In this 2005 interview, Matt Zone, Councilman for Ward 17 of the City of Cleveland, discusses his family's history on the west side of Cleveland and his political career. Zone is a third generation Italian-American. His grandparents came to the Detroit-Shoreway area of Cleveland shortly after WWI ended. His father and mother grew up on West 65th Street and were both Councilpersons for the Ward--from 1960-1982. Matt has been Councilperson for the Ward since 2001. Zone talks about neighborhood projects in which he has been involved that have sought to improve the environment and the sense of community. Examples of these projects are: Eco-Village, Ward 17 Community Dialogue Forum, Weed and Seed Initiative; Block Clubs. Zone also discussed the history of the Gordon Square Arcade.
Zone, Matt (interviewee)
Solecki, Becky (interviewer)
"Matt Zone Interview, 2005" (2005). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 955010_400017.
Becky Solecki [00:00:01] Today is November 30th, 2005. My name is Becky Solecki, I am interviewing Matt Zone, councilman of District 17, Ward 17. I'm going to start off asking you some simple questions.
Matt Zone [00:00:16] Sure.
Becky Solecki [00:00:18] I'm pretty sure you're born in this area correct? Or elaborate?
Matt Zone [00:00:22] Well, I'll tell you a little bit about my family. My grandparents immigrated from Italy, both of them the Zone family on my father's side in the Constantino family, on my mother's side in 1918, in 1919, respectively. My gran, my father's family settled at 1335 West 65th. My mother's family settled at 1324 West 65th. My parents grew up right across the street from more than one another just north of Detroit Avenue. Right before World War II, they got married, raised their family on West 65th Street. Bought a house on West 61st Street that's where I was born and raised at 1367. I'm a graduate of CSU. I commuted to school. I didn't go away to college. My wife and I got married at 27 and I moved over to West 69th Street and bought my first house at 1356 West 69th, and my wife and I bought four years ago built a house down the street from West 69th at 1228 West 69th. So I'm 42 years old. I've spent a lifetime in this area within only only lived on two streets my my entire life. My wife and I are raising the fourth generation Zone in this neighborhood. My family's been in this neighborhood almost 90 years and I am a second generation. A public official, my Father Michael Zone was the councilman of this area from 1960 until 1974 as a young man. He. He passed away, was only 53 years old and at the time there was really nobody to replace him on city-council. My mother was always somebody, Mary Zone, who was very active politically, and the council approached my mother and asked if she would serve out his term, which she did, and was subsequently re-elected four more times and served until 1982. January of 1982. And then 20 years later, their son, myself, had gets elected to Ward 17. So I've spent a lifetime in this neighborhood.
Becky Solecki [00:02:48] Thank you. Go back to your childhood a little bit. Can you describe the house you grew up in and like the surrounding community?
Matt Zone [00:02:56] It was a four-bedroom colonial. I'm, you know, 1367 West, 61st Street, tight-knit neighborhood. Everybody knew everybody on the street. A lot of children and a very close community. I grew up in my childhood in the late-60s and mid-70s, and during that time we were a very segregated progressive neighborhood. Racially, our city was pretty well divided. Back in the late-60s and early-70s, we had just come off of the the Glenville riots and the Hough riots. Racial tension was huge back then, but we had a very integrated neighborhood and our parents really raised us in a colorblind society and childhood. Growing up was wonderful. I had my best friend was Cherokee Indian and Hispanic. And those values that my parents instilled in us growing up that my wife and I are instilling in our child. And it was just a wonderful time. People walked everywhere. It was a very pedestrian-friendly community, a walkable community. And I went to grade school just down the street at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I would remember walking home from grade school and going to the back door and nobody would be home and the door would be unlocked. We would let ourselves in and it was wonderful, wonderful childhood. I'm glad that I was raised on that street.
Becky Solecki [00:04:39] Growing up, you said you went to what was the name of the school again?
Matt Zone [00:04:45] I went to Our Lady of Mount Carmel grade school.
Becky Solecki [00:04:47] And church?
Matt Zone [00:04:48] Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church as well. Yeah.
Becky Solecki [00:04:51] As a child and as a teen, where do you play and hang out.
Matt Zone [00:04:56] As a child and as a teen, right down the street from West 61st is Herman Playground. That's where we all hung out. All the children of the neighborhood. And I hung out at Herman Park and Edgewater Park. Those were the two main gathering areas. Where where the children adolescents congregated. Also, I spent a lot of time at Our Lady of Mount Carmel on their campus as well.
Becky Solecki [00:05:25] You had said that your grandparents came here in around 1918, 1919, correct?
Matt Zone [00:05:32] Correct.
Becky Solecki [00:05:32] Do you know the reason why they left Italy and migrated here?
