Frank Murphy describes changes in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood.


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Murphy, Frank (interviewee)


Horn, Phil (interviewer)


Detroit Shoreway



Document Type

Oral History


84 minutes


Transcription sponsored by Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization

Philip Horn [00:00:07] Good day. This is February 9th, 2006. We're considering the Gordon Square Arcade and the St. Colman's Roman Catholic School as a part of our study of the Detroit Shoreway area. I am Philip Horn, a CSU student who had a hobby of visiting historic places, churches, and cathedrals in England while in the U.S. Air Force. In cooperation with Cleveland State University, we are privileged to have with us Frank Murphy, who is a resident and grew up here in this area and attended both St. Colman's School and St. Ignatius High School. He is here to tell us something about the Arcade and St. Colman's. Our first question that we're interested in, because many of us may not know what Gordon Square Arcade... Can you tell us something about it?

Frank Murphy [00:01:11] Well, it's located on the corner of West 65th and Detroit. It's a three-story building with a developed basement. When I was a youth it held a lot of businesses. There was the, you know, a men's clothing store, a barber shop, a grocery store. Any number of things. You know, a dime store. I'm trying to think of some, and a restaurant. So that there is... And then, of course, in conjunction with the theater, which is part of the building, the Capitol Theater, which was a big neighborhood attraction like all movie theaters were back when I was young. That was what you did on a weekend was go to the movies. That it was very unusual for someone to own a television and all of the things that people take for granted today. Not everybody had even a telephone back then. I can remember when I was young, I'm gonna be 65, and we were one of the few people on our street that he had a car that... The primary mode of transportation, depending on my age growing up, was either the transit, you know, the trolley cars or the bus. So that or you... By foot, which interesting enough is that when I went over to Ireland, that was how people get around over there, that they take a bus or walk. So cars are, although we're starting to civilize that country, I guess, and make it like ours so that there's gridlock with the cars. But, so I guess that's progress, depending on your perspective, but it's interesting to see how little the area has changed in my lifetime. You know, remarkably so. I've seen it go from what I consider to be a, you know, my home. And then it went on a downward cycle where it became the quote unquote ghetto, although I never realized that. And now it's on the upswing and has become a, I guess a trendy location and with the hopes of making it more trendy. But the Arcade has really gone through a large metamorphosis in the last 25 years. When I was a youth that the upstairs of the building was all doctors' offices and the dentist and the neighborhood lawyer and all of the professional people of the day had their offices up there. Now we have 64 apartments, so we have like a mini neighborhood, I guess, for want of a better way to describe it and then, of course, the storefronts have largely become office space or, you know, there's a restaurant and the bank. But it's pretty much limited, you know, compared to the way it was when I was growing up, and of course of the theater is not operating right now. But we have hopes of getting that renovated and up and running so it would become an attraction, you know, a mecca for people to come to and a reason with having a theater district here, because all of the theaters in the... that were on this intersection are in the process of being either renovated... Cleveland Public Theatre is up and running, and the Capitol, we're taking baby steps towards bringing that back online. So where everybody that's works for Detroit Shoreway in particular and the neighborhood people that have been here for many years are excited about the prospect of it becoming, you know, the grand old lady that it once was.

Mark Souther [00:05:03] Let me pause for a second and get you to pull the microphone closer to you. Do you think that that would be okay?

Frank Murphy [00:05:07] Is that okay?

Mark Souther [00:05:04] Well even closer really. It needs to be closer to your mouth.

Frank Murphy [00:05:10] Okay, this way?

Mark Souther [00:05:10] That would be better.

Frank Murphy [00:05:10] Is that working?

Mark Souther [00:05:12] That's helping me get a better level.

Frank Murphy [00:05:13] Okay. So I don't know if that answered your question or not, but...

Philip Horn [00:05:19] Yeah, that's kind of things we were looking for there and [inaudible].

