Peter Kole discusses the history of the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood focusing mainly on his childhood and the sense of community that formed in these neighborhood. Kole also discusses business and industry, his own experiences included, and how the neighborhood has changed. Finally, Kole discusses his altruism in Albania and how the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood has been revitalized.
Kole, Peter C. (interviewee)
Miller, Emily (interviewer)
Emily Miller [00:00:01] We will go ahead and press record and I will ask you to state your name and your background. So today is August 8th. This is Emily Miller here.
James Calder [00:00:06] I think it's August 9th.
Peter Kole [00:00:06] Nine. Ninth.
Emily Miller [00:00:10] Oh, it's ninth. Thank you! August 9th, 2008. And we are here at Detroit Shoreway. And could you please state your name?
Peter Kole [00:00:17] Peter Kole.K.O.L.E
Emily Miller [00:00:19] Thank you. And could you tell us a little bit about your birthplace? Are you from the area?
Peter Kole [00:00:25] No.
Emily Miller [00:00:27] No?
Peter Kole [00:00:27] I was born in Europe.
Emily Miller [00:00:27] All right.
Peter Kole [00:00:28] I was born in Pogradec, Albania.
Emily Miller [00:00:34] Alright, and what brought you here?
Peter Kole [00:00:35] My dad, my mom. Came here August 4th, 1938. Came on. I came on a boat called Acontesaboy. Came here, my mom, my uncle, at that time. This particular part of the city was primarily inhabited around I'm talking about 65th Street to about 45th Street. You talk about Cass, Herman, Tillman, and parts of Detroit were primarily Romanian and Albanians, that lived here. And they came here mostly during the '20s and the '30s when we had the huge migration of Albanian Muslims came here in the '20s. My dad came here 1913. My grandfather came here 1896. Dad went back to Europe, married my mother. Born in Europe, came here a year and a half later after I was born, and we lived on Herman Avenue above a barbershop: [inaudible]. It's owned by a Romanian and at that time we lived we were runners. Lived there for several years and then we moved to 5610 Tillman Avenue. Tillman Avenue is a neighborhood consisted mostly of Romanians, Albanians, Appalachians, and some Italians. And.A little bit of everything. Went to Waverly on West 58th Street. At that time it was the old Waverly School and that was located just south of Bridge Avenue. And went, was there. Went to West High. From West High, went to West Tech. And there I graduated, graduated from West Tech. Went to the university, graduated. Got a degree in accounting finance and then went to the army. I started working. By the early years, growing up here during the primarily during the Second World War was an interesting era because you had the Second World War. I can honestly tell you that people have asked me in the past, what's the difference between now and what it was before? We're more tolerant now as a city and persons living here. If you talked in a foreign language, the people who would have been living there for a number of years, would tell you, quiet, tell you to shut up and speak English. I can tell you, I was we were victims of those kind of comments. In those days, not many people owned automobiles. People in this area here stick to this street and in general was a central area for shopping. You did your banking. You did your doctors in this particular building here. I had my dentist, my eye doctor, and across the street above Matt Zone's office was our doctor. So everything was all in walking distances. If you went downtown, you got on a streetcar. You were downtown within about 10 minutes. So, there was really no need for automobiles. So people didn't travel much. It was. It was, it was people who traveled on vacations, a major event. Well, people just didn't take vacations. They stayed home, and they had the proximity to the lake and those who were fishermen or they went to the park. I even have a picture of my, sitting in my mom's lap in my office. You'll see a Model A Ford behind me. Only one car on the Shoreway. So at that time, it was a where everybody is an income level we're all about the same. There were no rich people, poor people in this area here. Rich people lived in, off of Edgewater. They lived off of Lake Avenue or lived in Rocky River. At least we thought they did. But growing up in that particular area, I can remember horse-drawn milk wagons. I could remember the paper and rags guys. And they had all these sets, I never understood, as a little kid, because I was ten years when we moved out of the neighborhood. But they always said paper and rags. I never understood it. Later on, someone said, you know, he said paper and rags. And you had your vegetables and fruit trucks used to come into the community and park in the middle of the street. And they were like U.P.S. vans, but the sides cut out so you could walk through and pick out your vegetables and fruits or you could walk outside and it and the stacks of food on a 45-degree angle and they all had a scale and that cigar box and that's how business was done. Or you went to Kroger's. And Kroger is located right next to the old Bank's Furniture, up on 54th where the Thai restaurant's at. Adjacent to it and those couple of buildings there. You had Kroger's. Across the street, you had the Chevrolet. I can't remember the name of the Chevrolet dealer. I don't know Brown Chevrolet I am picking a guess. I don't know if you remember on West 58th Street, you had the, on Detroit, where there's a like coffee shop now. That was a drugstore. It seemed like now you can drive through when you see drugstore on every corner. But I am going to tell you that's how it was back then. But they were individual stores owned by the pharmacies. And you never. I shouldn't say never. The most time we had a problem, you didn't go to the doctor. You went to the pharmacist. He's the person who prescribed the medicine, told you what he had to get. And you didn't have the stuff you had now. You couldn't buy a hammer in those days. You may have, you may be able to find some candy. You usually had a drugstore, a soda counter, and newspapers, cigarettes, and of course the pharmacy. It wasn't like it was. Ordinarily, these were all very small stores, excuse me. And they're owned by one or two individuals. And there were a lot of bars around. The neighborhood bars because you had to remember in those days there was no TV. And there were two. You had the Second World War. So as far as social gatherings, they went to the bars. And they were neighborhood bars. They were not rowdy-type things. They're not bikers and that sort of stuff. Everybody knew everybody. And you also had a sense of security within the community. You didn't have to concern yourself with, with the police. Things were done like as they call it now street justice. Something did something pretty bad you want to beat the hell out of them. That's how it's done. If you had a sort of problem. If someone did something, you went over and talked to a particular person and you ended up beating the hell out of each other. It was a very physical time growing up and particularly for me. And we spent as kids, we spent a lot of time down here on Herman Avenue, the playground. That was a big area. And the other thing and in the winter months, you went to the YMCA on West 30th and Franklin. So those are the things that sort of things you went to. And of course, you came here on Saturday afternoons for the matinees and the Capitol Theater. And they had, they had Saturday nights they used to have these dishes. They had these contests, you know, spin about things where they had, you know, banco, they had little cards, and you could win things. I can't remember how they did that. But they gave prizes out and that was a big draw. I think they had them on Wednesdays and Saturday nights. And right adjacent to the camp. Clearly, I can remember those places sold popcorn and on the corner of West 65th, the northeast corner, it was a shoe store. They had dry goods and I will explain what dry goods means. You could buy anything you want in there: clothes. You don't necessarily have to go downtown. Downtown you went to buy a suit. If you wanted to buy a pair of slack Levi's, or a pair of socks, underwear you went there. And it was a shoe store around a corner. And that serviced the community around here. And this is 65th Street here was a very thriving community. I mean, it was 24 hours a day of seeing your always a lot of actions. And then you had all the Italian kids that lived around here. They used to hang out here on 65th. They had gangs then. They had these. And right in front of this drug, on a corner here was a drug store and all the kids were hanging out there and they're all primarily Italians. And from 65th Street over to Mount Carmel, 73 to 74th was primarily Italians. And you could still tell where the Italians lived at. They, most of them didn't have lawns, they had concrete. Everything is concrete. You would drive by, it was a joke. You went by there. You knew where the Italians lived. There was no front yards, concrete driveways, concrete lawns. And they all had a lot of brickwork.