Matt Zone [00:05:35] Jobs and opportunity. My father's family, my grandfather Enrico was the oldest of three. He came to America. His two younger brothers stayed in Italy because he was looking for opportunity and employment. He was a mason and quickly became employed. He worked on the Terminal Tower, the Veterans Memorial Bridge, the old federal courthouse. Most of the significant landmark structures that were built in the in the '20s, '30s and '40s my grandfather worked on. My mother's family, my grandparents came for the same reason. And my grandfather, on my mother's side, was a bricklayer, kind of in the same industry as my grandfather. And there again, he worked on most of the significant architectural projects of that time and a lot of the WPA projects that President Roosevelt rolled out. My grandfather worked out as well.
Becky Solecki [00:06:46] Did either of your grandparents know someone to bring into this area of America or?
Matt Zone [00:06:52] You know, it's interesting you said that. Yeah. This was all of my family, all of the Italian Americans came through Ellis Island and what happened was and people say, gosh, you're Italian. Your last name's, Zone Z O N E, [it] doesn't sound Italian. Well, the same thing happened to my grandfather Enrico. They'd happened to probably millions of immigrants, not only Italian Americans who came to this country. The people at Ellis Island butchered that name as well as as many others. My father's my grandfather's name is actually Zona, Z O N A. And on the paperwork, the person who checked him in made it Z O N E. so for, you know, since 1918, the Zonas have been now known as the Zones. At least the the American ones all my relatives in Italy are Zona. But when they came through Ellis Island, there was a group of of people from the same province which is called Vischon [near Calvi Risorta]. That said, you need to go to Cleveland because a lot of our people are there. So they boarded a train and they came to Cleveland. And that's how many immigrant populations settled in America. They came through Ellis Island, but they didn't stay in New York. Millions of people did stay in New York, but they often went to other states based on the recommendations of people from their homeland and their hometowns. More importantly than their homelands that knew other people who could help integrate them into society, because most of the people came back then. My both my grandparents, they didn't speak any English and struggled with it. It took them a long time until they learned English. In fact, both of my parents, my mother, my father, they both learned Italian before they learned English.
Becky Solecki [00:08:50] Speaking of your mother and father, they were also about politics, you had said, do you know what got them started in politics or?
Matt Zone [00:09:00] Yeah, as I said in my earlier comment about my father, my dad and my mother were married just before World War II and my father was actually a I think a sophomore at John Carroll. And the war World war II came and he was drafted into the army. And as a result of some of the early schooling that he had, he ascended through the ranks fairly quickly through the army. And while he was in the war, my dad was what was called a forward observer, where they would go in through topographical maps. They would lay out where the enemy troops were and he was captured in World War II. My dad was a P.O.W. and during his struggle and capture in the war, what ultimately led him through that whole ordeal was his faith and his belief in God. We were raised Catholic. My father is a devout Catholic and. During that during that time, he would do a lot of reflecting on his family. And when he was liberated, my father was 6 foot tall, 190 when he went in the war. The day he was liberated, he was a 115 pounds. It was a very traumatic experience. He lost significant weight. And if it wasn't for his faith, he he he had told me and and many other people that he doesn't think he would have made it. He came back to the states. And, immediately went back to John Carroll, finished, got his degree, was an accountant, did work here in the neighborhood, opened up a neighborhood grocery store, and through that whole moving experience. My father had a sense of calling towards public service and people would come and see my father because of his work. Could you pause this for a minute? OK. Ready?
Becky Solecki [00:11:13] Wait a second. OK.
Matt Zone [00:11:17] So during that whole experience and when he came back from the war, he had almost a sense of responsibility and calling towards public service and my mother and him shortly thereafter opened up the neighborhood Delicatessen grocery store right down the street at 1338 West 65th right across the street from where both of them grew up and were involved in the community. People would go in the grocery store and and buy their meats and dairies and other products. And because my father was an accountant, he started a tax service out of there so people would go and get their taxes done and buy their groceries. And then he expanded and started a travel agency in 1959. Well, during that time, many people went to my father because they didn't know the language. They respected him as a person and he would help them transition whether it was jobs or doing their taxes or helping them find other opportunities. Housing and people started to perceive him as a leader in the community and encouraged him to run for for office. So in 1960, the council personally at that time was James Flannery and he went on the Cleveland School Board and he stepped down from his position as councilman and appointed my father. My father subsequently went on. They were two-year terms back then to be reelected seven times until he was untimely death and in 1974. So it was through this very moving experience of going through a war, being a P.O. W. You live in a very frugal life, living through the depression that really centered my father into being a public servant and my mother was his best friend. I mean, they knew each other since they were babies. And my mother was always considered very involved and almost an activist. And she she. Followed in his footsteps because she felt almost an obligation because his life was cut so short to to take the position and serve, and she was very good and very effective at it as it as well. So that's kind of how they they came into this call of public service.
Becky Solecki [00:13:59] Like the story, you were just taking me through with your father. As far as you can remember or even maybe starting with what other people have told you about, the community itself how its evolved since you've been a child and growing up, or even if you know stories that your grandparents have told you or your parents had told you.
Matt Zone [00:14:14] Right.