Frank Murphy [00:05:28] This... [crosstalk] This intersection when I was growing up was like the place where people met and hung out because of the theater and there was a restaurant. There was everything that you needed as a... [phone rings] Excuse me. I can't get away from this thing. [silences phone] Everything that you needed here... I'm gonna turn this thing down so we won't have bells in the background. Everything that you needed was on this corner. You could buy food. There was an appliance store. There was a bookstore over on the other corner and on the opposite corner where they sold magazines and racing forms and, you know, you name it. There were of course taverns. There was two drug stores there, one on each corner, that were in this building. So that you really never had to leave the neighborhood. You could get just about everything you needed, and then of course, if you went on the big shopping trip, you would get on the bus or the trolley and go downtown and shop at the major department stores. But, you know, it was kind of a closed neighborhood that you didn't... And all neighborhoods were that way back then. You didn't have to leave. You know, you could go within walking distance and get just about everything you needed. Entertainment. You name it, it was here. If you wanted to go dancing, there was a place to dance. The whole nine yards was right here. And then as we became more mobile, that's what began killing these neighborhoods, at least in my mind. You know, I'm sure there are other things, too. But it's... We were, you know, I was, I guess I was kind of like the crossover between the old society and the new and that cars were just coming, becoming a real important part of our lives as far as major employers and things like that, so that everybody didn't have one, so that you were kind of stuck. You had to go someplace that you could get on a bus, and bus transportation was, of course, a lot more reliable and easier to do than in neighborhoods largely were, you know, safer, I guess, you know, that you didn't have to worry about being accosted by, you know, some young rowdy. You know, people did dumb things, but they weren't nearly as mean-spirited as, you know, people appear to be today.

Philip Horn [00:08:19] Did people work?

Frank Murphy [00:08:19] Well, a lot of people worked in the neighborhood, yeah. That there was, you know, there were... Well, of course, the one of the bigger employers in this neighborhood, you had American Greetings that was nearby. You had the Eveready Battery was down below Detroit, where they're now developing that as condos, and that's going to be one of the next major housing projects on the site of that. And there were factories along Lake Avenue, you know, Florida Avenue. There were all sorts of shops. And, you know, you name it, from St. Ignatius at 30th and Lorain to West Boulevard, there were, you know, any number of businesses that employed people. So all within either on the bus line or close by, the big steel mills were down, you know, just down the road off the Clark and Denison. So everything was... There was a huge, huge job base here. You had Westinghouse was in the neighborhood. I'm just trying... There was a couple... There was a paint company. You had American Greetings. I don't know if I mentioned them. So they were all, you know, what I would consider in the neighborhood, although back then it was probably a little farther. But people were used to getting up and hopping on a bus and taking the bus to work. And now, you know, people have to have modern convenience that I guess as a society that was prized progress that we don't need to be inconvenienced. Everything is supposed to be about me and nothing about anybody else that's...

Philip Horn [00:10:01] Did they have a trolley here?

Frank Murphy [00:10:01] Oh, yeah. There was trolley. The streetcars... When I was... I... Probably until I was about 10 years old that the trolleys ran on Detroit, on Bridge Avenue, on Lorain Avenue they ran, so that it was pretty highly developed. They went up... There was one that came down Madison Avenue and then turned the corner and went down Bridge Avenue. They were all over the place. That one of the big exciting things to go was when you went downtown the trolley, right at 28th and Detroit, went underground and went underneath the bridge. So that, you... It was kind of a scary trip as a youth to see, you know, you look down and there was that Cuyahoga River, you know, so it was gone. They used to have like, I guess it must have been coal, I'm not sure what kind of heaters they had in them, but they were under the seats so that some parts of the car was warm and colder in the winter so if you got to the back of the car, if you weren't careful, you would burn your legs, you know. I guess that would be a liability lawyer's dream in this day and age that you would burn your leg on the bus, you know, but just a lot of things that you had to be aware of. And then the next generation of that was they went to the trackless trolleys, the electric buses, that they didn't use the tracks, but they used the wire, the catenary, to power the electric buses. And then, of course, then we went to the diesel buses and all of that stuff went. But you see, when they're remodeling the streets and stuff, they'll unearth tracks that are... They're still under there, and the red brick streets, everything was red brick. Didn't have chuck holes back then, you know, that, you know... In fact, I lived on West 111th, which isn't too far from here, and the city wanted to come and do everybody a favor and repave it and put, you know, blacktop over the red brick. And then none of us... 'cause it would have been less slippery and all that, but there are still no chuck holes to this day. And there's no asphalt over the red brick. You learn... [crosstalk] You learn to cope with... You'll learn to cope with the red brick if you live on the street and you find that it's really in the long term a much better solution. But I'm digressing from what we were talking about.

