Surrogate Suburbs: Black Upward Mobility and Neighborhood Change in Cleveland, 1900-1980

By Todd M. Michney | Go to book overview

6
Urban Change and Reform Agendas
in Cleveland’s Black Middle-Class
Neighborhoods, 1950–1980

In November 1972, the Lee-Harvard Shopping Center in Southeast Cleveland became, according to the local press, the “largest black-owned commercial complex in the nation.” The culmination of three years of planning, the property’s new owners, a group of African American professionals and shareholders from the surrounding neighborhood organized as Southeast Renaissance, Inc., had purchased it with a $700,000 loan from the Cleveland Trust Co. and an additional $250,000 from an anonymous benefactor. Immediately upon acquiring the shopping center, the new owners resurfaced the parking lot, upgraded landscaping, and hired more security personnel. All but one of the twenty-one stores, including five formerly vacant, had tenants within a month, and the last remaining vacancy was slated to be filled. The twelve-acre complex included three supermarkets, a drugstore, and a bank, all of which were “triple-A” tenants having assets in the millions of dollars. The new owners’ optimism seemed boundless, with their grandiose master plan calling for future additions of a high-rise apartment building, medical center, and more retail stores. The group even talked of acquiring an additional, adjoining property, the now-vacant, former Federal Department Store. “One of the big department stores could set up a branch store here; or several could, through a consortium, help … to start the project,” suggested Dr. Tillman Bauknight, a local dentist and chairman of the Southeast Renaissance board. With this accomplished, Bauknight expected shoppers would come from miles around to patronize the complex.1

The Lee-Harvard Shopping Center project stands out as one example of the various “black capitalist” ventures undertaken in American cities from the late 1960s into the 1970s.2 An overarching theme of pride in Black culture, concurrent with nationwide trends in African American communities, became even more apparent when another group formed in June 1973 to purchase and renovate the Federal Department Store property. Equally ambitious, its plans called for seventeen shops, including an African boutique, a soul food restaurant, a party and recreation center, and a performing arts theater, as well as a finance

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