street have much ethnic, ethnic diversity when you were living there would you say?
Donna Belles [00:36:56] Romanian and Italian. Yeah. Two-thirds Romanian and Italian and there was a few. We had a few Native American families that lived there when I grew up there, and Polish, I want to say Eastern European, European descent. That's probably a better way to put it. Instead of just Romanian and Italian, it was Eastern European for that, and it basically still is on 64th. And it's not, you know, it's just kind of strange how that has happened to that street, you know, that yeah you go through. Most of the people that lived there are Romanian or have, you know, like I said, descendants of Romanian or or Polish in them. And most of them on the street do not intend on selling their house, you know, unless it has come to the point where their children are grown. They need to move into a smaller house. Then they sell the house. So it's a very quiet street. I Like my street, except for the apartment at the top. Well, there were problems with the apartment at the top, but it's been taken care of since then.
Mark Souther [00:38:08] What sort of problems?
Donna Belles [00:38:09] Oh, God. We had prostitutes, and gang dealers about five years ago right there at the corner. And that caused a lot of trouble. And, you know, loud music. And it's not. We're not this quiet, oh, leave us alone street. But it's like, you have to know your limits, you know? Okay, play loud music till 9:00 or 10:00 at night, but don't come down the street 3:00 in the morning booming your your radio. That's we're not going to appreciate that. You know, and with apartments, it was nonstop trash all over the place. People in and out at all times. You, you know, you'd walk past him and know that they were high as a kite. You know, that was, that part was kind of scary to where I didn't let my kids walk up the street there for a while when they were younger. It was like that for about five years. Really bad to where the police were called all the time and everything. And Detroit Shoreway actually took over the Harp Apartments and or I should say, have a hand in the funding. And they manage the apartments now. They do property management on it and have gotten in different families and different even single people in there. And it's low income, middle income, it's not that it was priced out of the neighborhood's range for rent, it wasn't. But if you get the right people in there as far as that are respectful, they take care of the building and that's what happened. It just took a while to get rid of them. But it was funny, prostitutes on the corner. It was hilarious. I don't know how many people I almost hit on bikes, you know, and they don't care. They go right in front of you, you know, which doesn't add. But you go through it. I mean, a lot of people are why do you live there like that? I am not giving up my house. These. This too shall pass. These people will move. I, I should not have to give up my life because of someone that doesn't have an investment in the neighborhood and is just here to make what they can make for today. That's how I look at it.
Mark Souther [00:40:29] Do you remember businesses in Gordon Square Arcade?
Donna Belles [00:40:32] Yes. Alice's Beauty. Alice's Beauty Shop was here.
Mark Souther [00:40:38] Is this? And you're speaking of the in the 1970s?
Donna Belles [00:40:42] Yes, it would be.
Mark Souther [00:40:46] Early-mid?
Donna Belles [00:40:47] Okay, I was let's see, 1970. I was 6. So I would say, '72 to '78, even though I remember. But before that. But yeah, a little bit. But you're so young, you don't know really what you what you see. I guess Alice's Beauty Shop was in the inside hallway and I remember all the neighborhood ladies would go there to get their hair done, you know, once a week or whatever they did, however they did that. They used to get my mom used to go there and get her hair cut. Let's see who what else was on the inside. See, we didn't get to come in the inside that often, but Alice's was on the inside of Detroit, the Gordon Arcade. On the outside, it was right on the corner where the tax place is now, was, when I was real little, was an old five and dime called. I'm not sure the name of it. Augustin's. Yes. Augustin's. And when you walk in, it was an old wooden floor. And it had this Cherokee wooden Indian as you walked in. And the penny peanuts in the thing. They had ice cream in there, all kinds of different stuff. After a few years, they moved from the corner of there which they were probably there, I don't know, 20 years. I'm not sure on that. They moved to the little house right outside the parking lot here on 65th. They were only there a little bit doing just ice cream and then they closed shop. But everyone remembers the. Yeah. With the wooden Indian and stuff. And then further down was Murray's or Maury's, Maury's Mens Shop was next to it. It's M.A.U.R.Y. Casual wear type dress for men. Next to that was the Meyer's Five and Dime real little little itty bitty shop. But we always went in there, had all kinds of, you know, good, good junk toys for that. The restaurant was the Highland Restaurant and they had the best smelling French fries. I remember that. And the Highland was there for a very, very long time growing up. That was what I remembered being there. And the ironic part was I got a job there as a waitress when I was 14 and worked there from the time I was like 14 to 17. And actually within the time frame that it was pretty bad area. It was '78 to. Yeah. Seventy. Fall of '77 to '79, when I was a waitress there. So. I got to see firsthand how these people. The situation that people were in economically, financially. A lot of different things like that. So I got to I got to work there. That was kind of neat. And actually when it changed hands from the Highland Restaurant to just for a few years, it was called the El Toro Restaurant. And actually they had a really big opening. Detroit Shoreway came and different residents they had a really big a grand opening because it was open for business again and everything. And Ray was there. I remember that. Ray Pianka a lot of people from the neighborhood. And that's actually where I met my husband as a waitress at the restaurant. You know, go figure. So. And he wasn't from the neighborhood. So, talk about fate. Let's see what else's on Gordon Arcade? Oh, well the Capital Theater, when I was real young, was there, and at that point it was more foreign films were being played there. I want to say Spanish and Italian, most likely Italian. And I always thought it was just so neat and so grand because we lived on 64th. My grandmother lived on 67th. And we would walk up the street and then you'd cross over to 65th and go down by the Capital Theater and cross through the parking lot over here to get to my grandmother's house. So on Friday and Saturday nights, I mean you get to walk through these, you know, to a little girl that's five or six years old these women that are all made up, nice clothes, nice cars, guys, valets, you know, in suits and all that. And to me, it was just totally amazing, you know. And all the marquee lights were lit up. So it was like bright as day in the middle of night. It was great.