Philip Horn [00:12:33] I'll come back. Tell us about the Capitol Theater. We didn't talk much about that.

Frank Murphy [00:12:34] Well, it was, you know, that they... They used to change... The show would change twice a week. So they would have movies that would come in like on Sunday through Tuesday. And then on Wednesday it would change, and that program generally would go from Wednesday to Saturday. And then they had a lot of events in theaters back then. They had this... I remember going with my grandmother and they would have... On Friday nights, they would have this bingo game where you could win groceries and, you know, all kinds of stuff like that. So I was really lucky. I got to go to the movies twice or three times. If I didn't go with her on a Friday night, then I would go out to the Saturday matinee. And then, of course, the matinees would be different than maybe. the feature movie that might have been more adult in theme or interest, so it was probably... It was the television of the day, I guess, for a while. That's what you did. You met your friends and you hung out. You know, that's what kids did back then if you weren't playing, you know, football, basketball, baseball, something like that, hanging out down in the playground, then you were at this theater. You know, that was your social circle. Or another big thing that in this particular neighborhood is the Rollercade was up on Denison Avenue. And, you know, so roller skating was something you did if you didn't go to the movies, then you went to the Rollercade, and that was a big part of entertainment. Bowling. A lot of the things that survive today but it, you know, don't see... And it doesn't seem to be nearly as popular, although bowling, I hear from reading in the paper, is coming back. [responds to an inaudible interruption by a third party] Excuse me. The bane of being the supervisor. Yes? Bye. Okay, I'm back. Sorry about that.

Philip Horn [00:14:37] In the arcade here, did we have any unusual or historical or special events that occurred back in these '50s and '60s time or...

Frank Murphy [00:14:48] Nothing that I can really remember. I think that the big difference between now and then is that people entertain themselves a lot better. They didn't have to have events manufactured for them like people have become used to. You know, they didn't have to have, you know, people learn to amuse themselves. You know, you had to use your imagination and your creativity, both as a... both as an adult and as a growing up as a child, you know, that...

Philip Horn [00:15:23] [inaudible] ... more active here or in their churches?

Frank Murphy [00:15:27] Well, yeah, the churches were the big... You know, again and I... That might be just a product of the way I was raised. I... Going to St. Colman's... There were a lot of events that were held at St. Colman's. They had an annual minstrel show and it's on St. Patrick's Day. It was an Irish parish so that there were all kinds of pageants that all of the school kids participated in. And it was a big deal. There was the men's bowling league. I mean, there was a lot of things that, you know, revolved around the church. And then in the school, and the same thing when I was in high school at St. Ignatius, it was the same way. There were lots of things to do, but they revolved around your involvement at school. And, you know, Our Lady of Mount Carmel was the same way, although that was the Italian church. That they had a lot of activities and stuff in the... I guess the two big events of the summer growing up—and they kind of still, up until a few years ago, carried over—was the 4th of July with the fireworks down at Edgewater Park, so that was a big event where people gathered, and then they had a festival at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a carnival that brought lots of people into the neighborhood. And all the neighborhood folks went because there was a spaghetti dinner and all sorts of stuff. Games of chance and, you know, fun at every age level. You know, there were the carnival rides, so... And that even continues today. Of course, now they've moved the fireworks out of Edgewater Park and it's downtown. And it's kind of diminished the experience for most of the folks that remembered it the old way because people would literally start arriving for the fireworks, you know, early in the morning and they'd be down at Edgewater Beach and they'd make a day and then they would be there until 10, 11 o'clock at night. Now, you know, I don't think it... I don't think it's nearly as festive as it once was. That, you know, that's progress and high cost of...

Philip Horn [00:17:40] Do they still have various kinds of festivals at St. Cole's [sic]?

