Throughout his childhood, Esbeey Madera lived in three different houses on Cleveland’s Near West Side—on Seymour Avenue, Brainard Avenue, and Bridge Avenue. None of those houses are still standing.
“Every house I grew up in as a child has been demolished,” says Madera. “The one on Bridge Avenue is now a 10-unit condo.”
As the owner of All Phase General Construction Inc., Madera is working hard to ensure other houses in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood get a second chance. Specializing in historical restoration work, abandoned home rehabilitation, and affordable housing projects, Madera wants to make sure the neighborhood stays true to its architectural roots.
“Everyone is bringing in these modern cookie-cutter homes, but that really changes the look of the neighborhood,” says Madera. “The architectural layout of some of these existing homes is really amazing.”
Esbeey MaderaMadera believes the work he does is more important than ever as all eyes turn to La Villa Hispana and Clark-Fulton as a potential area for investment—especially in light of its prime location between Old Brooklyn and Ohio City.
“Every other neighborhood [on the Near West Side] has already maximized its market value,” says Madera. “Clark-Metro has not done so yet. There are still many pockets where you can find a diamond in the rough, and the property values are slowly but surely rising.”
Madera can remember a time when West 25th Street wasn’t as in demand. After moving to Cleveland at age 5, Madera lived in the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority housing projects for several years before his mom moved the family into their first rented home on Seymour Avenue. “It was a tough childhood,” says Madera. “My papa was a rolling stone, as they say. He left, and our mom struggled.”
Madera made ends meet by helping out at the West Side Market and picking up trash for local businesses on the way to and from elementary school at Paul L. Dunbar School. Then, when he was a 16-year-old student at Max Hayes High School, his girlfriend got pregnant, and Madera was forced to take a factory job to pay the bills. “I ended up getting my GED at the age of 19,” shares Madera.
During his time at Max Hayes, Madera had also started taking carpentry classes as part of the school’s trade program, and at 24, he enrolled in a Cleveland Metropolitan School District continuing education program focused on carpentry and building trades. Madera also took some classes at Cuyahoga Community College and went through the Turner School of Construction Management program offered by the city of Cleveland. In 2004, he started All Phase General Construction.
Aragon Ballroom building exterior“Since I finished my schooling, I went straight into construction building and have worked my way up,” says Madera.
Indeed—Madera is now one of the principal contractors on large projects like the Aragon Ballroom restoration and the forthcoming Floressa Café (both in La Villa Hispana). He says he also works frequently with Cleveland Restoration Society, as well as with community development corporations like Metro West, Famicos Foundation, and Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization. Additionally, Madera sits on the Near West Design Review board, which he says he considers his “civic duty to the neighborhood.”
One of Madera’s passions is rehabilitating abandoned homes, and he says he’s done at least 25 such projects in Clark-Fulton. He also purchases and restores older homes, which he then rents for around $600 to $700 per month.
“We have to make sure we keep affordable homes here,” says Madera. “Gentrification is playing a role right now, and there’s a need for locals to stand together and say, ‘You guys are not going to price us out.’”
Madera’s hope is that newcomers to the neighborhood will embrace the existing homes in the area—which range from ranches and bungalows to colonials and Victorians. “People think they need to come in and tear down,” says Madera. “That’s why I focus on [rehabbing] abandoned homes most of the time.”
Though Madera now resides in Old Brooklyn, his business is still based in Clark-Fulton, and he's excited to see the neighborhood embracing its cultural identity as La Villa Hispana.
"You've got Little Italy on the East Side and other areas [in Cleveland] that identify with their culture, but right now, we don't have a footprint to say this is our Spanish cultural area," says Madera. "There are no landmarks to say, 'This is our identity.' [La Villa Hispana] will turn the table for us as a community."
This article is part of our On the Ground - La Villa Hispana community reporting project in partnership with Dollar Bank, Hispanic Business Center, Esperanza Inc., Greater Cleveland Partnership, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, and Cleveland Development Advisors. Read the rest of our coverage here.