One of the most dangerous areas on Cleveland’s east side – to wander here with a camera would be ridiculous, so I had to.
During the 1990s, one of many larger fires in Cleveland’s history broke out in the center of a once lively neighborhood, destroying buildings and claiming lives. It was said that because of this fire, local community began to collapse, eventually leading to the abandonment of almost everything.
In its lively years, Elderwood sat beneath a hill in East Cleveland, maintaining the life of a normal, functioning urban block. Children played in the heat of a summer sun, running through sprinklers, laughing while life around them continued as normal as it always had. So what was it that turned this particular disaster into something that people would want to push from their memories? The story of Elderwood is one of a sad history – one of very dark days. This large fire brought the death of family members, while most notably and quite sadly, taking the lives of some very young children. I am not 100 percent positive why the entire neighborhood was abandoned so quickly the way it was instead of initially attempting to rebuild, but I believe it may be a strong possibility that people wanted to completely abandon and bury these terrifying memories, leaving everything behind.
During early July of 2013, firefighters were called to the scene of a building billowing smoke on the neighborhood street, burning for over 2 hours until finally being taken out by the team. A very short amount of time passed until one more incident had come to the attention of police, when three bodies were found in surrounding buildings, one of them on the second story of an apartment on Elderwood. Since that discovery in July, a bright spotlight has been heavily focused in and around the area where Elderwood Avenue runs through.
I first explored this quiet block during January of 2014, giving me the chance to capture its emptiness within a cold winter scene. Most of the streets were covered in snow so deep that it was difficult to navigate by walking, let along drive through. The winter, cold temperatures and lack of active people in the area were what allowed me to venture inside, capturing the bleak abandonment through some of the most beautifully austere scenery left behind by wild destruction. I returned during the warmer months of summer, to see just how much had changed, finding myself lost between a world of green life and orange-bricked death. Facing Elderwood, I felt as though I was staring down the center of an urban jungle. Trees pushed wildly from foundations, while overgrowth and foliage sprang freely from walls and sidewalks. I walked these lonely, cracking and cluttered streets, imagining this eerie laughter, like children playing. The air is mostly quiet, with the exception of sporadic clangs and crunches echoing through broken windows. Open doors pour trash into the yards and street as floors just inside some units have collapsed, forcefully pushing destruction outward.
Nature paints images of the most fascinating grandeur, transforming usual into unusual as fresh Earth pulls from broken foundations, pushes against fragmented walls and reaches through shattered windows. Not only does this give us a unique scene, but an interesting one that could speak not a thousand, but a million words.
With Cleveland’s population declining, down 20 percent in the last ten years, places like this will simply need to be torn down. We will not gain anything by saying that the area needs to be brought back to life when most of it is beyond the point of restoration and would ultimately do no good, or be of much help to the community, considering not much of the community even remains. It’s a wonderful thought for thriving areas, such as parts of New York or Chicago, both of whom are making great restoration efforts, but places like this need to be removed as they only continue to encourage acts of crime to take place, providing criminals with a dumping ground of sorts.
Bombardment by fires and vandalism over the years in connection with the high crime rate, from rape to murder, has eventually led to the recent beginning demolition of the area. Very soon we will say our final goodbyes to Elderwood as a whole, and only an empty, flat land will remain where these structures once stood tall. In areas like this, you need to be careful. It’s not simply a “walk in the park, let’s see cool stuff” kind of thing. By putting yourself in a situation like this, you could be severely hurt, robbed, or even killed. More people need to know this, and stop thinking of exploring these areas as some kind of simple game or general activity. There are plenty of cool things to explore that are much safer, be aware of your surroundings and stay safe. It’s ultimately your choice, but I have given you my thoughts.