(Plain Press, July 2017) Neighborhood residents and friends of the late Cleveland Housing Court Judge Raymond Pianka filled the atrium at the Gordon Square Arcade on Sunday, June 18th for the kickoff of a Father’s Day Walk in his honor. The Father’s Day Walk, conceived by Ray’s daughter, Kirsten Pianka, featured a historic tour of the neighborhood where Ray Pianka grew up and lived his life.
The Historic Walking Tour highlighted some of the historic sites in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. A pamphlet passed out with the tour notes Ray Pianka’s service as the first Executive Director of the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization from 1973- 1985, his role as a Cleveland City Council Representative of the neighborhood from 1986- 1995 and as Judge of Cleveland Municipal Housing Court from 1996 until his death. The pamphlet notes Ray’s “love of the city’s history and his passion for historic preservation.” The tour, created by Jim Dubelko, Research Associate at the Center for Public History and Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University, highlights both historic buildings in the neighborhood and places that influenced Ray Pianka and his passion for neighborhood history.
The event also featured a slide show, narrated by Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization Managing Director Jenny Spencer, that mixed views of historic sites in the neighborhood with some photos and stories from Ray Pianka’s life. In showing a slide of the former West High School, on the site where Gallagher School now sits, Spencer noted that Ray Pianka was the senior class president in 1968. Pianka met his future wife Karen Olsen while they both attended the school. Spencer noted that Olsen was the high school’s last homecoming queen. The high school closed in 1970, when West High merged with Lincoln High to form Lincoln West High School.
The neighborhood tour includes the house Ray Pianka grew up in at 6310 West Clinton. The house is just a short walk from Bethany Presbyterian Church at W. 65th and West Clinton, the first Presbyterian Church on the West Side of Cleveland. The tour notes the church is where the young Pianka and his family worshipped in the 1950s and 1960s. A few blocks to the South is the Fir Street Cemetery, the second oldest Jewish Cemetery in Cleveland. A story in the tour guide handout notes that Pianka once said the cemetery was one of the places in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood that sparked his early and life-long interest in local history. Between 2007 and 2009, the pamphlet notes “Pianka led an effort, in collaboration with Park Synagogue, and others, to renovate and restore the cemetery.”
Ray Pianka was also instrumental in leading an effort to save the Oliver Alger House, which now sits at 7708 Franklin Boulevard. The house, built prior to the Civil War, was the house of the Mayor of West Cleveland, a municipality that merged with Cleveland in 1894. Many neighborhood residents remember when the house was removed from its original location at W. 67th and Detroit and rolled to its new home in 1998.
Another historical site which Pianka had a hand in creating is the designation of Herman Avenue from W. 74th to W. 76th as “Kilbane Town” in memory of Cleveland’s Johnny Kilbane, who lived at 7413 Herman and won the world featherweight boxing title in 1912. According to a story in the tour pamphlet, in 2011, in preparation for the hundredth-year celebration of Kilbane’s victory, Pianka “successfully lobbied City Council to plaque the house where Johnny lived and put up banners proclaiming the section of Herman Avenue from West 74 Street to West 76 Street ‘Kilbane Town.’”
Editor’s Note: The above stories and other stories from the Historic Walking Tour are available under the heading The Raymond L. Pianka Memorial Walk at the CLEHistorical app or online at clevelandhistorical.org.