Becky Solecki [00:14:14] Or the community was like in... Can you take us on a journey to where it is today?
Matt Zone [00:14:18] Back in the late-1800s, I'd say early-1900s. This whole neighborhood north of Lorain Avenue was a very densely populated area with little enclaves of different ethnic groups. North of Detroit, you had all the Italians and Romanians. Actually north of Franklin, you had all of the Italians and Romanians. North of of Lorain, north of Lorain and east of West 65th, you had a large concentration of Germans west of West 65th. North of Lorain and around that area, huge concentrations of Irish. And up on Denison, at a road you had congregations of or large pockets of Germans and they really centered around their churches, their places of worship. St. Stephen's was founded as a German parish. St. Colman's was founded as an Irish parish. St. Patrick's Church on 32nd and Bridge was the first Irish American Catholic Church on the West Side of Cleveland. And that congregation grew so big and so rapidly that there really wasn't any space and the second Irish parish on the west side was St. Colman's. In 1926, Our Lady of Mount Carmel was founded as a mission, which later turned into a church and then a parish. That's where all the Italian Americans came in and joined that parish. So, as you look at these places of worship it's where the different ethnic groups kind of gathered to live to use as their social place and also their place of worship.
Becky Solecki [00:16:29] That was then, originally?
Matt Zone [00:16:30] That was then, originally.
Becky Solecki [00:16:30] And your grandparents were here, yes?
Matt Zone [00:16:32] Right. My grandparents and to a degree my my parents as I was growing up as a child. The neighborhood started to change. It started to evolve. We started to see a new wave of immigrants that were coming in around 1960s. We had a large Appalachian population that was coming up here to work in the steel mills as the coal mining business was becoming more competitive and there wasn't a lot of jobs. We saw this. We we started to see a lot of Appalachians coming up from Kentucky and West Virginia, and they were getting jobs within the train industry, in the steel mills that we had. And we started to see a large Appalachian migration coming into our neighborhood. And around the mid to late-1960s, we saw a huge Latino, mainly Puerto Rican congregation that was coming in and settling here, coming from the islands. So the neighborhood has as has kind of evolved, it's always been a settling spot for ethnic groups. But now we're starting to see different ethnic groups coming in. And now into the late-'80s and early-'90s, we're starting to see a large concentration of Asian-Americans, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian that are settling here in this neighborhood, partly because the Buddhist Vietnamese temple is at West 54th and Franklin, the Buddhists are the Vietnamese Catholic Church now, which was a German parish at one time, St. Boniface, at West 54th. And Denison is now the Vietnamese Catholic congregation, as well as a lot of Vietnamese restaurants that are emerging along Detroit Avenue. This is becoming a little enclave for for Southeast Asians.
Becky Solecki [00:18:37] The feel for the community. I know, there has been development into like giving the artist coming into the area or building new homes in this area. Do you feel like there's a separation between like new and old or is everybody blending still well together or even safety levels?
Matt Zone [00:18:51] I'd say that for the most part it's been a very smooth integration. I as as the councilman and and, you know, you spoke with Jeff Ramsey earlier that the director of Detroit Shoreway, we believe in mixed-income neighborhoods. We won't allow gentrification to occur under our leadership. When you look at other neighborhoods and other areas of even our country, you look at, you know, the Chicago housing projects or the New York housing projects, we're in dense areas, hundreds, you know, tens of thousands of people are concentrated [of] extreme amount of poor people who are living there. There isn't any any incentive or any motivation on their part to lift them out of poverty if they're living amongst poverty. So by design, we carefully have planned every single development project that is occurring that it believe that it is a mixed-income project. So there isn't that prob problem of of one class living in one community. If we're to build, you know, a lot of housing I wanted at different income levels. So there can be this integration and mix of community when you create a gated community of all, you know, half a million dollar plus homes. It tends to be a snobbish community. And one of the things that we love about where we live is, is our diversity. And that's something that we celebrate take very personal. And we wouldn't just under my watch, I just wouldn't allow that to occur. That's just something that we believe in.
Becky Solecki [00:20:46] You had mentioned the German church now turning into the Vietnamese Catholic Church. Your church that you grew up with, is it still there today and is that the same? Or how is church to you today?
Matt Zone [00:20:56] That's a great question. Our Lady of Mount Carmel is still an Italian based parish, but it's you know, it's. I graduated from that. It's a K through eight school in 1977. And at the time, I'd say probably 95 percent of all the students there. 300 students were Italian American today. The dominant population are Hispanics, which are 36 percent. And the next dominant ethnicity ethnic group is Italian Americans who are 34 percent. It's changing. They still have an Italian mass in Italian on Sundays at 10:00. And the Italians who grew up in this neighborhood, who who might have moved back, they come back for that mass. But it's changing. And, you know, we as a not only a congregation, but as a community are changing and reinventing ourselves all the time. But I'll give you a copy of my newsletter. On my newsletter, you know, kind of like my saying is pride in our past, faith in our future. You know, if you don't remember where we were as a community and our struggles that we went through to come to where we're at today, you know, we're never going to get to somewhere great down the road. And I think you need to respect the past in order to get towards the future. But we're constantly evolving and changing.
