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Birdtown Reminiscences

Story ID:989
Written by:Suzana Margaret Megles (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Local History
Location:Lakewood Ohio USA
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Lakewood Paths

Birdtown Reminiscences
by Suzana Megles

About the author: Suzana Megles is writing a book about life with her dog Peaches. She lives in the same small home her Slovak immigrant parents bought in 1936. She is very proud of her Slovak heritage and feels that they, along with all the other ethnic groups of this early twentieth century period, made up the millions and millions of brightly colored and tiny, sparkling pieces of this wonderful mosaic called America.

William F. Buckley of Stamford, Connecticut said "There's no arguing about it — the most beautiful part of the world is wherever you grew up."

I smiled at reading this because I walk often through "Birdtown" where I was born on Robin Street in 1930. I enjoy walking through this little tract of land which the Carbon Company bought so that its largely Slovak and other Eastern European work force would be able to build their homes close to the factory.

I didn't realize then but do now that this eastern part of Lakewood was really a microcosm city in itself. Within in this small area were churches aplenty for the Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox and even Calvinist parishioners. Within that little tract were many storefronts—some grocery stores, a meat market, and even a dairy. I remember vividly going into the grocery store at the northern end of Lark. One had to climb stairs to reach the top floor. My mother was baking and she wanted to try that new product—oleo which came in a white block with an accompanying yellow powder packet to color it and make it look like butter. Though we didn't realize it then, it wouldn't measure up to butter, which, if we wanted or some delicious cold buttermilk, we could get from a fellow Slovak parishioner of our church who operated his own small dairy just a few houses south on Robin. It was called Slavik's Dairy.

I also remember working in Leader's grocery store on Madison counting and sorting ration stamps during WWII. Wow, did I feel grown-up at 12 or 13 with my first paying job! It was exciting to sit at a small table in the open upstairs office of the boss. I could see everything from this vantage point.

There were quite a few storefront bars. The men who worked hard needed some liquid repasts as they met fellow workers at the end of their shifts to exchange notes of interest. Who says only women gab?

Plover even had a small funeral parlor. And on the south side of Madison was a drug store, a five and dime store, Shirmer's furniture and clothing store, a shoe repair store, and a barber shop. On the north side was a deli, a bakery, and a shoe store. I remember buying those delicious freshly baked round loaves of rye bread and bringing them home to be blessed. With the sign of the cross made with a knife on the underside of the bread, Mom or Dad would then slice it. I loved that simple ritual of giving thanks to God for the bread He had given us. And once sliced, it seemed we all wanted the "heel" of the bread. It must have been because it was so crusty and delicious.

The drug store had a soda fountain and a juke box. My favorite song then was the Mill Brothers' Paper Doll. We bought cherry cokes, sundaes, or shakes while sitting at the swivel chairs at the bar. That was fun, but even more fun for me was getting a take-out butterscotch Sundae which my sister Anna who was a soda jerk at that time made for me to go. I can still taste that buttery butterscotch swirling around delicious vanilla ice cream. I don't think I can ever recapture that great taste again.

Crossing Ridgewood, you would find the Royal movie house with its tiny candy store next to it on one side and a hamburger place on the other. It was a favorite haunt for us kids. We even were allowed to exit the movie house once the feature started and dash into the candy store to replenish our treats.

We had everything we needed including three schools—St. Cyril's Slovak and St. Hedwig's Polish. And Harrison absorbed all the rest of the immigrant children. I also remember that all the children of the neighborhood went to "Recreation Night" at Harrison. Usually on a Monday, I believe, from 7 to 9 PM, we were treated to a variety of interesting things to do. One which I remember was wood burning. Not great at wielding the burning pen on wood, I still felt it was pretty cool. Of course, there was ping pong, basketball, and other things which already I cannot recall, but it was a fun night for all of us who attended.

The children had a place to get books in the small library right next to the rustic park that had everything we needed or wanted—swings, teeter-totters, slide, wading pond, a field used for baseball in the summer and an ice rink in the winter. And I loved the rustic fountain which was carved from rocks and resembled a tiny mountain from which cold water miraculously spewed forth. And then there was the tree-lined slope at the eastern end where we often ran and hid from each other embracing tree by tree until we found the perfect hiding place.

A special time for us then were weddings. We would climb to the top of the dance hall which was over the bar at the corner of Lark and Plover. We kids even enjoyed climbing back and forth those long stairs to that hall, and then once up, listening to our Slovak music as well as polkas and czardashes and watching our parents and the young people hoop it up.

This small eastern part of Lakewood seemed to have every thing that a much larger city would have. There were churches where we were baptized and worshipped at and even buried from. There were food and clothing stores, a gas station, a library, a park, a funeral home and schools. We really didn't have to go down town all that much except for some diversion and for more clothing choices the large department stores provided. However, riding the Madison street car which took us over the Cuyahoga River in a covered bridge was very special fun in itself—at least for me. And of course, once downtown, we would sometimes take in a show at one of the large theatre houses where sometimes live actors would appear at the end of the movie. Afterwards we stopped for a real treat at the Mills restaurant where we would pick and choose from hot containers of delicious cafeteria-styled foods. It was just a change from what we were use to. We did live more simply then and I think we appreciated the smaller things of life. We learned early that "things" don't necessarily bring happiness.

More About Birdtown
Visit Lakewood Lore Online: Memories of Birdtown soar through the pages of time.

July 7, 2003 Lakewood Mayor Cain announced a plan to complete a comprehensive survey to document the historical and architectural significance of the Birdtown neighborhood towards earning a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The proposed study encompasses a comprehensive review of the neighborhood and includes historical research, an initial survey of the approximately 325 buildings and a full analysis regarding the history of the commercial and residential land development within the borders of Birdtown.

"Birdtown to take roost in historical register," Brian Horn, Lakewood Sun Post, 11/4/04 The Planning Commission and the Lakewood Heritage Advisory Board voted to submit Birdtown to the National Register of Historic Places.