Emily Miller [00:09:56] Can I ask you about the ethnic community that you grew up in? Did you have any family from Albania? I mean did you?
Peter Kole [00:09:58] No.
Emily Miller [00:09:58] What draw.
Peter Kole [00:10:02] No. Most my family. My dad came here 1930, 13. He came here with his twin brother, his younger brother, his older brother, and three first cousins. Now, it wasn't economic issues that drove them here. It was problems. And we were occupied for a 450 years by the Ottomans. And they used the Albanias as cannon fodder. They were the first line of troops, and my grandparents were very much concerned about them being drafted because remember during that time Turkey and Germany were in a, in a fight. They were allies, and they are fighting Great Britain, France, and the United States. So what they did, you were 14, 13, 14 years old you were in the Army. And those days, the army wasn't two or three years. You were there for life. I could tell you stories about that, too. But it wasn't economics that drove, my dad did not come here and his brother the traditional way. They went the back door through Macedonia, through Romania, and they ended up in Marseille, France. Marseille, France, they took a boat and they ended up in Quebec, France, in Quebec. Can, Quebec, Canada ended up in Duluth, Minnesota, and they migrated to Red Wing, Minnesota, and they worked in Red Wing Shoes. They're still there. Back in 1977. My dad, I heard all these stories about my dad growing up as a kid he was only 15 years old, and he was telling me his experiences. So we went there. Back and he showed me where he lived at. And he would say, well, the Ukrainians lived in this house. All the Polish guys lived here. All the Irish guys lived here. All the Swedes lived here. And we got to talking. And he says, you see that pond? He says that's where we used to take our baths. They didn't have running water in those days. There were pumps, took a bath you went into the pond we used soap. And that's how it was done. I said how did you get into town? He says we would hitchhike, and we would get in a farmer's hay wagons and we get into town. So, it wasn't economics at that time. They came here.
Emily Miller [00:12:21] What was the draw to Cleveland?
Peter Kole [00:12:22] Cleveland. Yeah. Now from Red Wing, Minnesota. And I didn't like tannery. My uncle lost all his hair and the guys would look and say, hey, you know this. They were treating them like crap. And so they ended up going to Chicago. Now, the city of Chicago is really a big magnet for that part of the country. If you've been out to Chicago. If you have been out west, civilization sort of stops at Chicago and everything out west, as you know, is rolling hills and country. Besides that they all worked in restaurants. They were busboys. My dad hated it. He never wanted to work in a kitchen. He always said he remembered when he came to Cleveland because they opened a GM plant at Coit Road a Fisher Body Coit Road at East 140th Street. That's what drove got him here to Cleveland. So at that time, was that they went, where the jobs and they just built this plant at Coit Road. So they came here and he was taught a skill. And he stayed there till he retired in 1963. And he taught them how to be a welder.
Emily Miller [00:13:33] So in this particular area on the West Side of Cleveland, you said there were Albanians, Romanians. What, what was the ethnic draw in those neighborhoods? Did you guys get along with each other? With Eastern Europeans?