Frank Murphy [00:17:40] Well, St. Colman's doesn't have them. You know that... When they built [Interstate] 90, that pretty much gutted St. Colman's constituency. That and then, you know, people just moving to the suburbs, you know? I wouldn't want to call it white flight, but I'm sure that's... I think it was more like school system flight when things started to really have a downturn in the Cleveland public schools. A lot of people... The options that I faced as a parent was you either resign yourself to sending your children to a private school. For my... And from my perspective, it was Catholic schools, Lutherans sent them to Lutheran schools. And, you know, so there was a lot of church-based schools where people just said, you know, I can't deal with this. And away they went. And I think that really... Or you moved to a suburb to get away from it all. And I think that really those couple of things... The freeway, the school system's deteriorating, and just the general perception that in order to move upward, you had to go to Parma and get your split level or, you know, wherever you went, Brook Park, all of the neighboring suburbs, helped to really change the neighborhood. We left for a while. We didn't go far. We just went, you know, a little west. When I first got married. And we move back to the neighborhood. My family owned two houses right here in the neighborhood on West Clinton. We sold one of them and I live in the other one that I was raised in. So the thing that's interesting about the street is a lot of the people who lived down the street when I was growing up. Still live there. One of my best friend's name was Tom Parkinson. His mother just recently died and I... She had to be, I don't know how old into her... She had to be close to 100, I would think. And she just died in the last year or so. So that people... They left but you never really left. I don't know if that makes any sense. There was always this bond with the street and with the neighborhood that... And then their children, a lot of them would buy... Well, there's a house across street and they would move there. So I think that's what's helped this neighborhood survive, and then even the people who moved to the suburbs, like up at St. Colman's, they have a large group of people that come back and go to church there and support the church. And you have the same thing going on at St. Stephen's and at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the school at... People are... The thing that I find really interesting is that my granddaughter graduated from there. We've been raising her and she graduated from Mount Carmel. She's a senior at Magnificat. But there are kids that I would say probably 20 percent of the enrollment at this time she was there were kids from the suburbs where their parents were sending them to a school like Our Lady of Mount Carmel because they offered the things that they felt were not they weren't getting in public school systems, discipline and structure and an expectation of excellence that you don't really find today, you know, and it's kind of an old-fashioned... So the old-fashioned values are there. And I can remember one of the things that really stuck in my mind is that Amanda was probably maybe in the second or third grade and they changed the religious order of the nuns. And of course, with the new hierarchy came new rules. And I can remember this one parent sticking their hand up, and Father Marino was still the pastor there, and he went on and what they didn't think it was fair that their child... They weren't Catholic. And Father Marino said... told the person, he said, Well, you know, this is a Catholic school. And here... This is the options. We're not going to change the curriculum, we're not going to have one kid not participate in everything. But you should be going taking your child to church. And the option is if you can't live with our situation, then you can leave. It was, you know, it wasn't negotiable. And it's hard to find places where they'll just be upfront and say this is the way it is, you know. This is our program. We're not going to change our program to make you happy. This works for us. And if you don't fit our system, then there's the door.

Philip Horn [00:22:45] So quite a few people that were at St. Colman's went to the other...

Frank Murphy [00:22:50] Well, ended up sending their children. Yeah, because the school was closed because they couldn't... St. Colman's school was huge by comparison to Mount Carmel's, you know, it was was a larger parish. I mean, you just have to look at the, physically, at the size of the church. And when I was growing up, St. Colman's had a church on the main floor and one in the basement so that they had to have mass. They would say two at a time to accommodate the people. And of course, you know, the people aren't nearly as, I guess, devout for want of a better... as they once were, and religion has been diluted in our society. You know, and I don't know, I guess depending on your perspective, whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. But I do know that it was a lot easier growing up when you knew when it was very clear, you know, what the rules and the regulations and the structure is supposed to be. You know, there was a code of conduct that was not, Would you feel like doing this? It was, This is the way it is. And that was carried on in every... every part of your life. The police that worked in the neighborhood lived in the neighborhood. They might be the guy going bowling with your dad so that if you got too wild and wooly, it was, you know, they either kicked you literally in the butt or they grabbed you by the ear and brought you home, and that was not going to be a pleasant experience. Where today, you know, a cop brings home some kid, you know, the first thing that they're thinking is well, we're gonna get a lawyer and sue you because you talked mean to my kid. So that the rules were very plain and easy to understand back there. And there was a code of conduct even with the bad guys, that there was expectations and rules that they live by that, you know, today you wouldn't dream of, back then, of somebody coming by and spraying, you know, gunfire into a crowd of people just standing on the corner that have nothing to do with anything, you know? I mean, just a lot of the things that I guess are progress if, you know, to our modern society but it was very rule... You know, the cop that was car 102, and they had... There was a policeman in 102. So everybody kind of hung on the corners, you know, from 8 to 80. And Big Red was the one cop, and he would come by and if he thought it was time for you to leave... You know, you'd hung out enough, you weren't doing anything productive. All he would do is come by and go—didn't say anything—he just would go and, like that with a gesture with his thumb. And if he came by that corner again and you were still there, you had a big problem with him. And it was, you know, like I say, he would literally kick you right in the butt. You know, I told you to leave. And then the car... [crosstalk] Long before lawyers and police brutality.