Becky Solecki [00:22:26] You went to that school K through 8, you said?
Matt Zone [00:22:28] Yeah.
Becky Solecki [00:22:29] And then high school.
Matt Zone [00:22:29] St. Edwards.
Becky Solecki [00:22:32] And then after St. Edwards, Cleveland State.
Matt Zone [00:22:34] Cleveland State. Yeah.
Becky Solecki [00:22:37] Do you want to take me on a the path of your career?
Matt Zone [00:22:38] Sure.
Becky Solecki [00:22:39] Starting. I mean, I guess you could start at Cleveland State or.
Matt Zone [00:22:42] Well, yeah. Well, you know, I am a product of this neighborhood. I told you I'm my were raised in fourth-generation child here in this neighborhood and. Since my or my parents backgrounds were so centered in their faith, you know, it was really important to them that we get a Catholic education. So I went to Catholic grade school Our Lady of Mount Carmel and when I finished there, you know, I told my mom I'm going to go to West Tech High School. She goes, no, you're not. You're going to a Catholic high school. And she wanted me to continue on and in getting that type of education. So I went to St. Edward High School. And it was wonderful. In fact, my son is a freshman at St. Ed's right now. He's at basketball practice right now. And it was it was a great experience for me because it's college preparatory high school really prepared me to take on the challenge of going to college. I'm a graduate of CSU's College of Urban Affairs. I loved my time down at CSU. I guess one of the things that I regret is I did go away to college, but at the time, you know, I was only eleven when my father had passed away. And and and my brother Marty had moved on out and he was away in New York. And I kind of felt a responsibility being the only male at home at that time and having a younger sister and an older sister who still lived at home. And my mom being a single head of household, that I did want to go away to school. I wanted to stay at home. So, I went to CSU and that was a great experience for me. It really set me up for my career out of college. I was fortunate to land a very good job. And I became the personal bailiff for Judge Cheryl Karner. I spent almost 14 years as her personal bailiff working in domestic relations court and that court. And that experience, that work experience really prepared me to be the councilman and put me in the position that I am today, because through that job, I had mediation training and was certified as a mediator in. For almost 14 years, we would handle about 2,000 divorce cases on average a year. As you can imagine, you know, little over 13 years we probably did upwards of over 25,000 divorces and hundreds, if not thousands of those cases. My judge had me working on custody disputes, visitation disputes and child support disputes. And what I did on a daily basis is work with lawyers and parties to help them resolve their differences. And through that very valuable experience, I learned in being a mediator, bringing people together to resolve their conflicts and disputes has been a great training ground for me as a councilman, because all we do as counsel people. Many people think, well, you know, while you're a legislator, you create policy. And that's true. I spend considerable amount of time working on legislation and creating policy. But a significant amount of my time is resolving conflict in disputes in the neighborhood, neighbor on neighbor, neighbor and city, neighbor and law enforcement, pulling people together, identifying the issues, trying to find a solution and. The work, the school experience, the neighborhood experience, the familiar experience has all been a great training ground for me in preparing me to be a council person.
Becky Solecki [00:26:30] So, did you go from being the personal bailiff to council person?
Matt Zone [00:26:30] Yeah.
Becky Solecki [00:26:30] Right after. And when did you become
Matt Zone [00:26:32] I was elected in November of 2001, and I've been a councilman for four years and just was reelected to my second term. And when I was when I ran for the seat, I actually was running against an incumbent and the incumbent then decided not to run and dropped out of the race. I had three opponents worked very hard to win the seat and was very successful and garnered a lot of support. And I worked extremely hard at trying to build some bridges of people who didn't necessarily support me in the first term and reached out to the people who were my opponents four years ago and just ran actually unopposed. So I hope that says that I'm doing something right.
Becky Solecki [00:27:24] I know there's a couple of things that you're working on today. I'm going to bring a personal bailiff to the EcoVillage, which I think is great and it's federally looked at. I don't know if you want to explain the project to me a bit?
Matt Zone [00:27:40] Sure. Actually.
Becky Solecki [00:27:42] How it started?
