Cleveland 1973 – You can’t get there from here.
In 1973, the first thing I learned about Cleveland was that I couldn’t get there from here.
Nearly all cities have east and west or north and south rivalries and identities but nothing came close to Cleveland in the 70s and early 80s. I’d meet people from the west side of Cleveland who had never been east of downtown and east siders that wouldn’t even consider venturing to the other side of the Cuyahoga River.
Even those living 10 to 15 miles within the southern-most borders of Cuyahoga County identified themselves as being east or west siders with the winding Cuyahoga River as the boundary.
During my first year in Cleveland, I knew more east siders that had been to New York than to the west side – and west siders who had been to Chicago – but no further east that University Circle or the eclectic Coventry neighborhood in Cleveland Heights.
There were only four ways to go from the east side of Greater Cleveland to the west.
The most northerly route was the west Shoreway. It was a poorly maintained twisting and turning, pothole-laden road, running parallel to Lake Erie.
The second was Granger Road on the east side, which changed names to Brookpark Road, at the west side of the Cuyahoga River. The road was – and still is for many miles, an ugly industrial landscape, heavily traveled by trucks, and dotted with traffic lights every few blocks. In 1973, those traffic lights were horribly out of sync.
The third was an alternate but parallel route to Granger and Brookpark – and just as arduous to drive. Granger began at Rockside Road on the east side but unlike other east-west streets that changed names at the Cuyahoga River border didn’t go through its name change to Snow Road until the Independence-Parma city border.
Until I-480 opened, the latter two routes were the most direct for those traveling from the central east side to Hopkins Airport, located within Cleveland city limits, but on its furthest southwest side. Traveling from the east side to Hopkins Airport often took longer than it would to drive from Cleveland to Ashtabula on I-90.
The fourth choice was the only fully completed Interstate in Greater Cleveland: I-71, which traveled southwest from downtown Cleveland to Louisville, Kentucky – and the prime route to the airport used by those living in the northern-most east and west side suburbs. It was, at the time, the only interstate in Greater Cleveland to have an exit ramp to the airport.
I-71 served a second purpose. In the early 70s, I-90, the Interstate connecting Boston to Seattle dead-ended in Cleveland due to being years behind its construction schedule.
To continue west, one had to take I-71 for a little over ten miles to the Ohio Turnpike (I-80) and drive west for 14 and a half miles until the highways merged in Elyria.
I-480, the Interstate that would eventually connect the east and west sides from the south suburbs, was in its earliest stages of construction, and also years behind schedule.
Even traveling from Cleveland to Akron was a near impossibility.
I-77, the 611-mile Interstate that connects Cleveland to Columbia, South Carolina, dead-ended near the suburban borders of Cleveland and Cuyahoga Heights, just seven miles south of downtown Cleveland. To continue on I-77 to Akron, Canton, and other points south, the unfinished highway merged on to Brecksville Road in the town of Independence, which you would take south to Rockside Road for a couple of miles, where you’d turn right and rejoin I-77 about three quarters of a mile down the road.
East of the city, a completed Interstate, I-271, connected I-90 in the Cuyahoga-Lake county border, 18 miles east of Cleveland, and traveled south where it connected to I-77 in Bath, Ohio in Summit County and a northern suburb of Akron and ended at the Summit county-Medina county line at I-71, a little over 24 miles south of Cleveland. I-271 allowed far-east siders access to I-71 and I-77 Interstates without having to drive through downtown Cleveland.
Even the ethnicity of Greater Cleveland varied greatly on the east and west sides. There were no African-Americans or Jews on the west side.
Being newly arrived from Boston, and having travelled extensively throughout the northeast and some of the midwest, this experience was pure culture shock.
More on 1973 Cleveland and WMMS in Chapters 1 & 2 in The Buzzard