Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What of the Telling Mansion?

Yesterday, Cuyahoga County Public Library’s board of directors unanimously voted to move the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Public Library from its current site at the Telling Mansion on Mayfield Road. In about two years, a new facility will exist on Green Road – across from the former Regina High School. What remains to be seen is what will happen to the Telling Mansion – which has housed the Library since 1952. I have many fond memories of that Library dating back to my years as a student at Brush High School in the 1980s. I would stop there on weekdays after school, spending about an hour there before I headed to start my shift at work. It was at the Library where I was able to expand my musical horizons, borrowing classical LPs which were prohibitively expensive to purchase.

The timing of the purchase agreements on the three Green Road properties and yesterday’s vote make it obvious that the CCPL was deep into planning this move long before the public was given notice. It’s also worth noting that CCPL habitually scheduled public meetings during regular business hours – when most of the public was unable to attend. In short, CCPL did an end-run around the taxpayers who fund them. By the time residents knew what was going on, it was already too late to mount an effective response. As late as Monday, regular patrons of the Library were unaware of the situation. An astonished “WHAT?” was the most common reaction when I mentioned it to several people there.

The CCPL has already made it clear why they want to build a new facility: energy efficiency; clear sightlines; and the ability to reduce staff. All laudable goals. But would New York tear down its old Library because it’s out of date? No, because it’s a connection to New York’s history – as is the Telling Mansion for South Euclid. This goes to the heart of why libraries exist. To what extent does the CCPL’s goal to run what it deems to be a “modern” and “efficient” network of libraries run counter to its obligation to hear and heed the voices of the local community – the taxpayers who foot the bill? How can they hear the public’s input, when they deliberately tried to avoid it?

Especially upsetting was the apparent lack of interest seen from Lyndhurst. While the Telling site is technically the South Euclid-Lyndhurst library, many people from Lyndhurst have probably been using the Mayfield branch on Wilson Mills Road. I know this from personal experience, as I lived in Lyndhurst from 1994-1998 and that’s there I went. But the Mayfield site will be moving to a new location on SOM Center Road in less than a year. Sometime in 2014, there will be no local library for residents of Lyndhurst – except for the tiny branch by the Richmond Mall, which is only useful as a pickup/drop off facility. It’s worth noting that, while I received prompt responses from CCPL’s Executive Director Sari Feldman, Mayor Welo and other South Euclid officials – Mayor Cicero of Lyndhurst never responded to my e-mail.

There are some people who are happy to see the Library move. Perhaps some of this attitude is reflected in a letter that has been making the rounds, in which a citizen defended the Library’s move by complaining that “hordes of blacks” from Brush High School invade the branch weekdays after school and cause a ruckus. I have no doubt that the writer of this letter holds an opinion that is all too common among a certain generation of our residents. I well remember when an African-American family’s home in Lyndhurst was vandalized in the 1980s. Change in societal attitudes comes slowly. But it’s sad that in this day and age there are still people who clutch their belongings close to themselves and rush away whenever a youngster of color is near. For myself, I’ve been at the library during such hours and I’ve noted no unruly behavior, just young people quietly studying at tables or at the bank of computers.

But the board has voted and what’s done is done. The CCPL is not subject to voter referenda and certainly not to online petitions – especially when many signatures come from people outside Cuyahoga County. Nothing is to be gained by engaging in an acrimonious battle as happened last year with Oakwood. Now is the time to look forward (although I will be unlikely to support the levy request which is certain to come in the next few years).

I’ve always made it plain that my primary concern was preserving the Telling Mansion and keeping it as a site which can be enjoyed by the public. Last week, I received an e-mail from Director Feldman in which she promised the CCPL would “seek a buyer who wishes to maintain the historic integrity of the building as we have over the years”. But there’s a long way from “seeking” a buyer to “drawing a line in the sand”, and agreeing to sell ONLY to a buyer who will treat the Telling Mansion with respect. This is critically important, because the building’s fate hangs in the balance. Contrary to popular belief, the fact that the Telling Mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places does NOT protect it from demolition. When it comes to private property, which the Telling site would become if sold to a private entity, the NHRP merely regulates how the exterior of the building is maintained and provides tax incentives to maintain the interior in a historically appropriate manner. But there is nothing to prevent someone from tearing the building down and building, say, condominiums.

Remember what happened to Millionaire’s Row on Euclid Avenue, and take heed.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Religion Fixation

A preoccupation with religion in government and a political fear of offending religious lobbies is holding back our nation scientifically, intellectually and morally... Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The three Rs

Click to enlarge

Monday, August 20, 2012

What's Paul Ryan hiding?

Musical Theatre on the East Side

Recently, an acquaintance complained to me that there was nothing to do in our area. My unspoken thought was “you must be joking”. Just this past weekend, Dan & I were able to attend two locally produced musicals.