Matt Zone [00:27:42] Sure. Be. Actually, before I met with you, the people you saw walking out was the EcoVillage Advisory Committee, our executive committee, the EcoVillage was it was a concept that was created through a national foundation that said we want to created an EcoVillage in an urban area and it became a very intense request from a national foundation to the local development corporate community. Detroit Shoreway submitted a proposal and actually won that funding, which allowed them to hire an EcoVillage project coordinator. And through that, we created the first urban first EcoVillage in an urban area in the United States. And what an EcoVillage is. It's it's a pedestrian-friendly community that respects the planet. It's high-quality housing, using recyclable materials. It's a pedestrian-friendly community that has integrated bike trails and walking trails. It has its another amenities is a good transit system. We have an RTA. And it also [is] good green space on EcoVillage is. Encompasses a quarter mile radius that's centered around our RTA rapid transit site. We also have the first green-built rapid transit station in the United States. So a lot of first have occurred within the Eco-Village. And before I was a councilman and knowing Detroit Shoreway intention of creating an Eco-Village, I had served prior six years. I was on their their board of directors. So I knew a lot about the project. And when I was elected in 2001 and became a councilman, I really wanted to accelerate other amenities of the Eco-Village. We built 20 townhomes that are highly energy efficient. They're heating those units for roughly about 450 dollars a year. Some homes, that's what they pay on a monthly basis. They're super, super-efficient. But but as I said, other manatees of the Eco-Village is that wonderful pedestrian amenities that you want where streets are, are are walkable. And so that's what we're trying to create and through the Eco-Village and work that I've done, I've I've been recognized nationally for my work. And I'm very active with the National League of Cities within the National League of Cities, which is an organization of roughly 17,000 locally elected them council members, commissioners and mayors throughout the United States. They have different committees. And I quickly became very involved with the Energy, Environment and Natural Resource Committee. And through that, I became I was I became a member and I was put on their policy committee. In addition to their policy committee, they have about 35 members nationally that are on the steering committee. And two years ago, I was fortunate to become a steering committee member. I'm one of only 35 members throughout the United States that create a national agenda and a national policy that we use to lobby our congressional representatives on the Hill on formulating energy related policies, natural resource policies. And we go and actually lobby them on key issues that affect us as a nation. Through that work and the recognition that I've received locally and nationally, I just recently became the chairperson and I will assume this post in January. The chairman of the Public Utilities Committee for the City of Cleveland. And as part of that advocacy work that I have done nationally and locally, one of the big initiatives that I helped set up through the city of Cleveland was the sustainability program for the city. I was asking Mayor Campbell for about the past two and a half years that we really needed a point person on the city level who can focus all of our time and energy on how can we do things that are right, respectful way that's sustainable. We have 200 municipal facilities and we we pay this ungodly amount of money for energy costs. Well, we have never done energy audits of these facilities. How can we make them more efficient? But it's not only how are we operating our physical plant, but it's purchasing and procurement. Are we purchasing the right materials or are we purchasing the right automobiles? You know, are we buying wasteful things? Are we diversifying our energy uses? So a lot of that stuff in that whole program that I set up through the city has also garnered me some national recognition, which has really put me as a leader for this city, on the sustainability movement, which position me to become the incoming chairperson of the Public Utility Committee.
Becky Solecki [00:33:29] Would you like to describe some of the block parties or block clubs. Not parties. Block clubs. That have been created and what they've done? And.
Matt Zone [00:33:40] Sure. You know. Empowering the community is the greatest tool that a public official could do and early on when I got onto council, there was only nine block clubs in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. Now I don't. I should say Detroit Shoreway I represent the Detroit Shoreway Ohio City, parts of Ohio City and all of the stockyards neighborhoods. We've gone from 2001 from nine block clubs to twenty-three block clubs. And. I really wanted to expand the block club structure because when you empower a community and you create leadership within the community, they really can help themselves solve their problem. They don't have to rely on a council person or a police officer or a building and housing officer. They know the blueprint on how you get things done and you really help them and it's through the block club structure. So I worked really hard in in creating block clubs, working with the local development corporations to identify key leaders throughout the community who could then facilitate meetings and run meetings to to make our neighborhood safer, more attractive and more welcoming. So so those are initiatives that we worked on. In addition to that, have created another organization.Our organization is not the right word. I've created another initiative that is called the Ward 17 community Dialogue Forum, where I work closely with actually to one college professor at CSU, Professor Leo Jeffries, and another adjunct professor, Jim Pelican, created this forum where we look at issues that affect us as a community. And how dialog can be a very powerful tool in looking at and creating change within a community. How to have good dialog and what is good dialog. One of the things that was very frustrating for me early on and through my experience and learning how to be a mediator is you need to be a good listener. And I found earlier on that the community, at least the people, would come to meetings that I would call whether it was for a safety related matter or a development matter, that people really weren't good listeners; all they wanted to do was talk and they didn't want to listen. And people would reach and form opinions or an assumption on another person based on what they said. So this whole movement is to try to create a community or an environment where conversation and dialog is respected. And we've already had over 100 people have gone through this training. We've done this for a year and a half now. And it's a very creative tool. And I'll give you some information about the community dialog forum on how you can take conversation to another level and create a skill within a community and create leadership within a community that people respect other people. Another thing that I worked out to try to create a safer community was we applied for a federal grant through the U.S. Department of Justice. It's called the Weed and Seed Initiative. And through the Weed and Seed program, we picked a small concentrated area of about 5,000 people that had the highest crime rate in Ward 17, had the most challenged housing within that area. And it's a holistic approach to improving a community. You know, it's one thing to go in and try to identify that criminal and lock them up in a jail. But it's another thing. Are you willing to accept that person? Because, you know, once they get out of prison, they're coming back to this community. So we have or it's another thing to to look at that person who has a dilapidated home and the gutters are hanging and the paint is peeling. It's one thing to, you know, get that house inspected in an issue of violation and get that person in a housing court. But it's another thing is, do you have programs in place to assist that homeowner to fix that home and rehabilitate it? So it's that holistic approach to to healing a community. Weeding out the criminal element, weeding out the problem houses. But when you have programs in place that plants the seeds of hopes and opportunities to welcome that criminal back into your community, to deal with prevention, intervention and treatment, job training when they come back or when somebody gets cited for housing violation to get them creative financing programs or grants to assist them to fix up their homes. That's the approach we're taking. That's the only way that we can improve that little area and we worked extremely hard at that. We've been able to not only receive the designation from the federal government, but we've also receive federal funding. Now, two consecutive years, we've received over four hundred thousand dollars from the federal government where we have a full-time project coordinator, Brian Kazy, who works with the Weed and Seed Initiative, works with the neighbors and really tries to empower the communities, say here are the resources that are out there, here's what's available, and here is how we can help you holistically improve your community.
