Karen Bauman recalls the vibrancy of Coventry in the 1970s, especially her time at Irv's Restaurant and the good times that were had there.
Michael Rotman [00:00:02] Okay. So it is June 18th, 2011. My name is Michael Rotman and we are at the Coventry Library. And can you go ahead and introduce yourself and tell us where and when you were born?
Karen Bauman [00:00:14] OK. My name is Karen Bauman. But when I lived in the Coventry area for about twenty-five years, my name was Karen Born. And where I was born was Parris Island, South Carolina, in 1944. So I lived here from my early 30s right up through my late 50s. And we still come back and I still have relatives in the area, including one of my daughters lives in Cleveland Heights, and my brother lives right over on East Overlook.
Michael Rotman [00:00:47] So how did you end up in the Coventry neighborhood?
Karen Bauman [00:00:50] Well, I had been married and owned a house in the Severance neighborhood of Cleveland Heights. And then I moved to East Cleveland when I got divorced because it was cheaper. And my kids were going to a private school at the time, an alternative school. It was the '70s. And when one of them got old enough to go into junior high school, I didn't want her to have to go to the public schools that were in the area that I was in, in East Cleveland at the time, and that the private school didn't go up that far, far. So I thought, I've got to get her into Cleveland Heights, good school system and so on. So I moved up to Hampshire and starting from then on, I lived in virtually every street in the neighborhood--Hampshire, Lancashire, Euclid Heights Boulevard, Coventry, Mayfield, Glenmont, Eddington, Hillcrest--at one time or another, for longer and shorter periods of time. And my kids, two of them, went to elementary school here, most of their elementary school. One started in the junior high school of the Cleveland Heights schools. And they all attended Heights High, ultimately.
Michael Rotman [00:02:01] So what's your earliest memory of Coventry?
Karen Bauman [00:02:08] My earliest memory is actually from the '50s because my dad had been called as an expert witness in the trial of Nico Jacobellis, who owned the Heights Art Theater at the time, and he had been arrested for showing a movie called The Lovers. My dad was a psychologist who was fairly well known. He was on TV and the radio occasionally, and he was called to testify on Nico Jacobellis's behalf that it contained artistic content, I believe, or at least to describe what was something that appealed to prurient interest as opposed to something that actually had artistic merit. And so we had lifetime passes from my dad's lifetime to the Heights Art Theater after that. So I was always aware, of course, of the Heights Art Theater. And Coventry at that time wasn't a place that I obviously went when I was a child but, I mean, there wasn't much happening here. There was a place where they killed kosher chickens and so on. But the Heights Art Theater was the only thing that we ever really went to in this neighborhood. Then when I was a young married person and I was pregnant, actually with my first child, in 1964, I went to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Heights... I think it was still the Heights Art Theater maybe at that time. Can't remember the name of it. It's changed hands so many times, but that was the first time that they were showing Rocky Horror before people started imitating it. Now, I guess everybody dresses up and does that, but we were just watching it. And believe me, that show was very startling back in the day. [Laughs] It was really surprising! But from then on, you know, I was always oriented towards this area. The times that I wasn't living in the Coventry area, a couple of those times I was actually in Cleveland Heights, I just wasn't in this immediate vicinity. Once I was up in University Heights, once I was down Euclid Heights Boulevard, closer to the top of Cedar Hill in the Buckingham condominiums for a while. But I've always known about it and loved it. And I loved counterculture, and I was a hippie, you know, when it was the thing to do.
Michael Rotman [00:04:24] So by the time... It's funny, you mentioned the Heights Theater. The gentleman who passed you on the way out there was the manager there from about the '70s to 1988.
Karen Bauman [00:04:32] Oh!
Michael Rotman [00:04:33] So, yeah, it's funny. We talked about that court case. So by the time you moved back to Coventry and in the '70s, how had it changed from the '50s, I guess, if you can speak to that?
Karen Bauman [00:04:46] Well, I just, to say that I was really aware of what it was like in the '50s is something of an exaggeration. It was starting to change and be cool.
Michael Rotman [00:04:56] Yes.