Peter Kole [00:13:46] Yeah. It might. Well, it's something I had to say that came to mind, when these guys came over here, they didn't come here with a single language. They spoke several languages. My dad spoke Bulgarian. He spoke Macedonian and he spoke Romanian. His best friend was Jimmy Craciun's grandfather. Craciun Funeral Home. Yeah, his grandfather and my dad were best friends. They palled around together and they did a lot of stuff not necessarily here, you know. Over here, do you know where the Cleveland Public Theatre's at? At about maybe one or two buildings this way upstairs was a speakeasy. There was a lot of gambling going on up there. So those guys were single and you have to remember my dad was 50 years old. He didn't get married until he was almost 40. So he had a 25-year range where that he was having a good time. Matter of fact, I had a curiosity once. I got it. I went to Public Information to see what kind of background my dad had and I found that he was arrested in Chicago. He was in a speakeasy and he got out cathouse whatever you want to call it he got caught. And in those days, he had to pay a hundred dollar fine. Now I pulled the records out of [inaudible] meet my dad. He was just a quiet, easygoing guy. And then you hear these stories from my other relatives. But that was a wild guy, but that's neither here. But they got along very well. The Italian language, Romanian language, and the Spanish language are very similar. I take the word Romanian. What's it made of? R. O. M. A. N. The Romans. They were once upon a time a Roman outpost. Now the Albanians were a direct descendant of the Illyrians. We go back a hundred thousand years. We're the oldest of the European countries, and we originally came from the Caspian Sea area. And we have our own language, we didn't speak. We don't, we're nothing similar to the Greeks, or Macedonians, or the Serbians, or the Romanians, or the Bulgarians. We're unique. But the Italians, the Spanish, and Romanians all share similar words. So that was one of the reasons they came to this particular area. The Romanians here in Cleveland has the largest Romanian community in the United States. The Albanian's largest community is in Boston. They're mostly in the New England states. Now, why there? That's where they got off the boat. My dad, like I said, he went a different route. They came and that's how they ended up coming through Wisconsin and Minnesota. They had relatives, my one first cousin, Louie stayed in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and he eventually became a state senator. At. My other cousin, he ended up on a. Well, in those days they had to call, they were dry cleaners. They lived right across the street. I remembers there was an Albanian guy they had across the street. They were dry cleaners. They used to block hats. If you look back in your movies, '30s and '40s, everybody wore hats. They all wore ties and everybody, you know, dressed, you know, in casual jeans. You work in jeans. Your acting like you're going on a geology field trip. Okay. So what you had is a lot of the Albanians, at that time, a lot of them were entrepreneurs like the Greeks, Greeks focus in our restaurants. So did a lot of the Albanians did, but they also focused in dry cleaning. They had their dry-cleaning, like I said, they had a shoeshine parlor across the street, blocked hats, and dry clean.
Emily Miller [00:17:40] Speaking about entrepreneurship, I hear that you are quite the self-made entrepreneur yourself. Can you talk a little bit about your, your business? And after, you know, you went to after you came back from being in the army.
Peter Kole [00:17:57] Yeah.
Emily Miller [00:17:59] And how you came back to this area and started?
Peter Kole [00:18:01] Well, eventually, I really, I wanted to get to California, but I. I had a military obligation reserves and I got this letter. I had to go to reserves. So that killed my chances going to California. And it was like I don't think so. I started off at Republic Steel in those days, worked in accounting, the cost accounting department, and worked at different places. I eventually became financial controller. And then in the late thirties. I mean, I should say in my late thirties. I had a couple of bad experiences in companies I work with. And I decided I'd never wanted to work for anybody again. I worked for a company where there was two brothers and a sister owned a company and they hated each other. And they fired my boss. I won't go into the whole story, but they fired my boss one day. All this all happened one day. The plant manager, the sales manager, the [quality control engineer manager,] the manufacture engineer, and night superintendent, Six guys. One day. Why? Because the one brother didn't like like him. Fortunately, I got along with them. I didn't have that problem. But I said, I'm never going to let this happen to me because the president, eventually, he was only like 52 and he died. Never had a bad experience in his whole life. The stress killed him. So, I started shopping around and I bought a company in Elyria. I had five people there. And. I got a phone call one day that's what I tell people. This is how it all started. And they were from General Motors. I made one part. I didn't have any relationship, no cousins, relatives, or did a lot of business with these guys I didn't even know them. I made one lousy part for them. They called me and they said, look, would you be interested in manufacturing seat frames? That's how it started. So I went to Chicago. They had a militant union. And I will tell you when you get in GM's way, you have to get the hell out of the way and they had what they call a factory manager. I'll tell you the whole story. I had a factory manager. And all the plants he had, I think he had eight plants reporting to him. And he was a no nonsense type of guy. Well, the unions of Chicago decided to take him on. So he decided to shut it down. So several thousand guys lost their jobs. Because some members of the union decide they were going to take on GM. You don't do things like that. GM, they have a hundred million dollar plant, they will walk away from it tomorrow. Doesn't matter to them. Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, they're all the same. They will not put up with that kind of stuff. So I was invited to go there and they had two other companies. Now remember, I only had a five man operation. So you're offering me this opportunity to get into the seat business. He says go get a building now. Think that's easy? It's not easy. I'll tell you the reason why. We had these large press type welding machines that took a lot of power. What happened in Lorain County is only a couple buildings that had that feature plus rail a shipping just at the time. I can't remember the name of it – it was Ohio Edison – wouldn't give me the time of day about putting power in the building I was interested in. C.E.I. bent over backwards. [inaudible] We ended up forty or fifty thousand dollars a month in power, a month. This went on for twenty years. Twenty-five years. These guys at Ohio Edison just weren't very bright. Consequently, I ended up at the Westinghouse building because of power. You had the GM plants in Cleveland, the Ford plants, you had the steel mills, you have maybe ten buildings in the entire county who have the power requirements.Westinghouse, that was their business. They made transformers. I got transformers all over the place. I got more power. I could brown out the whole area here. It's because, you know, with all the energy I have there. And that's what is the draw. So I came here and ended up eventually over 300 people in the one building and that we called plant one. Then we had plant two and three. Up the street and I had two more buildings that had my original company was there. So I took the original company in Elyria and moved to here. The seating business all came from Chicago. That's how it happened.
Emily Miller [00:23:14] And so when was the height of your business? I mean, I mean. How, at its height, how many people do you employ?