Philip Horn [00:26:17] You'd get it from policemen and then you'd get it at home.

Frank Murphy [00:26:18] Right. I say that there was a clear, you know, respect. You know, the most unlawful thing, you know, that you would do as a kid, you would see the cops and somebody and holler, Hey, Flatfoot! And you'd run like hell, you know, to get aways because, you know, if he caught you, he was going to kick you right in the ass. Plain English. It... You know? So we've gone from that to have people just openly be defiant and just dare them to say something to 'em. I saw when I was working in a building down the street, the police had grabbed, you know, pulled a car over. They had it pinned in, and they were drug dealers, and the policemen literally had a gun screwed into the one guy's ear, you know, stopped. And there was a cop standing behind the car. And they had, you know, saw, you know, observed a drug sale and they were trying to arrest the people. And the guy just calmly in the car just put it in reverse and almost ran the guy over because he knew that it was unlikely that policeman was going to shoot him. Over a, you know, a ten-dollar drug sale or whatever it was. But I mean, but that, you know, we were scared to death of having an involvement with a policeman, you know, you know, much less one holding a gun on you. You had to be a real cowboy back when I was growing up to even... even think about that. You know, that was something Bonnie and Clyde did, you know, not neighborhood kids. It's, as I say, it's just there's a lack of respect for authority that's, you know, permeates our society that I don't know what's gonna happen. I fear for my grandchildren. I really do.

Philip Horn [00:28:05] Let's take a look at the neighborhood a little bit. We had some new buildings there near St. Colman's, it looks like to me...

Frank Murphy [00:28:19] Oh, the highrise that they just built?

Philip Horn [00:28:23] I don't know, I just know that there's new buildings from pictures that I've seen of the school...

Frank Murphy [00:28:30] Well, where the school where the school used to sit, right now, right next to the church on West 65th? [crosstalk] Well, that's where the grade school... There were two buildings that... The building that's right on, like, Madison Avenue and 65th, I think that there's a sign that says El Barrio still on it? That used to be like the what would be for want of a better way to describe it is the junior high. So that from the sixth to the eighth grade, classes were held in that building. Where that new highrise... not a, well, it's not really a highrise, but it's like a three- or four-story building? [crosstalk] Yeah. Where that sits, that used... in fact that looks almost like the original building, the grade school building, very, very close replica of it. That was where the grade school sat. And you went to, like from the first grade to like the fifth grade, through the fifth grade, in that building. And then in that basement of that building, they had an auditorium that had, you know, a stage, and that's where they would put on all of the productions and everything that they would have. There was a building... I can't remember if the nuns' house is still there or if they tore it down. I haven't paid a lot of attention to it. There was a house that sat, but I think they tore that down when they built the the new building. But that's where the nuns lived in that house. [crosstalk] That was the convent... Well, the rectory was attached to the church. That's where the priest lived. And they still do. Well, I think they're nuns now that they live in that. But when I was growing up, just about every Irish priest, I think in Cleveland, did time at St. Colman's as they came out of the cemetery, or rather the seminary, not the cemetery. Monsignior Martin was the pastor and everybody called him Doc. All of the quote unquote insiders. That's what all the priests, the young priests called him, Doc Martin. And the people who worked up there, you know, that worked in the rectory and helped out... There was a lot of volunteer help back then, as there is today in churches, because they couldn't survive without it. But just about every Irish priest I think that came through the system ended up at St. Colman's as one of their assign... There were St. Malachi's or... Because back then a large number of the priests were Irish, and the bishop was Bishop Hoban who was Irish. So they had this large contingent of Irish people that raised their sons to be priests, I guess for want of a better...