Karen Bauman [00:04:57] They were starting to harass people who looked a little different, I guess, and by '76, they were were bugging hippies by that time.
Michael Rotman [00:05:08] Who's they?
Karen Bauman [00:05:09] Oh, you know, the cops and so on. I mean, they were getting. I'm not sure when it was they were getting after all the jaywalkers. At one time they just felt called upon to harass anybody who happened to cross the street at the wrong place. And not just say that I haven't had friends who actually got hit by cars out there, so I realize that there are good reasons for having crosswalks! [Laughs] But when you're young, you only think of what you want to do at the time and, you know, and how "The Man" is after you, and the various names that we used for them. And, you know, even my kids, I know my one daughter smoked dope back and they call it the Rocks. Gosh! [Laughs].
Michael Rotman [00:05:52] Where?
Karen Bauman [00:05:56] Back behind behind where Marc's is now. There's a row of houses behind the parking lot and there was some kind of a rocky wall, I think, and they used to hang back there and stuff. Yeah, my kids loved the town. It's really funny because my middle daughter, she and her little friend used to go around and try to make money when Irv's was just a small restaurant. She would get them to pay her something or give her a cookie or something for sweeping the front step in the sidewalk. Then they would go over to the frozen yogurt store that was across the street at the time and they would get a cone for doing the same thing for sweeping up around the front of the store and so on. But anyway, when my son was born, he's eight years younger than my middle child, and they were walking down the street one time when he was about two or three. And she says, "Jamie, this used to be my town and now it's yours." Like she felt she'd already outgrown it a little and now she was turning it over to him. And they loved it here. They really loved it. They had such a grand time. The kids all played outside and were in each other's yards all the time. We lived in apartment houses most of the time sometimes and in two-family houses. But it was really a nice place to live. I don't know, there were always people who were somehow afraid to come in this neighborhood for some reason. I mean, I heard rumors, you know, that, oh, there are people hanging out there and, you know, there are people smoking dope. Well, of course, that was going on, I mean, it was the '60s, the '70s, the '80s, and so on. But nobody was... Most of the time, nobody was hurting anybody. There were a few instances of crimes, but in general we all got along together pretty well.
Michael Rotman [00:07:46] Sounds like it was a really nice community.
Karen Bauman [00:07:48] It was great.
Michael Rotman [00:07:49] And were there favorite... did you have a favorite store or restaurant or place of business that you liked to go to?
Karen Bauman [00:07:55] Well, I worked at Irv's restaurant.
Michael Rotman [00:07:57] Oh, you did?
Karen Bauman [00:07:58] Oh, yeah. I was a cashier and occasional hostess for a few years in the early '80s when he opened up.
Michael Rotman [00:08:05] Now, can you tell me about Irv's because a lot of people have mentioned it?
Karen Bauman [00:08:07] Oh, Irv's. Well, if you've ever... There's a movie, in fact, that they made "Night Owls of Coventry," I think it's called...
Michael Rotman [00:08:13] Yes.
Karen Bauman [00:08:14] ... which is really a pretty accurate depiction of what it was like at the old Irv's. This would have been before I worked there, before the fire. I think there were more than one fire, actually. But it was just a small sort of corner deli, grungy, down at heel. And there were all kinds of cool, weird folk that hung out there. And I remember going in there one time with my husband, my first husband, we sat in a booth. I think it was late at night and we're trying to figure out what kind of snack to have. And the waitress sits down in the booth with us like she's really dead on our feet, you know? And I said, what kind of pie have you got? And she says, "Stale." [Laughs] And that's just the kind of place it was! It was so much fun! So anyway, I mean, I had been a teacher and various countless other things. Illustrator, all kinds of stuff. But after my son was born, I was a single mother. I had three kids and I needed to work at night. And so I didn't go back to teaching at the independent school in East Cleveland, where I had been, I wanted to get a job in the neighborhood so that my kids could have access to me anytime they needed me, and I wanted to work at night so that my daughter, who was then a teenager, could babysit for her baby brother. Because we didn't have a pot to piss in. I mean, we were really broke. So I after the fire, the worst fire at Irv's, he rebuilt on the corner, which may be now Utrecht art supplies. Is that still there?