Mark Souther [00:46:05] Was this before the neighborhood started really to decline in your opinion?
Donna Belles [00:46:08] That was probably the beginning of it because it went from you know, I seen that, you know, every Friday and Saturday, there were Italian shows there. And then all of sudden, you know, maybe only on Saturdays, you know, and as a kid, you look back and go, well, why aren't they doing something there now? And then it was, you know, then they didn't do anything.
Mark Souther [00:46:28] What did they do in between? Did the, did the nature of the films change or were they fewer in frequency before closing?
Donna Belles [00:46:35] Fewer in frequency, I think. And then as. And that was when I was real young. That was the beginning of the '70s, I'd say '72 to '74, '75. When I was a teenager. And you're more aware of the things that are happening, happening in your neighborhood. What Detroit Shoreway tried to do in people from the neighborhood was to reopen the theater like a matinee type for the kids, to give the kids somewhere to go because things were, you know, so bad. You don't want them to get in trouble or anything. And they would have popular movies there. I don't. They weren't new releases, but it would be something you would like to see, you know, like Bad News Bears or something like that. And that happened for about a year or so. On Saturday afternoons and then nothing, you know. Down in the basement, when I was 14, they opened up what they called a rock palace. That was pretty neat. That was they had bands come in. Neighborhood, young bands come in. This was for teenagers under 18. If you're over 18, you weren't allowed in. And it was they would have bands, live bands playing in there. And then they'd also have a DJ. So it was kind of and they had pinball machines and and pop and hot dog stuff like that. That lasted about a year. And they were only open on Friday and Saturday evenings. I think like seven to eleven. But, you know, that was that was somewhere for us to go and I loved it. I just I loved it. So.
Josh Dorsey [00:48:17] How, like how has the adolescent population changed since you were a kid, has it, you know, grown significantly? Not only population, but kind of character, you know, things they do now in compared to things you did?
Donna Belles [00:48:31] You mean the things that I won't tell them I did? Let me think. I'm trying to think of how to start here. Could you re-ask me the question again.
Josh Dorsey [00:48:53] Sure.
Donna Belles [00:48:53] So I could really think this, how to say this.
Josh Dorsey [00:48:56] Has the adolescent population in recent years has it grown from when you were when you were young?
Donna Belles [00:49:05] Okay. Yeah.
Josh Dorsey [00:49:06] Just kind of surrounding, surrounding streets.
