Household Names from the Heights
Published 2009 in “View from the Overlook,” with minor edits.
Like most cities, Cleveland Heights has its share of widely known, widely respected and even widely reviled citizens. Building on a research project launched several years ago by Sarah Wean, we bring you the latest version of our “Cleveland Heights Hall of Fame.” In addition to Sarah’s contribution, we would like to acknowledge two reference sources that greatly helped expand our list: John Stark Bellamy’s books on Cleveland crime and the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, an outstanding local-reference document accessible online at http://ech.cwru.edu.
Alex “Shondor” Burns
Alex “Shondor” Birns, legendary archcriminal, lived for several years at 2813 Edgehill Rd. A Hungarian émigré, Birns involved himself in rackets, prostitution, theft, assault, and murder from the days of Prohibition until his death. In the spring of 1975, Birns was killed by a bomb planted in his automobile. No one was arrested for his murder.
Mike and Jules Belkin
Mike and Jules Belkin both graduated from Cleveland Heights High School. In 1966, they were among a small handful of young entrepreneurs at the forefront of the burgeoning rock and roll concert industry. Since then, Belkin Productions has become synonymous with rock entertainment, and involved in the careers of performers such as Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, Bette Midler, Genesis, David Bowie, Dave Matthews Band, Phish, The Who, Bob Dylan, Pearl Jam, Metallica and The Grateful Dead.
Hector Boiardi (Chef Boy-Ar-Dee)
Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, a.k.a., Hector Boiardi, lived at 2501 Arlington Road. Born in Italy, he became head chef at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in New York at the age of 17. After coming to Cleveland, he owned the Giardion Restaurant, from which he sold sauces and pasta “to go.” He started making packaged foods in the early 1930s and parleyed that venture into a multi-million-dollar business.
Dr. George Crile
Dr. George Crile, respected surgeon and founder of the Cleveland Clinic, lived on the parcel of land now occupied by the Cedar Hill Baptist Church (then 2620 Derbyshire Rd.). Although the house (which originally was owned by Cleveland Heights Developer Patrick Calhoun) was torn down in the 1940s, the accompanying carriage house at the east end of the property still stands.
Pierino (“Pete”) DiGravio
Pierino (“Pete”) DiGravio, loanshark and gangster, was shot to death while playing golf at the Orchard Hills golf course on June 21, 1968. Known as the Mayor of Little Italy, DiGravio had recently made the mistake of bad-mouthing his Mob rivals to a Cleveland Press reporter. His murder has never been solved. At the time of his death DiGravio lived at 2589 Norfolk Rd. (Photo not available)
Source: Cleveland Magazine, October 2006
Dorothy Fuldheim, lecturer, commentator and the nation’s first female television news correspondent, lived at 2480 Kenilworth Rd. In her last years Ms. Fuldheim resided in the Margaret Wagner House, formerly at 2373 Euclid Heights Boulevard. In addition to being an award-winning journalist, she also was a strong advocate of historic preservation, a celebrated gardener and an ardent feminist.
Joel Grey, Tony Award winning actor, spent part of his childhood at 2441 Overlook Rd. In addition to his winning stage role in “Cabaret,” Mr. Grey also starred in more than a dozen movies beginning in the early 1960s.
George Gund, familiar to most Clevelanders as president of Cleveland Trust Bank and benefactor of the Gund Foundation, lived at 2665 East Overlook Road. Prior to his banking career, he owned the Kaffe Hag Corporation, which made decaffeinated coffee. He refined the process and subsequently sold it to Coca-Cola.
Samuel Halle, co-founder of the Halle Brothers Department Store in 1891, lived with his wife Blanche at 2163 Harcourt Drive. Many illustrious people were entertained during the 40 years that the family occupied the house, including Cole Porter, Sinclair Lewis, George Gershwin, Artur Rubenstein and Sir Winston Churchill.
Jean Harris, well-known headmistress of an exclusive east coast girls’ school—until she became even better known as the murderer of Scarsdale Diet Doctor Herman Tarnower—lived at 2237 Demington Drive. As unique as her life was, her explanation of why she killed the doctor was even more unusual: She claimed that the gun accidentally went off while she was trying to persuade him to kill her!
Ross Hunter, Hollywood producer, lived for a time on Berkeley Avenue. According to Wikipedia, Hunter was known for producing “light” films starring actresses such as Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds (the Tammy films) and (later) Julie Andrews. He also produced Douglas Sirk melodramas such as “Imitation of Life” with Lana Turner and several with Rock Hudson. (Photo not available)
Diana Hyland, film and television actress, grew up at 2184 Bellfield Avenue. Known mostly for her television work, the former Diana Gentner was seen on The Twilight Zone, Wagon Train, The FBI and Dr. Kildare. She also was John Travolta’s first love interest. She died of cancer in Travolta’s arms on March 27, 1977.