Peter Kole [00:23:23] Over 300 people. Yeah, we were around two shifts. We used to run three shifts and we got smarter how to run and make production. So we eliminated a third shift. But. Manufacturers seat frames. I'm out of that business now. I bought it from GM. I sold it back to them because they wanted me to make the seats for nothing. And I don't know if you're old enough, remember a fellow by the name of Ignacio Lopez came to GM in the '90s, came from Switzerland. He was Jack Smith's protege. Jack Smith was the chairman of the board. This guy, Lopez, was a little strange. He changed the entire culture of purchasing parts in the Gerald Motors Corporation. There's so many peculiarities. I mean, I could write a book on this. This guy was a wacko. He ended up stealing from GM. I don't know if you remember this, but he ended up taking 50, 60 boxes of confidential information, snuck it out. Flew it private plane to Volkswagen. They had a big lawsuit. They got GM. Volkswagen had to pay GM 500 million bucks. But in this business here, what he did. He disrupted the culture. Purchasing the relationship between buyer and vendor changed overnight. I would be able to do business with somebody on a handshake, a nod, or a wink. Couldn't do it anymore. And his process was changing a lot of, we'll call it senior guys who left. So they got their time to vacate. They left. So what they did? We had what I called the NBA guys come in. And these were the Ts and I guys. It was like what I would do all this stuff for you. Okay, then you got promoted. You came in and took her job, right? We had a relationship. I helped her in many, many ways. And he, you would say, so what? What are you doing for me now? So then a couple of years, another guy would come in, they used to call us the firemen. We would put out more fires for General Motors. They had supplier problems. They were sending me dyes and equipment without even bidding on it. He says run it. They had that much trust and confidence in what we're able to do. That's very hard to deal with. But when Lopez came in, things changed. And now all of a sudden, they want to know your pricing structure. How much do you pay for electricity, and how much you pay for toilet paper, how much you pay for steel, how much you're paying for direct labor, how much are you paying for insurance? You had to give them part of your P&L statement. And they said look, you are going to run these parts and I said no I'm not. So I said, I want out. So it came to a [inaudible], so I sold it off.
Emily Miller [00:26:28] Can you tell a little bit about, well you said the reason you came to this area.
Peter Kole [00:26:33] Power.
Emily Miller [00:26:33] Was power. What was the industry like? Or the broader kind of industrial area in Detroit Shoreway. I mean, like, what was it like when you came here? How has it changed?
Peter Kole [00:26:46] How did it change? Well, I got here during Jimmy Carter's administration and we were going through the, ever hear of the misery index? You know what that is?It's your combination unemployment interest rates. There was like 25, 26 percent. You had 10 to 12 percent unemployment. We're at five and five and we're six now. Back then, it was up to like about 12 percent. And you're paying 14, 15 percent in interest. Businesses were going out of business. A lot of places closed. It was a very, very difficult time for business people to be in business. A lot of empty buildings around town. Now, I will tell you a little something. The quality of unskilled labor in Lorain County is far superior to the unskilled quality, skilled, unskilled labor in the Cleveland area. The quality of skilled labor in Lorain County is inferior to the quality of skilled labor in Cuyahoga. It reversed.
Emily Miller [00:27:55] Why do you think that is?
Peter Kole [00:27:56] Why? It's mostly education. School system. I had to hire from Project Learn. Bring them into our plant, and teach people how to read and how to do math. I'm not talking about blacks, Hispanics. I'm talking about everybody.
Emily Miller [00:28:20] What other industry was in the, in the area at the time that you were in Westinghouse?
Peter Kole [00:28:27] There was a company here on, right next to the Parkview. They had welding. I can't remember if they were there for when I was a little kid back in the '30s and '40s. That would have been a long time. And they had labor problems. So you had at that time, in the late '70s, '80s. Companies were moving out of the area because of union concerns. Westinghouse moved out of this area to Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1979, because of labor. The welding. They made a tip, welding tips and other gages at this place. They went to the union and they said, look, we have to have this stay competitive with our foreign competitors. The union said. They sort of gave the union 30 days. I know a little history of this. The union, at the end of the 30 days, company went back and says, well, what are you going to do? Says we are still thinking about it. They says, well, you don't have to think anymore. We're moving. Wait a minute. Don't do this. Can we shut this off? I got to go to the bathroom.
Emily Miller [00:29:39] Well, sure.
Peter Kole [00:29:39] I got a problem.
Emily Miller [00:29:46] Are you ready?
Peter Kole [00:29:46] Yeah.
Emily Miller [00:29:46] To get started again? Alright. Did you want to, you were talking about.
Peter Kole [00:29:49] Industries.
James Calder [00:29:49] Yeah.
Peter Kole [00:29:51] Alright. Again, this area here was a thriving community. You had Eveready Battery. They had a lot of people working. You had America's Greetings Cards. They had their one division down here. You had a lot of small shops. They had Master Chrome still there. I remember them being at, being built and excavates right after the Second World War because I lived right behind it. So as a kid, seven or eight years old, you know, you're watching that sort of thing. You had the ore docks from my grandfather, my uncle were C & P Ore Docks. You had a lot of ethnic guys working the ore docks. And they lived in this community needs to walk across the Shoreway. Go back, by around how you get over to Wendy Park and Whiskey Island. That's how they got to work. Now, what else do you have? You had Nottingham Steel. They tore that down. That's over there, back where they put the new water plant. They're right on the lake here. And then, of course, you have American Shipbuilding right across the street from my plant and during the Second World War, they made sub chasers. You can see from my office the dry dock where it was. It's in the shape of a boat. It's all filled in now. So you had the ore docks, you had the steel company down there in the warehouse. And you had the small shops located from 25th Street on. And of course, on weekends, West Side Market, and that's when we used to take the streetcar and by 25th about 30th Street, it went underground. And you went under then the rat the RTA went underneath the Superior Bridge. But right there where Massimo Restaurant underneath there. I remember as a kid it was all white tile. Damp. It was always wet. There was water in that place. And on Saturdays, I hated the passion because I had to go to West Side Market with my mom. My dad would sleep in a lot of times he worked on Saturdays. And those days you had canvas bags, you seen those shopping bags? We had canvas. My mom always went with three. I had one. She had one for my left hand. She had one for her right hand. And then we had to have we put all the heavy stuff in between. So here we are, you know, taking a streetcar, getting to come down to do our grocery shopping. That's where you made all the bargains. That's where you bought our meat. That's where we bought our fresh fruit and our vegetables.
