During this audio tour—roughly one hour—you will walk one of the Cleveland area’s most beloved and historic neighborhoods: Coventry Village in Cleveland Heights. On the way we’ll stop at numerous sites where you’ll learn a bit about the area’s architecture, history and people. Your starting point is on East Overlook Road just west of Coventry Road, about two blocks south of Coventry Village. There’s plenty of on-street parking there. We request that you start the tour when you are standing on the north side of East Overlook in front of an old wrought-iron fence. In front of you will be the remnants of a large estate and a handful of attractive, vaguely Usonian residences nestled in the trees. To start the tour simply hit the “play” button. You may pause the tour at any time and then hit “play” to restart. We hope you enjoy this installment of Cleveland Walks.
On this site—covering an entire city block—stood one of Cleveland Heights’ most magnificent and ostentatious residences. Built for Dr. Charles Briggs in 1906, it was a true castle: 30 rooms, 30-inch outer walls, ten bathrooms, 15 hand-carved marble fireplaces, two greenhouses and one gorgeous swimming poll. In the 1960s the home was largely destroyed to make way for condominiums. However, the estate’s wall, fences, pool, playhouse and ballroom remain.
A cozy and delightful Tudor Revival and Jacobean-style structure, this was Cleveland Heights’ main library from the time it was constructed (1926) until 1968 when the city completed a new and far larger structure on Lee Road. For several decades, the Coventry Library was repurposed and often under-utilized. In recent years, however, it has reclaimed its role as a charming neighborhood library and a local center for fine arts.
Parents, neighbors and a handful of construction professionals armed with $300,000 in donations came together in 1993 as Coventry P.E.A.C.E—Coventry People Enhancing a Child’s Environment—to build the exceptional playground you see in the distance. Eight years later, the newly formed “Heights Arts” sponsored its first public art project: the Coventry Arch under which you are now standing.
For most of the 20th Century, the landscape you see before you looked very different. The original Coventry School, a Tudor Gothic structure built in 1919, stood much closer to the intersection of Coventry and Euclid Heights than the replacement building you now see in the distance. Conforming to the odd topography, the old school was a full story lower on the Euclid Heights side. For most of the school’s life, Washington Boulevard also extended through to Coventry Road, which made for a complicated and not altogether safe intersection for tens of thousands of children.
This little building’s history makes it much more than another sandwich shop. Booze, bikers and big fun are all part of the structure’s legacy. For a time, hippies and motorcycle gangs sneered at each other across the street. And for decades, passersby were far more likely to encounter chicken feathers than chicken sandwiches.
Despite its vaguely counterculture ambience, Coventry Village is not immune to change. In fact, no establishment on this particular intersection’s four corners is the same as it was 25 years ago. On the northeast corner, for example, you bought bicycles in the 70s and Thai food in 2000s. Across Coventry, it was bad booze and deli food for decades until residents and city authorities lowered the boom. Conversely, the iconic Heights Hardware is approaching its 100th birthday.
How appropriate: Big Fun whoopee-cushioned itself into existence on April Fools Day 1991. On that day, and for nearly 3 decades, Big Fun made – and was filled with – history. Most of the store was packed with items Steve Presser acquired from warehouses: countless quantities of kitschy merchandise, a lot of which has never been out of the original packaging. Think G.I. Joe and Star Wars action figures, Atari, Polly Pockets and My Little Pony, as well as cards and novelties far older than we are.
“Americanized Lebanese” food has been the most popular fare on Coventry for more than 40 years—ever since Tommy Fello perfected his craft while working part time at a drug store / soda fountain up where CoventrYard now stands. Our recommendation is that you order literally any falafel sandwich, accompanied by a chocolate milkshake with a banana in it. After lunch or dinner, consider a visit to Mac’s Backs-Books, which can be accessed from the street or from inside Tommy’s.
More than a mini-mall and more than a spot for drinking, dining, entertainment and shopping, CoventrYard is a metaphor for how the Coventry neighborhood has changed. In spite of several horrendous fires, philosophical battles and an often-revolving door of lessees, CoventrYard has become a fixture, with a handful of establishments—notably The Grog Shop, Inn on Coventry and bd’s Mongolian Grill—now considered neighborhood staples.
Long-time residents know this place as the Heights Art Theater. Some are also aware that American history and America’s best candy were made here. The candy was created by Chris and Penelope Mitchell, whose store adjoined the theater and served the area for more than 50 years. The theater’s history could hardly be more dramatic: The same venue that now houses a church and a hookah bar was once the subject of a pornography-focused legal fight that went all the way to the US Supreme Court.