Becky Solecki [00:39:20] I apologize, to go back to the your dialog initiative.
Matt Zone [00:39:24] Sure.
Becky Solecki [00:39:24] How actually are you to make this work? I mean, I know you're teaching people how to speak at everyone else's level. But how are you going about making it work? And what is the actual program?
Matt Zone [00:39:38] In order to keep this sustained, this is something they have to work out over time. And it was funny when we first when I first created the program. We were actually working on I think we've been in this process now for 18 months. All I knew that I wanted to accomplish with this is, is for people to connect as a community where we live and have respect for one another when we speak. And by design, I didn't know where we were going to go. All I knew that basically I had to. The premise was two things. One, let's you know, let's find out information about where we live and as we do that, we're going to be centered around dialog and what good dialog is. So as we went through that process, the residents really created it, not myself. And through that, they went through a series of a year-long intensive training on what is dialog, how to have good dialog, and they even established ground rules for having good dialog where we encourage everyone to put their views on the table, even including divergent and even extreme views. Listen, let each speaker finish what they have to say. Hear different points of view. Give them consideration. You know, don't pass judgment. Talk honestly without conclusions or decisions expected. Know that feelings and emotions are involved. So don't make it personal when you have these conversations. Recognize that there will be conflict through the conversation. But believe that that conflict can be constructive because that's how ultimately you can solve or resolve a problem. And through that whole time that we went through that that intensive training, the residents said, you know, we'd really like to to look at a lot of our assets and some of our challenges in a community. And it was the residents actually with Sister Ann Maline who came up with the concept and said, you know, we should we should do a trolley tour and and go around the ward and look at some of our assets and some of our challenges. And then another resident said, gosh, we could do some sort of tour and call it 17 and 17 and play off of that metaphor. And that's what we did. We went to 17 corners of Ward 17. And through that whole process, we gave people information on 17 websites about Ward 17, 17 ways to help your neighbor in Ward 17, 17 places to shop in Ward 17, 17 places of interest in Ward 17, 17 facts that people didn't know about Ward 17. And this was all resident driven. The residents did all the research on it and they put the packet together. And it wasn't the councilman being the mouthpiece of this. I was just a sponsor. I facilitated it, hired the consultant, and it was the residents who created the curriculum and drove it. And we had 80 people spend five hours together on a Saturday where they went through the ward, and after we came back and had a conversation about what we saw. We did a survey. We said, you know, we asked them to evaluate different parts of the tour. And the two parts of the tour that received the highest marks was one was the actual tour itself, but the other one was the conversation, a dialog that occurred after the tour. And as I said, we've had over 100 people who have now gone through this intensive training. And we're starting to work out our second group of people now where now the facilitator is becoming less of a prominent role. And we have the residents who are driving the conversation and dialogue. And now we're starting to train a whole new group of people who are going through this, who will be the trainers for the next group: the third group down the road. And we're trying to set this up where it can be sustained over time that eventually you don't have to have a paid facilitator consultant who leads this initiative.
Becky Solecki [00:43:47] And is this being taken out during the block club, the block clubs, or just hoping that just a... Do you understand what I am getting at?
Matt Zone [00:43:56] Sure. Yeah. Yeah.
Becky Solecki [00:43:57] Are you just hoping that neighbors are speaking to one another and that word keeps getting out or is it actually done at the block clubs?