Emily Miller [00:32:34] What do you think makes the West Side, you know, different from other neighborhoods in Cleveland?
Peter Kole [00:32:42] Well, this particular area, you should go travel around the city, with the exception of the Broadway area, Slavic Village, everything was all self-contained. You had all these services and that's what was important to us. Yeah, it's again, the pharmacies. And most of them were run by ethnics. And you had your doctor here, your dentist, your eyeglasses and this whole building here was all professional buildings, your attorneys were here. Everybody was in this Gordon Square complex. And I remember downstairs a kid used to roller skate in a basement down here when you came in. And of course, the Capitol Theatre and in those days, I don't know what it's like ten, fifteen cents. But that's where mom sent you Saturday afternoon. You went there, gave you a dime, a nickel for popcorn. You're gone. So they didn't have to. They knew where you're at. But it was mostly in this day services. That was most important thing. You'd be able to and they'd have easy access. You didn't need a car. You didn't have to ask your mom or your dad or your mom had to ask your dad we got to drive. You need a car. You just walked.
James Calder [00:33:59] Oh, you can go ahead.
Emily Miller [00:34:03] As you grew older, did you still stay in contact with your kind of ethnic roots?
Peter Kole [00:34:07] No. No, I didn't. No. No, did not.
Emily Miller [00:34:11] Would you say that the neighborhood is still as close as it was?
Peter Kole [00:34:15] No, no. I did not. In my particular case, my sisters and my brothers. My parents were strong believers, we were Americans. See, the way I look at my life right now. Albania is my home. But America is my country. I would never fight for Albanians. I would fight for America as my flag. It's in my office right on my desk not the Albanian flag, the American flag. And, mom in particular felt very strongly about integrating into society. You know, I see these Arabs walking around here with all the headdress and all these Pakistanis wonder, crap, I get bent out of shape because we weren't that way. We were interested in integrating and becoming Americans. The old ways, as my mom and dad said, that's still in Europe. That's not here. We want to adapt and adjust and integrate with our with the American society. So I had no interest. It wasn't until 1990 in the Wall Street Journal, I saw an article they were allowing visas to go to Albania because it became a closed society. We had eleven, twelve hundred years. Under the Romans, we had two, three hundred years under the Crusaders, then you had 450 years under the Turks. And then Hoxha. Remember Hoxha? united the communist, who is from not far from where I was born. Who went to France. He was a smart guy. He was an educator. He embraced communism in France. So then he came back to Albania and he formed the Communist Party. So in 1945, when the Nazis and the Italians all left, he took over power. And from 1945 to 1985, he was a dictator then Ramiz Alia took over in 1985 till 1991. During that period of time, he made education a priority. So we had the highest literacy rate in Europe. The teachers were paid the highest, the doctors were paid the lowest. And it was very similar in Russia. Most of the doctors in those communist countries are women. The engineers are the highest and its educators and engineers are the highest-paid group in those societies. Then in 1964, he said to the world, we're an atheist country. He destroyed the churches, the synagogues, and the mosques. There was no religion. Now, 1990 and they wouldn't let anybody in and nobody out. They had a U.N. mission in New York. No consulate office in Washington, D.C., so I went there in 1990 with a group of persons up that I met from Worcester, Mass. So I went there and I had an opportunity to travel the whole country for about twenty-three days. So then I became a born-again Albanian.
Emily Miller [00:38:06] Is you, you married?
Peter Kole [00:38:07] Yeah.
Emily Miller [00:38:08] When were you married and is your wife Albanian?
Peter Kole [00:38:12] Pardon me?
Emily Miller [00:38:13] Is your wife Albanian?
Peter Kole [00:38:14] No. No. I wasn't into that stuff either. I was your talking a different type of guy. I didn't get into or go into that stuff. I don't believe in that stuff. My mom tried that nonsense on me, arranged marriages. I remember telling her, I said, you do that. I'm packing my bags you'll never see me again and that was enough. So I wasn't interested in that. And I just said, look, first of all I had an objective: graduate from college, get a job, have a good time, not get married till I'm 30. So I did all that. Had a good time. Got married, didn't have any money. I was 30. My wife to this day still complains about that. I had to borrow money from my mom to buy her an engagement ring. I spent it all. I was the party guy. I had a good time. You only go through life once. I have been married 41 years. Same lady. She's a teacher, Graduate of Miami.
Emily Miller [00:39:22] Now, do you still live in the area?
Peter Kole [00:39:25] No, I live in Westlake.
Emily Miller [00:39:26] Okay
James Calder [00:39:29] How have you seen this area change?
Peter Kole [00:39:31] Change?
James Calder [00:39:32] Yeah.
Peter Kole [00:39:32] Yeah, I see a lot of blacks. A lot of minorities. More than I ever saw before. At first, they were here because I saw them at, you know, St. John's. That was a draw. They were their, you know, aides. There was a hospital that ran into problems back in the early '90s and they decided to close it. I've seen too much things happening, then it became a hospice. Now, all of a sudden, we saw major changes. They started going from an ethnic neighborhood Appalachian and they started slowly going into black Hispanics. Growning up back in the '50s, they were primarily around 25th Street from the West Side Market by from Lorain and South, the around Clark Avenue, and there in that area there. And the blacks, of course, around the otherside of the river and you had a few blacks living by the West Side Market. There was, there's a some studio, some, I think, printing place here. Art's lithographs, you know what a printing place is? Make maybe calendars. But there was a few blacks. And then, of course, they lived in Linndale. Why in Linndale? Because they had a roundhouse. In New York Central, they had a roundhouse. And that's where the porters, you know, the people who worked in the service industry for the railroad lived in Linndale. So what you have seen now is a change. You see it? I see more and more blacks.
