Thursday, May 09, 2013

What I know about the house on Seymour Avenue

If you walk due west from 2207 Seymour Avenue and take a left onto West 25th Street; and then go south for one block, you'll find yourself in front of John Zubal’s place. His sprawling collection of books numbers upwards of 2.5 million and has captured the attention of Anthony Bourdain as well as yours truly.

I cannot aptly describe in words or show in pictures the divinity of this place, but it is indeed a wonder. Consider, for instance, that a large portion of the books are housed in vintage wooden pear and fruit crates that Zubal collected as a kid from area open air markets. As I walked amid the stacks of books with John Zubal and heard his story last fall, I welled up in that rare way.

Oh Cleveland, how you do me sometimes.

Now then, this is Cleveland and you are in a very old part of town. Hence you don't have to travel much farther away from Seymour Avenue in order to find another solid example of authenticity.

Head back out onto 25th Street and stroll south down to Meyer Avenue--don't dawdle, this neighborhood can be a bit rough around the edges--okay, maybe more than a little bit rough and maybe in the middle as well, but your next destination is less than a half mile. Take a right onto Meyer and go due west until you get to 30th.


No matter how humble that brick building looks, you are standing in front of one of this town's most splendid jewels. Holtkamp Organ Company has been handcrafting pipe organs in Cleveland since 1855 and when you step inside the "new shop" (built in 1921), your eyes will widen and the breath will push out of your lungs in a big wondrous sigh.

I know. I was just there for an interview for this story in this week's Fresh Water.

Voicing studio, Holtkamp Organ Company

I hope with all my heart that Amanda and Gina and Michelle find the rest of their lives soon and that the guilty pay the appropriate price. We will never erase this ugliness, but it will diminish with time. As for that tough old Cleveland neighborhood that I love so dearly--don't listen to everything they're saying about you. They don't understand, but I do. I know how hard you tried. May you heal quickly too. I know you will, you quirky beautiful grid of streets. You always do.

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A Christmas Story House
--The interview I conducted with John Zubal was for a shopping guide I wrote for Ohio City Argus last year. You can view it here (pages 8 and 9). Each entry focuses on a homegrown CLE business and every one of them is less than a mile from the house on Seymour Avenue.

--Cleveland Vibrator is about a mile and a half from the house, as is Palookaville Chili.

--My favorite breakfast spot in Cleveland, Grumpy's, is about 3/4 mile from Seymour, as is A Christmas Story House.

This list could go on and on, but you get the picture.

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Cleveland Bob said...

As always, Erin, you've found the diamond in the rough of all of this hurleyburley from the past week.

You're truly the first lady of The Cleve.

Erin O'Brien said...

First and foremost, I hurt for the victims and their families. But I hurt plenty for that neighborhood as well. So much heart, so many wounds, so many scars.

And so many people who don't know a damn thing about this place running their mouths ...

yeah, yeah

Beanie said...

Thanks for reminding us that this neighborhood is about more than the ugliness of this tragedy. It's a wonderful, quirky, historic place that's full of characters of all shapes and sizes.

Perhaps, if there is a silver lining to be had from the recent tragedy and hideousness, it's this: That the attention from the city and nation might be followed by more -- and gentler -- attention to this lovely old neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Another attraction at 25th and Meyer: Dickey's Lanes. An old school 8-lane bowling alley, family owned and operated since 1945. The Dickey family is well into their third generation there. There used to be 9 lanes, but there wasn't enough room for machinery for all 9 after the automatic bowling machinery was added and anyway you couldn't find good pin-boys any more even if you wanted to. There is a tee-totally great mural over the top of the lanes created by a neighborhood artist that must be seen. I can't really do it justice with words, except that it features the happiest bowling balls and pins you'll ever see.

The neighborhood isn't what it used to be, even as recently as ten years ago, but then again many neighborhoods aren't what they used to be. The Lanes survives and prospers because everybody up and down Two-Five knows that there is zero sense of humor when it comes to disruptions and nonsense. I once saw a guy get thrown out the front door head first and he was airborne-he didn't touch the ground until his forehead hit the car parked out in front.