Matt Zone [00:44:02] No, it's done separate from the block clubs because, you know, I personally believe, you know, the block club is a sacred place and that should be for a local neighborhood or or few blocks to work on issues that are important to them. We have asked people from the block clubs to participate in this, but the whole point of the Ward 17 community, the Ward 17 dialog forum is to cultivate create leadership. Our block club leaders are already leaders in their community. We're reaching out to those people who may come to block clubs, but they don't necessarily open up or they have a hard way of connecting or sharing their feelings and emotion about where they live. Those are the people that we're bringing into this whole new era. This whole new environment of how to have good dialog with one another. And they're the ones that were going out there recruiting. We work closely with our block clubs and used them as somebody who feeds people in. But what like one of the exercises we did with this dialog form is we had an exercise where we formed three working groups. One worked on the history of Ward 17. Another looked at the statistics of Ward 17, who lives in Ward 17, the demographics. And then the third group focused on a questionnaire about, you know, how do you feel about where you live, do you feel connected, how you get your information? And based on those three working groups and the report outs that came, we people have now a better sense of where they live in and the history of of our past and the future and where we're going.
Becky Solecki [00:45:51] I was thinking about the people in the community right now. Kind of putting you on the spot, so if you don't have anything.
Matt Zone [00:45:55] Sure.
Becky Solecki [00:45:57] It's completely fine. But since you work so closely with the people in the community, do you have any interesting stories that you would love to share about the people themselves? History of a particular person right now that comes to mind or events. Have you seen your community grow or?
Matt Zone [00:46:15] Absolutely, you know several things pop to my mind and I could talk all day, but I will tell you. In the summertime, I had a local merchant who applied for a liquor license and the word got out the community that this person was applying for a liquor license. I relate this to, you know, kind of my mantra that I say, you know, pride in our past, faith in our future. And this gentleman opened up a hardware store at West 48th [NW corner of 47th] and Bridge. And soon after he opened up the hardware store, he opened up a convenience store. Soon thereafter, he wanted to get a liquor license. Well, people were skeptical when he opened up the convenience store, because years ago it used to be the Berry's Bar and somebody was murdered there. So he applied to get a liquor license and I held a community meeting. And it was interesting how the people who have been in the neighborhood for a long time, the old guard, all were adamantly against him getting a liquor license. The newer people lived in the neighborhood and didn't have that institutional memory of of our community. We're more open about it. Wanted to have a conversation. So through our dialogue forum, we held a block club... We held a meeting in conjunction with the local block club, established the ground rules and principles of what a good dialogue is. Laid those out, told people that we're not here to reach a decision. All we're here to do is have a conversation about this process and educate a community. And then you are charged with going back to your community and talking with your neighbors and friends about this issue. And we'll let the voters decide because it was ultimately a referendum on the ballot. Based on the community meeting and people gathering information and knowing about the situation that happened, the community really rallied together and actually voted that liquor referendum down 90 percent against 10 percent for. And I think because it was a very public process and people were educated about the process, and it wasn't, you know, the councilman saying vote no or vote yes. It was really the community that led this initiative and educated them myself. I was really proud of, you know, taking a back seat and watching them roll this whole initiative out. You know, there's a lot of interesting characters in the ward. And I think of Julie Ryan, who's 83 years old, who's on the county Mental Retardation Board. Mental Health Retard. M? M. R. D. D? I think it's M. R., whatever she's on, she's on that board. She's lived her entire life in this neighborhood and she's kind of like the matriarch of Saint Colman's sings in the choir. Everybody goes to her for advice. And she's just a sweet, humble person who just gives so much to so many people. You know, I just I just love the woman to death Ray Pianka. You heard Jeff Ramsey talk about Ray Pianka. You know, he's another interesting guy. This is a person who grew up in this neighborhood when he was in college. He was the executive assistant to my father when my dad was a councilman. He worked for my dad and while he was going through college and subsequently went on to law school, got his law degree. You know, my father encouraged him to get actively involved. And he became the first executive director of the Detroit Shoreway Development Organization. And after that, went on to become councilman. Now, he went on to become the housing court judge. Still lives here in the neighborhood and loves this neighborhood tremendously and gives so much to our community. Just such a tremendous citizen of our city, but particularly Ward 17.
Becky Solecki [00:50:31] Just a few more questions for you. You know that I'm studying Gordon Square Arcade?
Matt Zone [00:50:34] Right.
Becky Solecki [00:50:36] I had heard you actually mentioned. Well, first, do you have any stories that your grandparents ever passed down about going to the arcade or your parents. I think your parents were probably not around at this point?
Matt Zone [00:50:45] No.
Becky Solecki [00:50:45] But when it was actually after the, you know, being erected in the 20s I believe.
Matt Zone [00:50:51] In the 20s. Yeah.
Becky Solecki [00:50:53] Do you have any stories about that and if not maybe I heard you mention you had a relative that had a grocery store in the Arcade?