The first was Mercury Summer Stock’s production of All Shook Up. Mercury has operated in such prestigious locales as The Cleveland Playhouse. But this summer, they took up residence in South Euclid, at the former Regina High School – now part of Notre Dame College. Dan & I previously saw Cats and Once Upon a Mattress – we missed Footloose which only ran for two days. Despite being presented in a former high school auditorium, the quality of these productions was quite high. The acting and singing were on a professional level, coupled with the youthful enthusiasm one would expect from mostly under-30 performers. I sincerely hope Mercury returns to our city next year.

Saturday night, Dan & I headed to the Mayfield Village Civic Center to see Urinetown – presented by the Fairmount Center for the Arts. The last time I had been in that building was precisely nineteen years before, August 18 1993 for my mother’s funeral service – when the building housed Mayfield United Methodist Church. Around ten years ago, the church moved to Chesterland and the Village bought the building – but it remains largely as it was before. In the former sanctuary, the pews have been replaced with rows of chairs. Appropriately for a musical called Urinetown, we were seated in Row P. I wish I could enthuse about this production, but it was clearly on an amateur level. Many of the performers were high school age – nothing wrong with that, but they had not been schooled in the art of diction. (One thing that annoyed me about 2009’s Star Trek was how Zachary Quinto was unable to properly present his dialogue [“Enterprise, for tuh beem up”] as Nimoy effortlessly did during the series.) Then there was the material itself. Urinetown takes place in a dystopian future where water has become so scarce that one must pay the corporate oligarchy to go to the bathroom (peeing outdoors is forbidden). After the events of this past summer, Urinetown could seem oddly prophetic. But the songs were unmemorable and there was all too much breaking of the fourth wall for Urinetown to rivet me to my seat. I kept checking my program to see how many songs were left before we could leave.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The South Euclid-Lyndhurst Library

Here's the text of a letter I recently sent to the Sun Messenger.  Thus far, it has not been printed:

As a citizen of South Euclid, who used the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Library while a student at Brush and continues to do so in middle age, I have many fond memories of the Telling Mansion – its home since 1952. It’s with a growing sense of alarm that I read of the Cuyahoga County Public Library’s intention to move the facility from this historic site and build a new location near the border of our city.

First there is the issue of what happens with the Telling Mansion, one of the few remaining links to our past. Its presence on the National Register of Historic Places only regulates how the exterior is maintained. There is nothing to prevent it from being demolished should a new owner want to redevelop it.

The proposed Green Road location is troublesome for several reasons: It would involve taking down three existing homes and a business, and cutting down a wooded area. These parcels of land, which currently pay property taxes, would become public land and thus pay no taxes – placing a financial strain on our city and school district. It would also replace a centrally located facility (the existing library is about a 5 minute walk from the South Euclid / Lyndhurst border) and move it near the border of University Heights. That’s not fair to the people of Lyndhurst, and University Heights has its own library (not in the CCPL network).

Part of the justification for the CCPL proposing this change is because they want a facility that is fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. But the two most frequently used floors at the Telling site are already accessible to the disabled. Additionally, there are many other libraries within the CCPL system that comply with ADA.

CCPL has long been nationally recognized as a superb library system – even with buildings that were not fully modern. Why the sudden urge to alter that which is already great? Why the sudden insistence on uniformity and conformity? It has been written that “every rule needs an exception to prove it”. With the drive to have all of CCPL’s libraries built to a “modern” standard, why not keep the Telling Mansion as the “exception”?

Hank Drake
South Euclid

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Friday, August 10, 2012

Democratic LGBT Platform Language

Thanks to Buzzfeed's Chris Geidner, we now have the LGBT specific language in the 2012 Democratic Platform.

We know that putting America back to work is job one, and we are committed to ensuring Americans do not face employment discrimination. We support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act because people should not be fired based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

President Obama and the Democratic Party are committed to ensuring all Americans are treated fairly. This administration hosted the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention and we must continue our work to prevent vicious bullying of young people and support LGBT youth.

The President’s record, from ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in full cooperation with our military leadership, to passing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, to ensuring same-sex couples can visit each other in the hospital, reflects Democrats’ belief that all Americans deserve the same chance to pursue happiness, earn a living, be safe in their communities, serve their country, and take care of the ones they love.

We support the right of all families to have equal respect, responsibilities, and protections under the law. We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples. We also support the freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference.

We oppose discriminatory federal and state constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny equal protection of the laws to committed same-sex couples who seek the same respect and responsibilities as other married couples. We support the full repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act.

The Log Cabin Republicans can crow all they want about having a seat on the Republican Platform Committee. The final language of the Republican platform will be the same song and dance about supporting family values - while their economic polcies will still be detrimental to the vast majority of America's families.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Haverhill's Costly Mistake

From 1985-1994, I lived in Haverhill, Massachusetts - a town rich in history and ties to historical figures going back to our country’s beginning.  When John Adams served as Ambassador to England with his wife accompanying him, two of their children were sent to live with a relative in Haverhill.  President Washington visited there in 1889.  Later the town became the home of John Greenleaf Whittier.   