Michael Rotman [00:09:54] Yeah.
Karen Bauman [00:09:55] It was a wilderness store before that. And it's been countless things since then, none of them nearly as fun as Irv's. He rebuilt and it really was nice. I mean, it was it was clean. It was pleasant. It was open and big and he had a bar on one side that he... and he was going to make a Chinese restaurant there. And so I applied for a job. You know, when they call in all the people before the store even opens, they have... you come in and be interviewed. And he said, "You, I'll take you." You know, because he wanted us to smile at the people. You know, that was the whole thing. So you got to be able to smile at the customers. He didn't care whether you could make change or anything. Anyway. It was a hell of a lot of fun. I enjoyed that job as much as I ever enjoyed any of the countless jobs that I've had in my life, and I ended up working there... At that time, I was working in the evening and at night, maybe sometimes till four o'clock in the morning. And then, you know, you're with all the waiters at the end of the night. And sometimes we'd go down to the Howard Johnson's that was open all night or whatever and watch the freaks and whores that were down there. It was really fun. Anyway, we had a lot of fun there. And then sometimes when Jamie, my son, got a little bit older and had to go to school, I started working during the day and I would work coming in at like 6:30 or 7 o'clock in the morning and he would come with me because it was too early for school. The waiters would give him breakfast. He had great breakfast of pancakes and anything he wanted. And then he would walk up to Coventry School and go to school. So that worked out very, very well. And it was it was just a cool job. I knew everybody in the neighborhood and talked to everybody, and I could do crossword puzzles while I was at work. One time, the funniest thing that I ever did there was probably, I helped my now husband translate a libretto, an opera libretto. [Laughs] It was a French one. And so he said, here, you can translate this while you're sitting there because it's not busy. So I was translating this libretto and I thought, wow, I wonder how many other cashiers here have ever done this, you know! [Laughs] But it was really, really fun. You just got to know everybody. Al Roker used to come in and buy Three Musketeer bars. I never actually got to sell him one. I had seen him in there buying them, but at the time that he would come in somehow was either always on a break or that wasn't my shift or something. But we spent most of our free time, honestly, that was like our second living room. We would go in there... Irv is now dead, so we can freely admit lots of free food was had there. And when I came back from Italy, I had lived in Italy for a couple of years--'82 through '84--I came back and I didn't have a penny to my name and we literally would have starved if we had not been able to get some free food from Irv's before I was finally able to find work. And in fact, the way I found work was that Irv fired somebody and hired me back. And that was another whole thing that I didn't like. I didn't enjoy somebody else getting fired so I could have work, but I didn't find out about that until later on. Anyway, it was a place that was like a second home. And my husband and I still talk about this. It's like we wish that it were still there. We would drive over from the West Side, where we now live because it's cheaper, to come there were it's still open. It was just that much fun.
Michael Rotman [00:13:21] When did it close?
Karen Bauman [00:13:24] Well, let's see, Earth died. His funeral was right around the time that I had back surgery. Okay, when was this? I was living in Lancashire and I had been working at the Cleveland Play House for some time. Before that, I hadn't stayed working at Irv's for, I mean, you can't be a cashier at Irv's forever.
Michael Rotman [00:13:45] Right.
Karen Bauman [00:13:47] Much as you might like to. There was more money in other things. I think it was... Okay, I was living on, I'm sure that was '88, '89, '90... It was probably around '90ish.
Michael Rotman [00:14:04] In the early 1990s.
Karen Bauman [00:14:04] 1990. Yeah, I remember that he died, and on the way back from the hospital where I had gone with an emergency back thing that later turned out to have to be surgery, my husband went into a drug store, not one around this particular area and he ran into Arlen Galko, Irv's son, one of his three sons, whom I all know. And I mean, I know all of them. And I have actually one of them, at least as my Facebook friend still. And he said, well, I, he came back to the car and said guess what? Arlen just came from Irv's funeral. So he had died right then. I mean, he had had some problems. He tried to lose weight. He was very heavy. And he had gone on one of those weird diets where they feed you liquids only. It was in the hospital now and all that, and he managed to lose quite a bit of weight, but that's no way to to do it. Irv was a very interesting character. He and his mobbed up friends who to play cards down the basement. The little mobsters from down the hill, that's another whole story.