Owen Kilbane lived at 12920 Cedar Rd. from the 1970s until he was imprisoned for life for his participation in the murder-for-hire killing of Euclid Judge Robert Steele’s wife Marilyn in 1969. (Photo not available)
Peter B. Lewis
Peter B. Lewis graduated from Cleveland Heights High School. In 1965 Lewis took over his father’s company—Progressive Insurance—as chief executive officer. At that time Progressive had 100 employees and $6 million in revenue. In 2007, the Mayfield Heights-based company employed almost 27,000 people and reported revenue of $14.7 billion.
Dean Martin, movie star, Rat Packer and crooner extraordinaire, married Elizabeth Anne “Betty” McDonald at St. Ann’s Church in Cleveland Heights in 1941 (that’s amore). They lived in an apartment at 2820 Mayfield Road. In his early life Martin also delivered bootleg liquor, served as a speakeasy croupier, dealt blackjack, worked in a steel mill and boxed as welterweight.
Eliot Ness, the Prohibition lawman of “Untouchables” fame, is reputed to have lived at 1265 Inglewood Drive. Ness came to Cleveland in 1935 to become Public Safety Director. During his tenure, he developed a reputation as “the cop who couldn’t be broken.” Other aspects of his life, however, were far more breakable: He was married three times, ran unsuccessfully as Republican candidate for mayor in 1947, suffered serious financial reverses, and died in 1957 at the age of 54.
Paul Newman lived in Shaker Heights for a time but before that he also resided at 2100 Renrock Road, in Cleveland Heights. It was his first residence.. He graduated from Shaker Heights High School, spent some time at OSU, served as a radio man in the South Pacific during WW2, graduated from Kenyon College, and then went on to make more than 50 movies.
Eunice Podis was a renowned, internationally respected pianist who made more solo appearances with the Cleveland Orchestra than any other musician. She grew up at 3587 Washington Blvd. in Cleveland Heights and graduated from Cleveland Heights High School.
Adela Prentiss Hughes
Adela Prentiss Hughes, the first woman to establish and manage a major symphony orchestra, lived at 2400 Kenilworth Lane. In that house, she entertained some of the world’s famous musicians, including Toscanini, Pavlova, Casals and Stravinski.
John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller, our suburb’s most famous (and wealthiest) citizen spent most summers at his Forest Hill estate. The actual mansion (formerly a sanitarium) stood in what is now East Cleveland, right at the top of the giant sledding hill in the northwest region of the (then) 800-acre tract. What became Grant Deming’s Forest Hill subdivision was originally Rockefeller land, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was the developer of the later Forest Hill subdivision of East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights in the 1930s: 81 French-Norman homes of over 300 originally planned in the neighborhood north of Mayfield Road between Lee Boulevard and North Taylor Road.
Viktor Schreckengost, who died in January 2008 at the age of 101, lived much of his life at 2265 Stillman Rd. and graduated from the Cleveland School of the Arts in 1929. Schreckengost was one of the world’s most influential industrial designers: everything from dinnerware to Murray bicycles to world’s first cab over engine—a design that remains the standard for almost every city bus.
Dr. Sam Sheppard
Dr. Sam Sheppard, Bay Village’s not-so-favorite son, spent his boyhood at 3062 Euclid Heights Blvd. As most of us know, he was convicted of murdering his wife Marilyn in the early 1950s. The verdict later was overturned. After leaving prison, Dr. Sam became a professional wrestler—not a common or prestigious profession for ex-physicians. He died of liver failure in 1970.
Nicolai Sokoloff, the first conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra (from 1918 to 1933), lived for a time at 1812 Cadwell Avenue. Although considered brilliant and innovative, he also was tempestuous, unfriendly, and generally difficult to work with.
Dr. Benjamin Spock
Dr. Benjamin Spock lived at 1285 Inglewood Drive. Born in 1903, he became a psychiatrist and, later, the most famous pediatrician in history. From 1955 until 1967, he was professor of child development at Western Reserve University (now CWRU). Attributing his longevity to a macrobiotic diet, Spock died in 1998 at the age of 95.
Herbert Strawbridge, long-time CEO of the Higbee company, lived on Hyde Park Avenue in the 1950s. (Photo not available)
Debra Winger spent much of her childhood at 3795 Severn Rd., and her grandparents were also Cleveland Heights residents. Ms. Winger attended Cleveland Heights High School but moved prior to graduation. Ms. Winger twice was nominated for Academy Awards: for “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Terms of Endearment.”
