Brick by brick: Residents continue their quest to save deteriorating buildings on South Moreland

South Moreland Boulevard, running just south of Shaker Square in Cleveland’s Buckeye neighborhood, is lined with historic three- and four-story red brick and Tudor apartment buildings built in the 1920s and 1930s.

And while Shaker Square, including the South Moreland area, was named an historic district in the 1980s, the neighborhood has struggled in the past decade to maintain the beauty and integrity of these properties.

<span class="content-image-text">2962 South Moreland</span>2962 South MorelandBuildings have fallen into disrepair, often to the point of no return, but area residents and organizations are working hard to preserve the buildings along South Moreland and Buckeye in hopes of also preserving a slice of Cleveland history.

Most recently, the Shaker Square Alliance, along with Shaker Square Area Development, East 130th Street Working Group, and Ludlow Community Association, are working on saving a South Moreland property at 2962 Moreland Blvd.

Alliance member Charles “Chip” Bromley says the 15,000-square foot, 14-unit apartment building has sat vacant, boarded up, and abandoned for more than four years.

“It’s just sitting there,” says Bromley. “We want [the owner] to be accountable to the court and to the public. The city does not enforce the building codes so older buildings are allowed to fall apart. [The owner] told the courts he was going to rehabilitate it and it’s been sitting there for three years now.”

So, the four groups have joined forces and are circulating a petition to encourage Cleveland Housing Court to force the current landlord to repair and save the building—rather than letting the structure go to the Cuyahoga Land Bank or face demolition.

The petition states: “We believe that the vitality of buildings on South Moreland is essential to the health of the Shaker Square, Buckeye, and Shaker schools neighborhoods. Out of respect for our Buckeye/Shaker Square community, we ask that you join us in petitioning the City of Cleveland to take all necessary action to save this apartment building and see it restored to residential use.”

Catherine Rolnicki, an AmeriCorps VISTA for Organize! Ohio and the Shaker Square Alliance, says, “We would like the Cleveland Housing Court to take action against this owner to bring the building into code compliance through community control probation for five years,” she says.

“During this period, the owner cannot sell the property without the okay of the court.” 

In just three weeks of circulating the petition, the group has already reached their goal of 500 signatures. They will continue to canvass the North Union Farmers Market on Saturday mornings at Shaker Square. Rolnicki says they are just gaining momentum.

“While we have met our goal, we would like to collect as many signatures as possible to demonstrate to the City of Cleveland the desire from the community to revitalize the building,” she says. “We are currently working on a specific strategy of how we will present the signatures, along with supporting documents, to city officials.”

Meanwhile members of the Alliance and Ludlow Community Association regularly patrol the property—and the neighborhood—picking up trash and keeping the neighborhood clean and safe for the many children who walk through the neighborhood on their way to school.

“The number-one priority is a safe neighborhood,” says Bromley. “This is a beautiful neighborhood, with affordable housing, market rate housing, and it’s diverse. Retaining these older neighborhoods—that’s the value.”

Members of the Shaker Square Alliance have been working for years to save buildings along South Moreland. They cheer the success of places like 2804 South Moreland, the former Shakertown Apartments. The building was saved from the Land Bank and demolition in 2018 when a new owner bought the property at sheriff’s sale and is in the process of restoring it with $2.5 million in state and federal tax credits.

Bromley says the new owner bought it after a long, successful campaign by the community against the previous owner.

The group is also currently working on saving the Ludlow Castle, 2825 South Moreland Blvd., which caught fire last year.

The group is asking for a similar order to what the  Shaker Square Alliance accomplished last year with a multi-unit apartment building at 13000 Buckeye, after circulating a petition. The landlords were put on a five-year community control probation by the Housing Court, which has resulted in close to $1 million in repairs by the owner to date. 

<span class="content-image-text">2804 South Moreland</span>2804 South MorelandSusan Rotatori, co-president of the Ludlow Community Association, says the petitions to the court are often the group’s most powerful tool against absentee landlords.

“We’ve run into this before, where the owner buys [the building] and does nothing with it,” she explains. “With 13000 [Buckeye], all they did was board it up. For some reason, the only way we can get the court to [issue community control probation] is with petitions.”

Rotatori, who has lived in the neighborhood for 27 years, says she hates to see these historic buildings be neglected or forgotten. “We don’t want to get it torn down, we want a new buyer,” she says of the 2962 Moreland Blvd. property. “We just want to get a new owner and for the city to do work on this. This is a piece of our history.”

Both Rotatori and Bromley cite Brandon Chrostowski, owner of EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute, as an example of successful community investment in the South Moreland Buckeye neighborhood.

Chrostowski raised funds in 2015 to buy and renovate three properties on South Moreland Boulevard and Buckeye Road for his Second Chance Life Skills Center. Chrostowski announced earlier this month that he purchased an additional building on South Moreland.

“Older buildings are much more difficult to gain reinvestment,” says Bromley. “This is a wonderful historic district. Hopefully it can be saved.”

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.