Michael Rotman [00:15:07] So, let me ask because we're almost at fifteen minutes here.
Karen Bauman [00:15:10] I'm sorry. I... [Laughs].
Michael Rotman [00:15:11] No, it's great. I just wish we had the full hour to talk. So you say you live on the West Side now. How does it feel to come back to Coventry? Do you come here a lot?
Karen Bauman [00:15:20] Well, we love it. My brother and his wife live right over there near Coventry School, off of... at Washington and East Overlook. And my niece and nephew went to Coventry and Heights and so on, and they now have even graduated college. I can't believe it. But there, you know, my brother is still over there. I just came from there right now. So we're here from time to time and we come back to go to Tommy's. I mean, specifically, it's a it's a destination restaurant. And my daughter, one of them worked at Tommy. She was a shake slut, as she calls it. She said, I don't know if I want that printed anywhere, but hell, what the hell, you know. [Laughs] She was one of the beverage girls behind the counter when she was a teenager. And my kids have... well, I think maybe my son never worked on Coventry. But Sarah, that one, the shake slut, she worked at Tommy's, she worked at Coventry Optical, she worked at an ice cream store which was up in CoventrYard opposite the old Arabica before it burned. You know, we moved up here, right around the time that CoventrYard had a horrid fire. It was really bad.
Michael Rotman [00:16:31] You know, other people mentioned that. Do you remember? [crossword]
Karen Bauman [00:16:32] Oh, I remember it very much because my oldest daughter, who was around 12ish at the time, and her friend Lisa Cargyle, would go up there all the time and they'd come back with all of this loot. And I'm like, where'd you get four boxes of Birkenstocks? What the hell is this? And she's like, Mom, we're not stealing it. It's... There was a fire. It's just sitting there. Nobody wants it. And the boxes would be sort of messed up and they might have water damage or smoke damage or whatever. But a lot of the goods were perfectly good. I don't know if we were doing anything illegal. They, you know, they were selling them to their friends, giving them to their friends. They got a ton of jewelry out of some of the places. I mean, we used to always... We had shopped, you know, a lot in CoventrYard. There were cool shops there that you could afford in those days, even those of us who were pretty poor. And she came back with just tons of crap from there. And that was really... And I kept... I was worried about her being in the ruins of a burnt-out building. I thought this was not too great. She's like, Mom, we don't do anything. We don't go any place that's not safe. We're not idiots, you know. And I had to agree that was the case, but still, you know, I was discouraging this kind of behavior. But before I totally discouraged it, they managed to come away with quite a bit of stuff, which was, you know, it was a lot of fun.
Michael Rotman [00:18:00] So is there anything else, any other stories or any other memories that we haven't covered?
Karen Bauman [00:18:04] Oh, God, it's you know, there's so many it's hard. And I remember the little mobster who dropped his pants in front of me, in front of the cash register. He had he had polka dot boxers on underneath. I guess he thought that was quite funny. Later on, I saw his face in the paper and a row of the guys from down the hill who had just been arrested. So they were very low-level folk, I'm sure. But they used to come in there all the time and were very unpleasant folk in general. I mean, not so unpleasant to me personally, except extremely sexist and just generally of an ilk that I didn't enjoy. But they, you know, they hung out with Irv down in the basement and dropping drawers. I didn't go for that. I can remember there was a bad story that there were rapes that are were occurring in the neighborhood and the police weren't telling people about it. And a couple of the women in the area, one of... a friend of mine had it happened to her. Somebody broke in her back door and she was going around telling everybody. They were sending papers around saying, look, the cops don't want people to know this. They don't want to discourage tourists from coming. But there have been like three women or four women, women raped in this area, and my neighbor right next door to me, when I lived on Hampshire in '76, had a big sign on his back window, which really gave me a turn because I had just moved to that area. I mean, I knew about it, but I, you know, you don't know about it until you live there. He had a big sign on his back window of his door that said something... "Any motherfucker that tries to mess with me or open this door gets his motherfucking head blown off." And I thought, oh, that's nice. You know, is this what we need to put on our doors here? Well, I... Later I got to know him, and he said that his son or daughter in law, one of the two, had been grabbed in a parking lot and taken at gunpoint and made to come back to the apartment where he was sleeping and told if he wakes up, you know, we're killing him. So you better pray that he doesn't wake up, your dad or your father in law, whatever, and rob the place. So he was understandably really, really upset. So there were, you know, there were a number of things. Oh, oh, I don't have time to tell you about the transvestites! Oh, I had a very good friend. I really wish I knew where she was, Lola, who used to come in Irv's all the time, and she taught me how to put keys, you know, hold your keys through your hand like this as a weapon because we would be coming home at four o'clock in the morning and I had to walk all the way down the block to get to my apartment. Sometimes I had somebody who would walk with me. There was Yassine with the turban. Has anybody talked about him yet?