Philip Horn [00:31:26] So they had services with priests from the other areas then?

Frank Murphy [00:31:28] Oh yeah. That... It always... St. Colman's was always a mecca for the Irish community. That and St. Malachi's, as I was growing up. Though, you know, there was always, around St. Patrick's Day, big celebrations and parties and dances and stuff. You don't have that today. The closest thing.. The last, excuse me, remnants of the glory days of St. Colman's is each St. Patrick's Day, the parade, all of the, you know, the parade marching units from the West Side Irish American Club, which started out right down here on 65th and Detroit, moved to Madison Avenue. And they were there for years and years and years up until about 15 years ago, 18 years. I lose track of the years. The parade would start—as when I was younger or at least old enough to remember, you know, and be aware of what was really going on—would start at the Irish American Club. People would congregate there. The units would be assembled, and then they would march to St. Colman's to attend a mass. And from there you were loaded onto buses if you were part of the marching units and then taken downtown where they used to assemble down on Lakeside Avenue, and that's where the parade started. So that tradition lives on only the origin, you know, the place, the embarking place is out in Olmsted Falls, and they load the kids on a bus and then they go to St. Colman's, which is, you know, like the kids are passing out it's so hot in there on St. Patrick's Day, there's so many people jammed in the church. And then they're loaded on the buses and they go downtown and then the parade kicks off. But that's probably the last of the glory years of St. Colman's as the mecca is St. Patrick's Day, when all of the people that, you know, traditionally went... Many of them went to school there, and now their children are, you know, participating, you know, I, you know, Amanda is my granddaughter. We've raised her like a daughter. But and then her mother and brother, uncles, you know, all were participating in that event and still do. So with it, the Irish, you know, tradition never has left my family and most of my cousins families are the same way, so we still, you know, are aware of our roots and, you know, I'm fortunate enough, Amanda is, you know, a world-class Irish dancer who's well-known in this neighborhood because of her accomplishments. Her mother was, you know, very good at it too, so that they ended up with their own little bit of fame, I guess, for want of a better way.

Philip Horn [00:34:24] Irish dancing is with the feet?

Frank Murphy [00:34:26] Yeah, that Riverdance is what most people associate it with now. But that's what she does. And she's been very... She's a world-class dancer. And, you know, and I can claim no reason for that. She didn't get any of those talents from me, I can assure you. I can barely walk and chew bubble gum at the same time. But it's... so that part... being part of the Irish community is still a big part of my life and many of the people I grew up with. You know, that still is like the hat rack you put your hat on that... The linchpin of who makes you what you are is your sense of what you were. So that my roots probably mean more to me today than they did when I was younger, because I... You know, if you spend enough time on earth, you get to understand maybe why it was important. I can remember my grandfather, you know, telling me and my grandmother, you should remember this person. You know, this is this, these people are, you know, good to know. When I was growing up, my grandfather was a lobbyist for East Ohio Gas, and I had the privilege or honor, I guess, for want of a... I got to meet John F. Kennedy because they used to come... They had a big picnic over at Euclid Beach, the Democratic picnic. So I got to go tag along because my grandfather was, you know, a... being a lobbyist that part of his job was to be involved in the politics and...

Philip Horn [00:36:04] Be in contact with people like that.

Frank Murphy [00:36:07] Yeah. So I got to meet people. To me, it was a car. What's what's the big deal? You know, because I was at an age where I didn't really appreciate it. But I got to meet, you know, so many people. And, you know, and as I grew older, I said, geez, I wish I would've listened to him. You know, when you finally get to understand, you know, what the importance of meeting people with influence and money and yet it makes for an interesting perspective on

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