James Calder [00:41:06] How has that been since this was always an area of sort of ethnic diversity?
Peter Kole [00:41:14] Yeah.
James Calder [00:41:14] Was that something with, I guess, by the people moving in? Was that something that caused a stir in the neighborhood or?
Peter Kole [00:41:21] Well, this story started back in the '70s when busing came into play. I saw it happen. Remember you guys really didn't see this. It was white flight. Everybody went west to North Ridgefield. They went to Avon, Avon Lake, Sheffield, Sheffield Lake. Housing was cheap then. Most of those homes out there were converted cottages. A lot of them didn't even have drywall. They had struts and they were able to. You could buy it on the cheap. And you had a lot of people went south into Parma. My wife was teaching at Parma and she saw it. It was immediate. So then they start bussing. They had a huge influx of people from Cleveland.
James Calder [00:42:11] Can you talk about another thing from a lot of these interviews, I thought was people talk about bussing a lot, they also talked about the highways coming through and its effect on the neighborhood.
Peter Kole [00:42:20] It did. Yeah. Destroyed a lot of homes, a lot of tremendous amount of homes. And what it did, it broke up the young neighborhoods. When I was growing up as a kid, you all belonged to neighborhoods. We had street teams. We had street baseball teams, street football teams, street hockey teams, street everything. Yeah, you know, it ran around. And then when you played in the summer months there were various playgrounds. You played the different, you played the different playgrounds. In those days everybody was sports-minded. I didn't start smoking until I was 19 years old. That's another story of how I started. But. We always had that thing, you know, [if] smoking interfered, you went. That was a mantra I heard that since I was a little kid and only bad boys smoked. You know, a sports guys and athlete did not smoke cigarettes. Not everyone I think about drinking. Smoking was terrible. We didn't smoke and what you had in these neighborhoods. Everybody knew everybody. You knew these guys. I knew these guys here. Growing up here, all the Italian guys. I knew the Irish guys, they all lived down in the flats, the projects. Back when they built the project in 1937. They were the first public housing. It was all Irish. That whole area down there was Irish.
James Calder [00:43:53] Is that down, I guess, like, north of?
Peter Kole [00:43:56] Division Avenue's Center Street. Go back. By St. Malachi's
James Calder [00:44:02] Yeah, exactly. So if like you went straight down.
Peter Kole [00:44:04] Right down there.
James Calder [00:44:04] And passed Detroit.
Peter Kole [00:44:06] It's all Irish down there.
James Calder [00:44:11] Okay. Okay.
Peter Kole [00:44:12] So, you knew where everybody lived at. You knew where the Irish lived at. You knew where the Germans, the Swiss were primarily along went to Lincoln. They lived around West 14th Street. They lived over on 44th Street, Clark Avenue, that Denison area. The Sachsenheinm on 73rd. That was a popular place at weekends. Everybody knew everybody and everybody sort of knew what to do and how to behave?
James Calder [00:44:43] Was there interaction between the ethnic groups like did would you guys play baseball and that sort of thing?
Peter Kole [00:44:48] Oh, yeah. We played the Italians all the time, played the Irish. Sure. When I grew up, 90th Street. I lived on 91st Street with everybody. All kinds of guys there. I thought the whole world was Catholic. It wasn't until I got into the army, I realized the world, you know, all the guys that went to their last names are all Irish names. Now German names, and these guys were all Catholics. And I was, I'm now I am an Albanian Orthodox. But they all we all played with each other, you know, played.We used to play the 91st Street guys played the 89th Street all the time playing basketball. Why? Because a guy at 89th Street one of the father's had a whole big backyard were all cement. He had a basketball court and he had the windows all boarded up, so we could play basketball. So there a lot of attention was to keep everything within the community. Parents were very, I know, very helpful with their kids.
Emily Miller [00:45:40] So, like in comparison with the East Side and around you, University Circle were people did not want highways in. Why didn't this neighborhood fight like they did in the West Side?
Peter Kole [00:45:53] Who cared? I could find the West Side. I didn't even know where Cleveland Heights was at. It wasn't until 19 years old, I didn't even know it was here, where it's at. I knew the art museum and Severance through the field trips from school when we were little kids. I didn't know anything about Shaker Heights. Didn't know nothing about Cleveland Heights. Didn't know anything about University Heights. Didn't know Hunting Valley. I didn't know Waite Hill. I didn't know any of that stuff. It was not our concern. What did, does concern us what affected us and our neighborhood. That was the primary driver.
James Calder [00:46:27] Was there resistance to the highways coming in when?
Peter Kole [00:46:29] Well, it destroyed the neighborhoods.
James Calder [00:46:31] Well, when, like I guess before they came in and the people in neighborhoods heard these highways were coming in. Did they, did the people try to fight them?
Peter Kole [00:46:39] No, I didn't. I would never. It wouldn't. It wouldn't have worked. No, no. I. The only thing I do remember is Parma bought that thing. If you go off Denison Avenue and you pick up 71, there's a highway to nowhere. Pertruska would not allow that thing. Mayor Pertruska of Parma would not allow that into Parma. Why? Why? He didn't want the blacks coming in. He didn't want easy access to the blacks. And it stopped. It'll never go anywhere.
Emily Miller [00:47:19] Do you have, do you have any more questions?
James Calder [00:47:20] I don't have much more.
Emily Miller [00:47:24] Do you have any other particular stories that you want to get recorded or anything else you'd like to add?