Sean Young, who appeared in “No Way Out” with Kevin Kostner, and “Wall Street” with Michael Douglas, grew up on Exeter Road.
Bela Zaboly—not an immediately recognizable household name—lived at 2889 North Park Blvd. in Cleveland Heights A former student of the Cleveland Museum of Art and Cleveland Institute of Art, Zaboly assumed the role of artist for Popeye the Sailor and Thimble Theater cartoons in 1939.
The Heights also has been a favored residence of several famous people’s relatives. For example:
Adela Prentiss Hughes (2400 Kenilworth Lane) was the aunt of billionaire eccentric Howard Hughes.
Annie Cutter (who resided at 2160 South Overlook Rd.) was the aunt of Anne Morrow Lindburgh. It is thought that Charles Lindberg proposed to Anne in the house.
Jessie Schneider (2721 Colchester Rd.) was the aunt of recently deceased shipping magnate and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
The brother of internationally renowned comedian/actor Bob Hope, Sidney, and wife Dorothy, lived at 3323 Yorkshire Road in the Depression years, and the Hope parents may have lived there as well. Another brother, Fred, and his wife LaRue, lived for decades at 3244 Meadowbrook – a Dutch Colonial near Silsby and Lee roads.
More Infamous Cleveland Heights Residents and Their Victims
Based on the writings of John Stark Bellamy
Widow Saito Clemens resided at 13314 Cedar Rd., where she was fatally stabbed and strangled on January 18, 1979. Her killer, Jerome Hollins, eventually implicated himself in the murder by his over-eager attempts to collect the reward offered in her slaying.
For many years, the former Symthe Cramer – later Howard Hanna – real estate office at 12435 Cedar Rd. housed a Miller Drug store outlet. It was behind that store that Cleveland Heights Police Captain Edward B. Connelly was shot to death on September 2, 1920. It is probable that Connelly was shot by a suspected burglar, although it may have been an accidental shooting by a fellow police officer.
On February 20, 1948, burglar Barney Davis fatally shot Cleveland Heights Police officer Norman C. Reker during a robbery at 2580 Colchester Rd. Davis was sentenced to the electric chair for the slaying.
Dorothy Dolin, wife of bookie Louis Dolin was brutally and mysteriously murdered in her home at 3602 Grosvenor Rd.
Mary Jardine, mother, divorcee, and murder victim resided at 2276 Grandview Avenue. On the night of May 16, 1959, Jardine went out drinking with “Mr. Goodbar,” who turned out to be Cecil Hanner, the night manager of the Toddle House restaurant at the corner of Delaware Drive and CedarRoad. Sometime later that night Hanner strangled Jardine and dumped her body out in Hunting Valley. The corpse—and Hanner’s telltale tire tracks—were discovered by an early-morning horseback rider. Hanner was convicted of her murder and incarcerated.
John F. Kennedy High School Latin/English teacher William A. Molik, Jr., lived at 3623 Monticello, where he was stabbed to death on August 4, 1983.
Joseph Porello, prohibition liquor gangster, who was murdered at Mayfield Rd., and East 125th St. on July 5, 1930 in Little Italy, resided at 2862 Berkshire Rd. in Cleveland Heights.
On August 5, 1910, prominent lawyer William Lowe Rice was shot, stabbed and bludgeoned to death by a person or persons unknown at 2419 Euclid Blvd (later Euclid Heights Blvd.), the site of the English Lutheran Church which later became condiminiums. At the time of the murder, the site was a vacant lot. The crime remains unsolved.
2612 Mayfield Rd. was the childhood home of Richard N. Robbins, who later was convicted for the racially motivated killing of folk singer Tedd Browne in 1968, as well as for the 1969 murder-for-hire of Euclid Judge Robert Steele’s wife Marilyn.
On October 31, 1973, Arthur Snepberger attempted to plant a bomb in Michael Frato’s car, parked at 2780 Mayfield Rd., the current site of a Dairy Mart convenience store. On this site while Frato drank at a nearby tavern, someone blundered: The bomb went off prematurely while Snepberger was still under the hood. Several theories have been advanced to account for Snepberger’s demise. One is that he was simply careless, and the bomb exploded before it was supposed to. Another theory is that Snepberger, not Frato, was the target, and that he was set up for the premature blast. The likeliest possibility, however, is that the bomb, designed to be triggered by a radio-control device, was set off by a device in the neighborhood using the same frequency: perhaps a garage door opener, a low-flying plane, or even some item of police equipment.