Wednesday, January 6, 2010

About the Editors: Christopher Busta-Peck


Who am I? I am a librarian and artist living in the Onaway neighborhood of Shaker Heights with my wife, one year old son, a cat, and three turtles. I've worked as a youth services librarian at the Hough Branch of Cleveland Public Library for a little more than a year. (Update: July, 2010: now at the Langston Hughes branch of Cleveland Public Library.) Before this, I spent three years as a librarian in the African American Department of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the public library serving Baltimore, Maryland. I worked as a library assistant at Wickliffe Public Library while working on a Master's Degree in Library and Information Science at Kent State University, which I completed in 2005. While in grad school, I transferred and began the initial processing of the Performance Art Festival archives, a collection that I believe will come to be seen as the single most important archival collection in the fine arts for the 1990s. I earned a B.A. in studio art from Hiram College in 2003.

As a librarian, my interests are many and varied. I could be happy in just about any subject area. Pressed for specifics, I'd cite art, history, rare books, special collections. My free time is divided between my son and working on my house, at least in theory.

How did I get involved with Cleveland Area History? It began with a summer daycamp visiting the library for programming. An interest had been expressed in topics related to African American history. I quickly learned that local history programs worked well. Many of the kids hadn't been outside the neighborhood much, if at all, so stories about the things that happened on the other side of the city or in other parts of northeast Ohio might as well have been on the other side of the country. When I talked about things that happened right there in their neighborhoods, there was a glint of recognition. There was interest.

The first significant program involved two African American writers, Charles W. Chesnutt and Langston Hughes. One important element in any program for children is strong visuals. I knew the Cleveland Public Library had an excellent collection of photographs of Chesnutt, his family, and his Cleveland residences, but I didn't have anything for Hughes.

Colleagues at the Main Library were able to provide me a list of addresses where Hughes had lived in Cleveland, thanks to Arnold Rampersad's authoritative biography. I learned that of the five sites, all but two had been demolished. One was where Hughes had lived during one of the most formative times in his life, his sophomore and junior years of high school. It was at this time that he really began to write, as well as to forge important connections. The property had been foreclosed upon and sold at sherriff's sale. It was sitting vacant. If action wasn't taken, the house would eventually be broken into and vandalized. Water get in, and the house would come to be seen as beyond repair. Before long, it would succumb to the bulldozer.

After a while of trying to convince others to save the house, I contacted a friend at the Plain Dealer, which ran a nice story on the house. This led to the eventual purchase of the house by Fairfax Renaissance Development Corp., which will rehab it and offer it to a low to moderate income family. All Things Considered ran a piece celebrating our efforts.

My programs were successful in part because local history isn't done well in the schools or in the communities. People knew Hughes lived in the area, but not exactly where. I knew that there had to be plenty of other important old buildings and sites waiting to be identified.

On a trip to Buffalo ReUse, an amazing architectural salvage yard and model we might do well to follow, I brought up the idea of a Cleveland history blog with Christine Borne Nickras. Though I blathered about it the whole way there and back, she didn't run away screaming. Two like-minded idiots on a mission.

Why do I think Cleveland Area History needs to exist? I hope to change the way we percieve local history. I want to find better ways to share existing resources and present new ones. There are plenty of wonderful buildings in both the city and the suburbs that need our attention and that can be had for a song. I want to see more important old houses saved and fewer demolished. The pent up demand for local history information is clear. I see this as the venue through which it can be channeled.

16 comments:

  1. Hi, How are you? My name is Cassidy Laudadio and I'm currently completing a working thesis on the Warner and Swasey Observatory in East Cleveland. My project involves the adaptive reuse of the building along with preserving its history and I'd would love to gain awareness through your blog. If you are at all interested in publishing an article about the project in your blog, please feel free to contact me at claudadio@ursuline.edu or cassidylaudadio@gmail.com. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you! ~Cassidy

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  2. I would like to document/record the architectural diversity in the 44108, 44106, and 44112 zip codes. If you are interested please contact me at cochestee@yahoo.com. I look forward to getting your ideas and opinions. It's kind of sad that when you go to the county auditor's web site all homes are listed as colonials! How sad that they don't even take the time to properly describe the architectural style of our city treasures!

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  3. It's also sad that residential blueprints are not filed for future reference. Some counties require that after submission they be held for a period of 7 years, but after that they are destroyed. Some areas may have a slightly different policy.
    another shame is that most architect's offices dispose of blue prints upon the primary's death or office closing. To bad.
    " Architecture is the only form of art in which we relish in it's destruction." - anon.