Peter Kole [00:47:31] Well, I've seen the in the let's just say from the time I left this community, I see a revitalization because back in the I worked at Fisher Pools at 7301 Detroit as a kid. I was 13 years old and I worked there untill I graduated from high school. And you got to know a lot of people in the community. And, I saw back in the '60s because I didn't come here. I was, you know, once I left, I was gone. My army experiences and I lived in New York for awhile. I was just doing a lot of different things. And. There was a period, around 1960, we had a severe recession. Really bad. The stuff that happened. If you forward three or four years ago and nothing, even the one in 1980, '81, or '82, it was nothing compared to '60. I mean, everybody was very depressed. A lot of people lost their jobs and industries and big industries like the steel mills were shutting down. Lorain County was a basket case. And I saw the deterioration. This community boarded up. Buildings being torn down. I saw a lot of crap going on. At Franklin, was the stable force. Franklin Boulevard was always had a lot of stability. I saw things happen here. A lot of mom and pop stores start disappearing. Now with this Detroit Shoreway. It was a shot in the arm, and most of the guys like Jeff Ramsey. He's a local kid. That were concerned. You had guys like Ray Pianka. He went to West High. My general manager went to West High, Gary Ash. So we have, then I went to West High. So you have. Say it concerns about the community. I have taken on a responsibility. If I see any crap from Detroit, I'm talking about tires, mattresses. When I'm driving down, coming to work in the morning, I come down 58th Street, I see any crap on her. I get on the cell phone, I call a guy up. This cannot pick that crap up. I pick up all the crap in the park and across the Parkview. The city cuts your grass, but they don't pick up any other stuff. They come around Fourth of July, Labor Day, the holidays they cut the grass. We go out there. So I take care of her because when I was growing up, all these people here in these stores they're out there cleaning the streets. They didn't depend on the city to clean the streets. They took care of the street. They took care of the sidewalks. And they helped each other as neighbors. You needed a shovel. Come on over. I'll give you my shovel. That's how it was done, but everybody took care. They're part of the city. So I've taken on my responsibility. I take care of 58th Street. Now, if I see graffiti Matt Zone knows it the next day. And if he doesn't, hasn't anybody over there within the week I have my guys go out there, especially that bridge over on 45th Street. Yeah. Well. Yeah. 45th Street. See all this [inaudible]? The city didn't do that. My guys did it. So I have a concern. Who? One, I grew up in an environment, but two I'm protecting the interests. My interests in the building. I'm not letting some kid come out with a spray can and start screwing things up. I don't want it to be a rundown community because you know the story he doesn't know. I don't care. He doesn't care. You spread graffiti. It's gone the next day. He's not coming back. He knows it's not going to last long. So I take an active part in my area down there. Now if I see some stupid, I call Matt Zone up. I call up Ray Pianka and I called up when he was councilman. What was the other guy's name that was before the councilman was Tim Molina, excuse me. I can't think of the other first guy we had. They all know me. I'm sure of it, quiet community activist without any fanfare. I'm a, I'm a background type of guy.
Emily Miller [00:52:19] Sounds like we need more people like you.
Peter Kole [00:52:21] Yeah. Well, it's alright. But I'm also the honorary consul general for the state. For Albania for the state of Ohio. Why did I get that? We are talking about St. John's when they closed down. Pianka, called me says you want the hospital? Sister Coletta. From Catholic, what do they call it? Charities. Call me. They had a 250 Bed Hospital. I took everything. The sinks, the toilets, all the gurneys, the beds, all the surgical stuff sent it all here. When they closed the Cleveland Public Library, where do you think all that stuff went to? It went to Albania. Had the largest open stack library in Europe. Hired a woman in Dallas, Texas flew her to Albania. And she worked for the... retired from the federal government. She worked in small rural communities developing libraries, hired her. She was of Albanian descent. Got lucky. She trained about 30 kids to be librarians. So we have an open stack library tool now. But. I did a lot of humanitarian stuff. I'm probably one of the few guys that you'll ever meet can get on the phone and call the president of a country. You know, they will take my call. I know the prime minister too.
Emily Miller [00:53:55] Now, you got involved after, after you went there?
Peter Kole [00:53:59] 1990.
Emily Miller [00:54:00] In 1990.
Peter Kole [00:54:00] Yeah, I saw communism. So anybody anything socialism and communists works is crazy. Just you don't just go to there and do a walk-through. It's like we call a dog and pony show at our place. When we come in, we have bedroom out-of-town customers. We do a dog and pony. We turn on all the lights, you know, and sweep the floor and you'll be all set? Okay. But you when you're there, and you get to know people and you have relatives here to tell you the truth. And you saw a communist coming in it's like organized crime. It's another way, it's, it's a euphemism for like the mafia. The way these guys slipped. Take Shaker Heights and take North South Park and put a picket fence all around it and have one way to go in and one way to go out. And have a group of Army soldiers patrolling your area. That's how they lived. They lived, they lived better than the Romans did in these homes. And then you went on the Adriatic and you saw the villas. These guys had a good thing going. But what happened is they made the common guy suffer. He became three and a half million slaves. So when I saw that happen, then I got very upset about it. So I came back and started doing things on a one-on-one level. And then some of the guys that I knew from. I befriended a [inaudible] formed a group. So for about five years, I became part of it. So we ended up becoming a building a bridge of hope. Because you could not send any money or any goods to Albania in fear of the communists the government rank and file guys would steal it. That's what was happening. So we ended up setting up a distribution system in the country. And we had all the contacts. I made a mailing list up of about fifty thousand Albanians throughout the United States. And we contacted them and I took care of everything from Jamestown, New York all the way up to California to New Orleans. And we said, send your package to us. And then we color-coded the cities and what we did. Sent them here by account of county carrier by container and went to Greece. Greece and land into the capital city and I went and visited the president, they were a friend of mine. That guy I got to know on my