Donna Belles [00:49:08] Right. Okay. It's really strange. When I grew up, there were like no girls. It was all boys. For some reason, this this neighborhood was genetically predisposed to, you know, five boys, one girl on my street itself. It was me and my sister. My sister is three years older than me. So actually, when you're grown up and there's a three year difference, that that's a gap there. You know, until you get a little older. But all, my street had nothing but boys on it until I was like 12 years old. And then we had one or two girls move in or actually two or three. Yeah, two or three. But before that, it's like if I wanted to play, I played with the boys. I played touch football. I played kickball. I played cowboys and robbers. You know, it was it wasn't the typical oh let's go play dolls. That didn't happen in this neighborhood. Even if you did have dolls, that didn't happen in this neighborhood, when you were down at the playground. Same thing. Everything involved around sports, whether you're a girl or a boy. That was our gathering place, I should say. The Herman, Herman Playground, and. Myself growing up and then I would say maybe the generation before me and when I say generation, I don't mean like a 10 year period, I would say a five year period before and then a five year period after, you know, because when you're so young, you know, there's a big difference between 13 and 18. You know, so there might have been, though, my sister's age before me. Cause let's see, I'm 41. My sister is 44. I'd say. People, children of the neighborhood from 48 to 35. There were like three generations in there of what we called the Herman Ghetto Rats. I don't know why you'd want to call yourself that, but that's what happened. And most of it was boys. You know, the girls would be termed at one time, Herman Ghetto, you know, Ghetto Girls or whatever and all that. And we we hung out together. We grew up together. A lot of us still live in the neighborhood. A lot of us that moved away from the neighborhood have come back to the neighborhood. My girlfriend, Renee, my best friend, she moved in next door to me when I was 12 and she, you know, lived there until I was 14 or 15. But we stayed in touch and she moved to another neighborhood. We're best friends. When she got married, she moved to West 91st, which really isn't that far from here. But she bought one of the newer homes down on 69th. About four years ago. I've always stayed in the neighborhood while these last five years. A lot of people that I grew up with are buying houses in the neighborhood again. They've moved out, but now they've come back. And it's it's nice to see that, you know, I didn't realize that. How do I put it? Not everyone has a best friend that they keep for life. Not everyone has a group of friends that you might not see every week. You might not see once but once of every six months that you see throughout your lifetime. If you had asked me at 13 if I would know half the people that I knew at 13 that I know now, the same people I would said, oh, no, no, I, you know, I'm going to move away. I'm not going to see these people, same people I grew up with that were my neighbors. You know, you don't want to say friends, not friends. You know, you might not have been close to them at 13, but you are now. They're forever. I don't know how else to put it. It's not that you don't have your differences; you do. You get in arguments and everything. But for to be able to know half the people you grew up with and know their lives, know their children, you know, that you still have the same belief system that was instilled in you from your parents. And then it just does full circle comes right back here, you know. And we had our first. Would you call it Herman Ghetto Rat reunion, in October. And it was great. It was great. I even, I have pictures. It was great. There was three different generations of people there. There were over a hundred people there. You know, people that I hadn't seen, a few I hadn't seen in years. Other ones you see every day, you know, but. Neighborhoods that survived in the '70s I think made them stronger. And this neighborhood especially, you know. Of course, I'm biased. I have lived up here my whole life. But I mean, it's it's really nice to say I know my neighborhood. I know the people that live in it. You know, I grew up with them. Doesn't mean that I trust them. It doesn't mean we don't have arguments. It doesn't mean that things don't happen. But to know where you come, the culture that you come from, and to give that to your children even. Very good. It's a very good thing. And it all goes around religion and the church, you know, whether you're a devout Catholic or whether you just played in the CYO. Because you weren't Catholic, but that was your link to the church. It has made a profound difference on the people that grew up in this neighborhood. You know, I didn't go to Catholic school, but a lot of my friends did. You know. My children went to Catholic school. And I, I see more in my older son than my younger son, but the. How would you put it? The sensitivity to know how much it means to know your neighborhood and respect the older people in the neighborhood that have been here forever. When they say something, you know, listen to what they're saying. Listen to their stories. Don't just go, it's an old man; he's talking. He don't know what he's talking about. Listen to them. And they do. It makes a difference. Okay, I have talked enough.
Josh Dorsey [00:55:50] Is there anything, anything else you wanted to add before?
Donna Belles [00:55:55] Oh, I could go on forever. I've got so many different stories. Okay. We were talking about, before I went off on a tangent, Detroit, the Gordon Arcade, and the bars that were around 65th. I am trying to think of what else there was. Oh, next to Pioneer Savings and Loan. That's still there. It's one of the oldest and surviving banks, a savings and loan bank in Cleveland, I know that. It was started by Romanians. Most of the people that lived in the neighborhood, if they wanted to buy a house, that's where you got the loan. When you know, growing up, not so much my generation, but people back in the '50s and '60s and way, way up beyond that. Before that, I'm sure. But right next to it, it used to be this place called Mike's Body Shop. And I never knew I was so young at the time. You know, all I seen was a neon sign out out front, you know. With the little martini things, you know, my mom's going don't walk on that side of the street, you know, but it was. What would you call. It wasn't a bar tavern like on right there on 65th. But I guess what do you call the called a nightclub type thing. And it was I don't know exactly who it was run by, but I know it was someone in the neighborhood that ran it. Supposedly had mafia ties, you know, that always comes up. That, that was always comical. And I know when I was real young, it was gone after that. So Lord knows what happened in that building. You know, but you hear and all these little store fronts that you see boarded up on the side streets that are now homes. You know, the people that that first lived there were the ones that usually had the store, you know, in it. And some of their relatives are still around. You ask them and they'll tell you the history of the house and the and the business and all that.