Michael Rotman [00:20:46] No.
Karen Bauman [00:20:47] I'd love to know where he is.
Michael Rotman [00:20:49] He's a neighbor?
Karen Bauman [00:20:49] He was a neighborhood guy. He had... he wore like Arab clothing. He was an African American guy who was actually born in Massachusetts, Connecticut, someplace like that, and very tall and slender, very soft-spoken and kind who was into numerology. And he had this long bamboo flute that he played, and he had his turban, and he offered to walk me home one night when there wasn't anybody walking me home and it was like four o'clock in the morning and I didn't know him from anybody. Somebody said, no, Yassine is all right. He's all right. So I... That's how I got to know him because he offered to walk me home. But Lola and her friend, really I got to know Lola awfully well. Lola actually had been a guy, a Puerto Rican guy who had a son in New York, but his wife, his ex-wife wouldn't let him see the boy because he was now being a girl. And he used to come in the restroom, ladies room of course, you know, and you really couldn't tell except his feet were kind of big. I mean, you wouldn't know. I mean, I didn't mind having him in there. What does he care? I mean, I wouldn't like to see him go in the men's room, but some people, you know, were bothered by the fact that he used the ladies room, but I never objected to that. I don't know. There were just so many people there. Ernie Krivda did a crossword puzzle with him once, you know, the musician. I think he's very well known, perhaps saxophone player, something of that nature? Really charming smile. When he smiles, it's just like the sun coming out. Curly hair. Lovely guy, and I didn't really know who the hell he was at all. But on a break, one time he was sitting at the bar, the counter, you know, and so I was sitting there and we did a crossword puzzle together, I thought, oh he's a nice fellow. And then later on, somebody said, yeah, he's really famous. It's like you're a fool, you know, like don't you know? [Laughs] I don't know who he is, but, you know, everybody... It was just so much fun. You have no idea.
Michael Rotman [00:22:48] Well...
Karen Bauman [00:22:48] I mean, maybe you have some idea...
Michael Rotman [00:22:50] No, I really don't.
Karen Bauman [00:22:51] ... because you've talked to all these people! [Laughs]
Michael Rotman [00:22:53] I wish I lived back when you guys were living here.
Karen Bauman [00:22:55] It was so fun to be young in those days, and I wasn't even that young. I was, you know, in my 30s, my 40s, and my 50s later on. But when I was working at Irv's, I was in my 30s. That's where I met my current husband. He was a grad student at the Institute of Music. I hired him in fact. I hired him to work in the kitchen. When he came in and applied for a job, I saw his briefcase in his hand and I thought, Institute of Music briefcase? We'll hire this one. [Laughs] And he later became a pizza maker. And so we spent a lot of time right across the aisle from each other.
Michael Rotman [00:23:33] Well, thank you for sharing all these stories. I really, I really appreciate it.
Karen Bauman [00:23:38] Oh, you're so welcome. It's so much fun to have somebody to tell this to. I mean, because we talk about it among ourselves, but like, we all know everything anyway. So what's the point? All we can sit around and say, "Oh, I wish Irv's was open." "Yeah, I know."
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"Karen Bauman Interview, 18 June 2011" (2011). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 911062.