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  4. Christopher,

    My name is patrick and i would be interested in speaking with you about the possibility of co-authoring a book on Cleveland area country estates.
    Please e-mailme if this may be of interest to you. ltwhit@yahoo.com
    Thank You,
    Patrick

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  5. Thank you for posting all of this excellent information! I grew up and E 174 and Lakeshore. I love going into neighborhoods and imagining their rich history.

    Amanda

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  6. Hello Busta - Peck.

    I have enjoyed your site and am a neighbor. I have been involved with a blueprinting company for years and believe in old homes. I have an Infrared biz to assist in common sense solutions that keep us in these old homes. Would like a conversation sometime.

    Also...... I work for the person that used to plow your drive. Bill Black 751-9226. We sent the "old" contract to your neighbor and had no response.... we know why now.

    In either case I think I could give you some input for your site or take the drifts away from your drive.

    Bonnie Sharp - 216-744-7205

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  7. Christopher
    I am interested in interviewing people about their experiences at League Park in the Hough neighborhood. My intent is to preserve the verbal history/experience of the Park before time steals these memories. My hope is that these stories can be used to support the attempts at restoring this piece of cleveland and baseball history. I thought you or your readers might have ideas/contacts of people that might hold these memories or know locals that I might contact to help me in my search for those who were lucky enough to have attended games at the park. I look forward to hearing your ideas. I be reached at mdk113@gmail.com

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  8. I often ride through Cleveland, wondering what Cleveland looked like 50-60 years ago. I am now especially curious as to the history of the Majestic Hotel which was located at 55th and Central Avenue back in the day. At the site now is a Goodwill Store. I was able to look at a couple of pics on the Cleveland Memory Project website. A reference to it was made in Dan Coughlin's book first book. How would I go about finding out more information about the hotel? Thank you. And a God Bless AND Thank YYou for sparking an interest in Cleveland city kids in the history of their neighborhoods and the city in general. Field trips are not what they used to be ... And it is still true, it takes a village to raise a child, and then some.

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  9. Hey Christopher,

    You have a great site and are doing some great work. This may be of interest to you:

    http://www.historicaerials.com/

    BTW- Do you know what is going on with the old St Luke's Hospital on Shaker Blvd?

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    Replies
    1. Old St. Luke's is being transformed into housing for
      the elderly.
      Better than tearing it down, but taking the easy way
      out as far as I'm concerned.
      For quite a while it was nicknamed "the haunted
      hospital", as it was looking like something out of a
      movie noire.
      It seems we're experiencing a derth of original ideas
      as to what we can do with older buildings in the
      Cleveland area. If you can't get government money
      after renovation, as in the case of housing for the
      elderly, we're not taking many chances. Could be a
      sign of the faultering economy.
      Along those lines...I was sad to see the old Beehive
      school at Lee and Miles torn down. So much history.

      Brad from Strongsville

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  10. Hi Christopher--I grew up in Westlake, now living in NJ. My paternal grandparents' home at 3278 W. 38th was a beautiful Arts and Crafts style home that my grandfather paid cash for in about 1910. It had 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, and a coal cellar that terrified me as a small child. It had gorgeous woodwork, a stained glass window, and other details characteristic of stately old homes. I saw it today on Truvia.com in a tiny photo, and it's valued at about $44k. I would love to know how abused it's been over the 40 years since I last saw it! My grandfather also owned a small butcher shop within walking distance of the home. I feel very nostalgic about all of this!

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  11. im a direct decentant of Samuel Mcilrath would love to learn more about them

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  12. Dear Christopher-

    I applaud your efforts at bringing Cleveland's history into greater awareness. It's truly a fine city. I'm a relative newcomer and live in the Edgewater neighborhood on the west side near W117th. In my wanderings I notice a lot of attention being paid to the East side but not so much the west. I'm wondering if you can A) tell me how old is the neighborhood I'm in, and B) point me in the right direction for historical info on my home, which was built in 1924.

    Thanks!

    Bob Rose

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  13. Christopher
    I am working on a book on Lincoln's funeral--(like who isn't). What are your--poor soul--rates for using 2 of your Flikr images? PS. In the side view of your photo, you look a little like Johnny Depp. mleavy7@yahoo.com.

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  14. I thoroughly enjoyed your book. I work on the East side and was able to visit many of the houses you wrote about. Today I found another house you might want to look at: 11713 Kelton, I believe the style is Greek Revival, similar to a couple in your book. Thank you for your work!

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  15. Christopher, is the blog going to reactivate? If not, I'll drop it from my blog list.

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