Matt Zone [00:50:58] Yeah. The groceries. The Gordon Square Arcade at that time was the modern-day shopping mall. There was the hair salon place. There was the. They had an open-air market in there. There is a roller rink, a pool hall, a clothing store, shoe store, tax service, a travel agency. My father and eventually had his travel agency there, a bank. All of these amenities were part of that building and people went there for for everything. Plus, it also had a movie house, the Capitol Theatre, which was a twelve hundred seat theater. That is where when they first opened up, they were shown silent, silent movies. Eventually, that's where my mother and father started courting. He would take her to movies at the Capitol Theatre. Before it shut down in 1985, as a young boy, I remember going to see movies there myself. The Capitol Theatre is an institution in this neighborhood. At the time when it was built, it was the largest I think square foot. One of the largest buildings outside of the downtown central business district. It was the largest building in the neighborhood. In fact, at West 65th and Detroit, if you look, that is the only intersection in the city of Cleveland that has all four original buildings still standing there, pre-date World War II. You go to any other intersection in the city of Cleveland, you'll see buildings that were demolished at one time and new buildings were built. It is the only intersection in the entire city of Cleveland that has all four original buildings. And that's something that, you know, we we we respected and have pride for in our community. But. But. I guess, those are some of my stories.
Becky Solecki [00:53:05] Yes, and he grocery store?
Matt Zone [00:53:05] The grocery store. There was an open-air market in there just down the street from the Gordon Square Arcade though my parents opened up a grocery store and it was 1338 West 65th in 1949 and had that store until 1959 and ran it for ten years. Not only was it a grocery store, there was a meat market in there. They used to, you know, carve fresh meat. But inside the grocery store, it was an open-air market where vendors would come bring their produce, kind of like the Westside market area there and people would go there to shop.
Becky Solecki [00:53:50] I appreciate your time. Is there anything that I have not asked you that you'd like to tell me about or?
Matt Zone [00:53:58] I can't think of anything. Uh. I'd be available if you want to come back and hit a second round. I don't know.
Becky Solecki [00:54:07] I appreciate it. Thank you very much. I'm Becky Solecki, interviewing Matt Zone, November 30th, 2005.
Unknown Speaker 1 [00:54:18] Speaking to you on the phone. I think you mentioned to me that you were on a trip recently to Slovenia and you were in the town that Frank Sterle grew up in. Can you talk about that trip a little bit and where? What town Frank grew up in?
Unknown Speaker 2 [00:54:30] Frank Sterle comes from the interior of Slovenia. It's an area called the Karst and this is like a a geologic phenomenon that's that's native to to the interior of Slovenia. It's basically a very rocky limestone area. Not particularly good for farming. Sort of for many Slovenians in that area. If it had been for you for centuries, a kind of a hardscrabble existence. But Frank was born there in a village called Colnisce. And my family also came from near that area. And. And we knew some people in the Cleveland area who had come from the city and from that village. But my family had come from the St. Clair neighborhood. And that's where Frank Sterle settled after World War II when he came to Cleveland and had purchased a corner bar called the Bona Cafe and eventually evolved that into a Sterle's Slovenian Country House. And. And certainly the area's best known Slovenian-style restaurant but it's also a place where you can hear Cleveland-style polka music kind on a regular basis.
Unknown Speaker 1 [00:55:51] Talk a little bit more about the relationship between Sterle's and Polka. How important would you say it is to the restaurant?
Unknown Speaker 2 [00:55:56] Well, the it's all it all works hand in glove. The music is an important part of of the the personality of of Sterle's Slovenian Country House. But on the other hand, you have to have. So you have to have some good Slovenian-style food there to keep your your guests and friends coming back. So it's all part of the. The Slovenian experience to go to Sterle's to enter a Slovenian-style chalet with murals on the wall of famous Slovenian sites, coats of arms and Slovenian cities, and then to be served as traditional foods like a wienerschnitzel and roast pork and Slovenian smoked sausages. And then to have the music in the background. I mean, this is a total Slovenian Cleveland experience.
Unknown Speaker 1 [00:56:51] Absolutely. You mentioned that you knew Frank Sterle as a child. Talk a little bit about some of your memories of Frank.
Unknown Speaker 2 [00:56:57] Well, I first met Frank when I was five years old. I spent the summer in Slovenia and he was a friend of the village priest where where my family was from. And I remember him then. But it was later on as a teen where sometimes we would stop at Frank Sterle's place after an event in the neighborhood and listen to polka music.
Unknown Speaker 1 [00:57:25] What kind of man was Frank Sterle?
Unknown Speaker 2 [00:57:30] OK. Well, Frank Sterling was probably what you would call an ethnic American success story. In that he came from from. He came here after World War II looking for opportunity. There there were few opportunities available to in the area where he came from. In the old country and coming to to America, he looked for ways to earn money, ways to improve his situation in life and he had a vision. He had. He had invested in what was basically a neighborhood tavern. But he saw the potential for something more than that, for a place, for good food, for good music, and was able to expand what was a sleepy little bar into the Cleveland area dining and music institution it is today.
Unknown Speaker 1 [00:58:34] How important is Sterle's to the Slovenian community right now?
Unknown Speaker 2 [00:58:38] Sterle's. If you want to take a Clevelander or a guest from out of town to a place where they can experience what, polka music and.
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