Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Frankie Yankovic boyhood home condemned

Jim Schumacher, a reader of Cleveland Area History recently brought to my attention another condemned property of historic significance. It was outside the area that I tend to focus - mostly because I only have so much time, so the things that are close to my job or home get more attention. I drove out to look at the house, a duplex built c. 1915, a style that is seen throughout the greater Cleveland area.

Boyhood home of Frankie Yankovic - CONDEMNED

While the house shown here, 15702 Saranac Avenue, in the Collinwood neighborhood of Cleveland, may be ordinary, the family who resided on the first floor, while renting out the second, was not. It included a young Frankie Yankovic, who would go on to be known as the Polka King. The family lived at this address from approximately 1917-1930 - from when Frankie Yankovic was two through the age of fifteen. More on this part of Yankovic's life can be read in Bob Dolgan's book, America's Polka King: the Real Story of Frankie Yankovic and His Music (Gray and Company, 2006).

I've obtained a list of the code violations. The pages listing the actual violations are pages 2 and 3 from January 20 and pages 4, 5 and 6 from April 20. They indicate that all of the basic fixtures have been removed from the kitchen. One can probably expect that all the plumbing has been removed as well as the hot water heater and furnace. As I've mentioned before, having to start over and replumb the whole structure isn't necessarily such a bad thing. With any old house, you're either going to have to pay for the previous owner having completely replumbed the structure or you're going to have to deal with major plumbing issues yourself. Replacing all of it before you move in is better than the surprise of a leaking ceiling on a cold winter morning.

Other violations speak to a generally deteriorated condition, but not something that is beyond hope. The only one that really concerns me is the state of the foundation. I didn't see any obvious problems from the exterior, so they may not be as major as the violation list suggests.

More photos of the house may be found here.

I contacted the office of Councilman Polensek, whose ward this historic structure falls in. An obvious concern for how the state of this house might affect the neighborhood was expressed. It was noted that "The house in question is a nuisance property and is constantly a target of illegal dumping."

Illegal dumping is a real problem. I suspect that trimming (or completely removing) the massive bushes in front of the house would help to stem this problem. Further, I suspect that the dumping is the result of the house being empty, rather than the physical condition of the property.

Why does Yankovic's boyhood home matter so much? This is a man who sold more albums than anyone else who ever came from Cleveland. He remained in Cleveland, and didn't move away like so many others did once they made it big. His childhood here surely played some role in that. Further, Yankovic toured more than 320 days a year - he likely spent more time in this home than many later residences.

Why does Yankovic matter? Jim Schumacher, who told me about the threat to this historic site put it far better than I can.
"Here's a guy who my grandparents danced to, who created music that made me jump around the house every Sunday after sitting still in church when Polka Varieties came on. The whole world still celebrates happy times - like weddings - dancing to his music. When you stand there, you can really picture how he grew up, something you can't do anywhere else. And besides, where would Big Chuck be without Frankie Yankovic?"


  1. It's good to see that the Polka King had Dish TV at least!

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