A completely mixed crowd, black, white and latino, and everybody gets along because any person in the place has every other person's back if there are any unscheduled tourists moseying in off the street. And anyway, almost everyone is a working stiff who realizes they've got more in common with each other regardless of ethnicity.

On a personal note, I'm grateful that the walls are mute.

Now about Seymour Avenue: During the 2004-05 school year the Cleveland School district sent my autistic 7-year old to Walton elementary school on Walton Avenue. We couldn't understand why they sent him so far from our home: there were three other schools closer to home and one close enough to hit with a rock from our porch. After about six weeks of the school year we realized his classroom had been created as a dump-all for kids the district didn't quite know what to do with otherwise. The neighborhood looked like Baghdad but without Baghdad's rustic charm. It's the reason we sold our house and left the area for a spell, as CMSD intended the same situation for him the next school year; and it was a blessing in one way: we got out about 10 months before the housing market went bonkers-the house was only on the market for one week. (!!!)

The reason I mention Walton is because it runs E-W just north of Clark Avenue. Seymour Ave. is about six blocks to the east, and Michelle Knight's residence was just down the block on Walton.

My son was being bussed. Castro drove a bus.

I don't think I'll ever be totally relaxed about my boy's safety again.

Thanks for reading.


Erin O'Brien said...

Welcome and thanks for dropping in, Beanie.

MR, thanks for the insight. Is this the graphic from Dickey's you're referring to?

Mrs. C said...

The town up the road from me struggles the same way from idiocy with flapping lips; this piece does honor where it should.

Anonymous said...

No town, city, state or country is immune to crazy people. You never really know what goes on next door. A sad day for a community and hopefully a recovery for the victims.
James Old Guy

Katie Karrick said...

Thanks for the reminder about Zubal's. I was in there years ago on my usual quest for out-of-print books about cemeteries, funerary sculpture, and mourning customs. He had a couple I would have sold my eye-teeth for, but were beyond my budget at the time. Floor to ceiling books, and books, and more books. I made some great finds there and a couple of visits, but sure wish it were possible to go back again... if just to drink in the rich aroma of old books. Again, thanks, Erin.

John Venlet said...

Erin, thanks for sharing that link to Zubal's. If I can't find a book at my local used book shop, I'll be trying Zubal's now.

Erin O'Brien said...

I only wish I could capture the feeling of Zubal's in a photo, but it's just not possible.

They are not necessarily open to the public, but if you call, they'll let you browse some of the first floor stuff. There is truly nothing else like that place.

I don't imagine Holtkamp is open to the public unless you made some pretty special arrangements.

Anonymous said...


No, that's not the graphic. The one you posted is on an outbuilding in the parking lot across the street. Back in the day, and before my time, it was operated as an ice cream stand. I'm pretty sure two different artists created that one and the one inside.

And speaking of bibliophile greatness, are you too young to have frequented the late, great Kay's Books? We used to ride the bus from Bedford to the Rapid station and take the train from Shaker downtown. If anyone is curious, look it up. I suspect if you are fond of Mr Zubal's you'll enjoy reading about Kay's. A lot of people in Cleveland cried real tears when they closed.


Joe said...

It took a while for me to outgrow the notion a monster lurked under my bed. As I grew more world-weary, I have come to understand the monster may live next door.

Evil is not confined to a specific neighborhood, or city. As the Shadow knows, it lurks in the hearts of men.

Craig Hughes said...

Great post.

Derf Backderf said...

Zubal's is wondrous as a place, but not really a "bookstore" since it's not open to the public. He's more a book "supplier", as I understand it, mostly selling out-of-print tomes to libraries. YOu'll find no bargains there either. Everything is top price.

Kay's Books downtown remains the bookstore by which all others are judged. It closed in 1983 or so, but such was the treasure trove that could be found there– 3 floors, plus a mezzanine and basement with shelves packed so tight the books were two deep, spines out!– that my teenage self used to ride my bike from Richfield to the southernmost RTA stop in Brecksville and hop the 77F downtown. I'd spend hours at Kays, filling a grocery bag with paperbacks, then swing by Cosmic Comics in the Colonial Arcade and blow the rest of my money.