Mark Souther [00:58:05] Could you recognize some people that we interviewed in the future?
Donna Belles [00:58:10] Oh, I'd have to think on, on who... My mind's... Because I'm trying to think older, younger. You know, my age, I'm trying to go down. Oh, Donna Gonyon, Donna Gonyon.
Mark Souther [00:58:24] How do you spell the last name?
Donna Belles [00:58:24] G.O.N.Y.O.N. And she was and this, this kind of ironic. She's my second-grade teacher. How often do you get to, you know, at second grade, she was my teacher. But then as I grew up and grew up into an adult, I became more than just her student or former student, you know, friend and neighbor, you know. How often do you get that? You know, I always thought that she because she always goes, oh, yes, she was my, because I was in her like her first or second class she ever taught. Oh, she was one of my second-grade teach. She was one of my first students, you know. So that's kind of neat to know that, you know, where you live and where you work. That's another thing. I work in the neighborhood I live in. I wanted it that way. When I started at the library, I did not start out at Walz Branch. I was at different branches. Until the opportunity came up to come to my neighborhood. And that's because I work and I do the most help. Where I know things that aren't always in a book, but I'm still able to help people in the neighborhood. It's how I look at it. And let's. Yeah. She was my second-grade teacher and she is a guidance counselor, Cleveland Public Schools at Gallagher, I want to say. Gallagher used to be a junior high, but now it's. They do the K through 8 now, I guess. And let's see who else. I mean, the Zone's. A very large family. A very known family. I grew up with Matt Zone. Oh, that's another thing. The neighborhood's very political, too. You can't. So I did. You grew up in a political neighborhood, but never realized that you do. You always just thought it was a part of what you had to do. But as you grow up, you see that you live in a very political neighborhood, whether it's someone that has an office is running for office or anything like that. So I do a lot of political work that I believe in. I don't just do it because someone says, oh, well, this person's from the neighborhood. But I mean, you do grow up with a belief system for politics, for religion and for education. That's that's what I'd have to say. So any of the Zones. The Craciun family, they used to have the Craciun Funeral Home right there. It's C. C.R.A.C.U.I.N [sic] and it used to be right on the corner of my street, actually, until they merged with Berry Funeral Home. And.
Mark Souther [01:01:20] Could we use you as a reference?
Donna Belles [01:01:21] Sure.
Mark Souther [01:01:23] For the contacts?
Donna Belles [01:01:23] Sure.
Mark Souther [01:01:24] What is, who would be the best person to contact immigration? Your name has come up before.
Donna Belles [01:01:29] Right.
Mark Souther [01:01:31] Well, actually.
Donna Belles [01:01:32] Well, there's Jimmy or Joe. Yeah, those would be the two those are the older brothers or the two, a two of the brothers that they help run the funeral home. Yeah. They're at the Berry's. Berry's Craciun. Craciun Berry's. See, it's so weird because that was always separated as a child. So it's confusing to me now because it was like Craciun Funeral Home is a real little funeral home. And it started out and it only. It always had a steady business, but small. Berry's, on the other hand, everyone in the neighborhood was, excuse the pun, buried at Berry's. You know, it was. My grandmother was, you know, but Craciun became more well-known in the neighborhood and actually took over as far as, you know, more. More people were would go there instead. And then because of the economy, of course, that's all over. Funeral homes are consolidating. That they were consolidated, for that. So. But, yeah. Joe. Or or because they're older than me and there's a lot of things they probably know on a different level. I just wish you guys could of talked to Mary Zone or Yolanda Craciun, you know, and they died last year. And that's just. What do you do? You know, there's things I might know, but there's nothing like they knew and we never. You know, I might have bits and pieces in my head. Course her family does. Her children do. But that's something. Yeah. You wish you would've done when we didn't get to. So. What are you going to do?Just keep their memory alive. Well, that's actually why we're, you know, the oral history to make sure to talk, to tell the stories. So I'd like to be a fly in one of the rooms with all the old men. All the Italian men talking, I tell you. They come up with some good stories. But yeah, that's about all I could, I could, you know, think of more probably afterwards. You know, I just don't want to blurt out names and then they will go oh well, you know, I don't like talk. You don't know if they do or not. But I know that Craciun will, Donna will, I will have to think of a few more.
Mark Souther [01:03:53] Okay.
Josh Dorsey [01:03:56] Well, thank you once again for taking the time to do this today.
Donna Belles [01:03:58] Well, thank you!
Josh Dorsey [01:03:59] It was nice to meet you.
Donna Belles [01:04:01] You too.
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"Donna J. Belles Interview, 21 March 2006" (2006). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 955004_304007.