Haverhill had many ups and downs, none more down than the 1950s and ‘60s, when under the guise of “modernization” much of the city’s Federalist and Victorian architecture was demolished.  The most egregious example of this was a group of buildings on Merrimack Street: torn down and replaced with…a parking garage.  As a result, that section of town is almost now entirely devoid of charm – the corner of Merrimack and Main Streets is blighted with a store front that has been empty for more than four decades. 

Walk a few thousand feet west and Merrimack Street becomes Washington Street, paralleled with Wingate Street.  Here, there are rows of buildings constructed between 1882-1912 as shoe factories – fortunately never demolished, and now renovated into beautiful apartments and condominiums with vibrant retail and restaurants on the ground level. 

New is not always Better.  Let us not repeat Haverhill's mistake in South Euclid.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The South Euclid-Lyndhurst Library

The Cuyahoga County Public Library is planning to move the South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch of the library from its current location in the former Telling Mansion to a new location across from Notre Dame College on Green Road. This is in coordination with the CCPL's master plan to make all their buildings compliant with the American's with Disabilities Act, and to address issues with parking and energy efficiency.

As someone who lives in South Euclid, who used the library when in school and continues to do so today, I’d like to make a few points.

As a historic building, the Telling Mansion is exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act. An elevator, which some have suggested, would further mar the historical integrity of the building. Both of the most frequently used levels are accessible by wheelchair - although one would need to leave the building, get in the car, drive down a level, and reenter the building to do so.

The Green Road location is troublesome for several reasons: It would involve taking down three existing homes and cutting down a wooded area. It also replaces a centrally located facility (the existing library is about a 5 minute walk from the South Euclid / Lyndhurst border) and moves it near the border of University Heights. That’s not fair to the people of Lyndhurst, and University Heights has its own library (not in the CCPL network). IF the decision is made to leave the Telling site, why not build a new library at the old Anderson school site? The land is for sale, the location is central - and it’s close to the Richmond Heights mini-library, which could be closed at considerable savings. It’s also closer to Brush and Memorial than the proposed Green Road site.

I understand where CCPL’s directors are coming from, their vision is a network of libraries that are universally ADA compliant, with meeting rooms and state of the art energy efficiency. But why can’t there be an exception to the rule? Why can’t there be ONE historic, unique building in the network, tied to our history, even if it breaks some of the rules? Why the insistence on uniformity and conformity? To discuss the issue further, I have created a Facebook group. Feel free to join.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Thank you, Officer Rex

A valued member of the South Euclid Police Department retired this week, after ably serving the city for ten years. His name is Officer Rex. Officer Rex doesn’t have a last name, because Officer a dog.

Rex is a German Shepherd. Like most police dogs, Rex was not born in the United States. He was raised in Holland, and his papers trace him to the Czech Republic. Mostly, this is due to a problem the American version of the breed has developed: The “slope” in the back commonly seen in our country is considered desirable by the American Kennel Club, and American dogs are bred to maintain this characteristic. However one feels the slope looks, it is in fact a sign of deformity and often results in hind-leg disease. Thus, the American version of the breed is useless as a police dog - which must run and tackle. Last Saturday, several members of the Avondale/Argonne/West Belvoir neighborhood group gathered to throw Rex a retirement party. I was there and noticed that Rex’s back, despite his advancing years, is beautifully straight.

Officer Rex’s service has been highly beneficial to the city: he’s sniffed out drugs from marijuana, to heroin, to cocaine from vehicles, homes, and schools; he’s apprehended suspects, and located weapons used in crimes. Rex has also assisted in providing security, such as when President Obama visited Shaker Heights. He’s also helped in the area of public relations: A service dog can often bring a “human” face to the police department, particularly with children.

Rex will continue to live, as he has for ten years, with Officer Mike Fink, his handler since Rex was 13 months old. Last week, Officer Fink told me that Rex knew it was time for work when his master started donning his police uniform. I’m not surprised. My dog, Mason, is able to delineate whether I’m getting ready for work or to take him for a walk. While humans are often thinking of many things at once – anticipating what they need to do that day, what to buy at the store, remembering to fill the gas tank; and berating themselves over past mistakes – dogs are solely focused on the activity of the moment. They observe us humans, and learn our habits. I wonder how Rex will feel when his master leaves for work, while Rex stays at home. With time, he will doubtless adapt to the new routine. At eleven years old, Rex is well past canine retirement age and has earned his rest.

Given that he did not draw a salary, Officer Rex was the least expensive member of the force. He was purchased with confiscated drug money – probably the best way such money could be put to good use. The city continues to use another police dog, Officer Recon, and is working to purchase a successor for Rex sometime next year.