tour. I should say. He made friends with me and we developed a relationship. Then. Well, no. He was also at that time, he was a deputy minister of commerce. And he embraced me at that time. They were good friends. So I got a chance to meet with the president and I said I needed a warehouse. He gave me a warehouse. So we ended up having to pay a guy wages. We hired trucks. And we set up a distribution system. So for five years, we did that so all the Albanians in the United States could then, if you are comfortable, as we sell. We could sell some of our standard boxes, by 28 inches by 14, about 7 inches deep for 25 bucks. We didn't care about or concern ourselves with weight. Size was our main concern. And for 25 bucks, it got there. So when it got to our warehouse, we had it color-coded and everything was all greens went to the city, the yellows here, and the blues went here. Now we sent telegrams to the people, and they had their IDs and they can pick up their box. So we did that for five years. And you had this period of time, this void where mass confusion you go from communism to democracy. There's chaos. Believe me, everything breaks down. No one cares. There's total indifference. It was before it was that way too. It was indifference. But now we had chaos. Everybody's worried about where they are going to get their pensions, how they're going to get paid, how, what, where are they going to get their shopping because we were probably one of the few countries in the world we're self-contained. Hoxha would not do business with the outside world. They couldn't do it themselves, they wouldn't do it at all. And they let the people starve. I met women, relatives, they only had one dress, one dress and men had one pair of slacks. And they'd have women knit. They had.They all dressed the same. They were all because that's how it was. So in that period of time. Well, I went beyond that. I just kept on going. They grew up, it was a pro what would you call it? Ad hoc type of deal. So it was good for about five years. And after that, it just sort of a thing. So I just kept on going. Now, I've been collecting law books because I am working with the Supreme Court. And we get all these books now ready for shipment, so they had a complete law library. I've met a ton of people, I will tell you, that's in my life what I've learned in the last 19 years, there are an awful lot of altruistic people in the country, but no one would ever kid you about that. When... They're there. And I know a lot of nice guys met. That's too men and women, I want you to understand that. A lot of nice people.
Emily Miller [00:59:42] That's great.
James Calder [00:59:42] Excellent.
Emily Miller [00:59:42] Do you plan on ever going back to Albania?
Peter Kole [00:59:44] I have gone back since then I've been back six times.
Emily Miller [00:59:48] Great!
Peter Kole [00:59:48] Oh, yeah. I go back. But it's hard. It's, it's a hardship.
Emily Miller [00:59:52] Oh, yeah.
Peter Kole [00:59:53] I'm going to tell you the reason why. Everybody wants something. Everybody wants something. They said, oh, when I was there, when I, except this last time I didn't have it. I had to hire a bodyguard.
Emily Miller [01:00:03] I know.
Peter Kole [01:00:06] I had a bodyguard with me all the time.
Emily Miller [01:00:09] Shows you how desperate some people were.
Peter Kole [01:00:12] Yeah, desperate. Then also they were taking the American business guys. Some of these cuckoo guys are holding them for ransom. So I had a bodyguard. The last time, I didn't need one.
Emily Miller [01:00:24] Wow.
Peter Kole [01:00:25] Well, I did half, half. I should have said, part of my town I did. I stayed pretty much stay in the hotel because I went there. We had a convention. A Albanian American national organization had their convention there. So pretty much in the hotel. And I was interviewed for TV. I was with the ambassador to the U.N., not to the U.N. He and I are friends, and his wife, and some other people that I know. And I went back to my community because I rebuilt a school. Albanian. Why don't you write this down? Albanian2000.com. You are going to get an education. Albanian2000.com. You'll see everything I've done. It's my legacy.
James Calder [01:01:18] I saw that. Yeah.
Emily Miller [01:01:19] Very cool.
James Calder [01:01:23] It's very cool.
Emily Miller [01:01:24] Thank you.
James Calder [01:01:24] Well, we're running up on about an hour or so. I assume we have other people coming.
Peter Kole [01:01:28] Okay.
James Calder [01:01:30] Soon. But that was perfect. Is there anything else you really want to talk about we didn't get to?
Peter Kole [01:01:36] I'm glad Detroit Shoreway is here. I'm going to tell you that right now, because if it wasn't for them this place would be a, it would be like 55th Street over on St. Clarence Superior being boarded up and nothing being done. So the shot in the arm and you have guys like Jeff and everybody else including your secret group here. I'm glad you're here.
James Calder [01:01:58] Well, thank you.
Peter Kole [01:02:01] Because you've gained stability. I mean, you care. That's important. And I'm not, I can't speak for Tremont I can't speak for the Slavic Village. I can't speak for the others because I'm not involved in that stuff. That's their concern. I have a selfish concern. This is my community here and I'm glad of what I see. Do I have concerns? I'm not too crazy about the rental property and that's one thing that has disturbed me. The easy access to a lot of people that have vacated and moved out or I don't know who owns a lot of these properties. And of course, they've renovated a lot of these buildings, but I just have a hang-up on rental property because when you have rental property that means you have deterioration. You have indifference. And I'd like to see more property owners. So we're pioneers saying whoever else National City Bank and I know they got they get guys all got caught up in all this nonsense with these low-cost interest. I should say, variable interest rates. These guys were getting them on the cheap. That has disturbed me. I liked them myself. I'm not just used to seeing a lot of yuppies come in here. I just like to see everything stabilized. You know, they can build all these things over here, this is nice over here. I'm glad. You know, that everybody. That was a contaminated area, if it wasn't for Kucinich. I had to I don't like him personally, but he did take care of that. He made that thing work, but he had to threaten them. Right?
James Calder [01:03:38] Oh, that's a whole other story.
Peter Kole [01:03:41] That's another story, okay.
James Calder [01:03:44] Excellent. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story. And, and, you know, it's all part of it. So.
Emily Miller [01:03:50] Yeah, this has been a great interview.
James Calder [01:03:51] Yeah.
Emily Miller [01:03:51] Thank you.
James Calder [01:03:51] It's excellent.
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"Peter C. Kole interview, 09 August 2008" (2008). Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection. Interview 955026_999070.