Today's field of rubble, tomorrow's field of dreams

Posted 9/8/19

“If you want to look at the same place and see different things, look at the same place from different perspectives.”— Mehmet Murat ildanTurkish playwright, novelist and thinker(b. May 16, …

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Today's field of rubble, tomorrow's field of dreams


Even when their outlooks paint the same picture, people sometimes see — and say — things a little differently.

I call it the potato and tomato syndromes; you know, when folks pronounce a word in two ways yet the spelling is the same.

In pondering the piles of rubble at the corner of Euclid Avenue and Third Street that used to be the old Whirlpool Plant 2 — and formerly the historic home of Hardwick Stove Company — Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks and I see the same mountains of debris, but our eyes are focused in opposite directions.

He sees the future. I see the past.

It doesn’t make either of us right. It doesn’t make either of us wrong. It just makes us human, and that’s one of the beauties of life: We see the same landscape, but one set of eyes sees where it’s going; the other sees where it’s been.

In truth, I think it’s more about perspective. I spent 14 years of my communications and journalism career working at the formerly named Maytag Cleveland Cooking Products facility, and then at Whirlpool Cleveland Division — within the same manufacturing complex: Plants 1, 2 and 3.

So, I have countless memories of the people and the place.

Mayor Brooks, whom I consider a close personal friend and whom I prefer just calling Kevin (as does he), didn’t work there although I’m sure in his communications, civic and legislative careers he visited the manufacturer more than a few times.

Yet, visiting and working are two different things; it is what sets the stage for those potato and tomato syndromes mentioned earlier.

In last Tuesday’s print edition, Cleveland Daily Banner staff writer Tim Siniard did a bang-up job in a front-page news story about Mayor Brooks in which our newspaper featured a detailed piece about the city administrator’s first year in office. It doesn’t seem possible, but the Labor Day Weekend signified the mayor’s one-year anniversary at the City Hall helm.

The mayor could not have been more congenial in giving Tim all the time he wanted inside the office that defies the norm in executive privilege. Instead of a sprawling cherry or mahogany desk that defines the space between mayor and visitor, much of Brooks’ work space is taken by a rectangular conference table which is where he sits with constituents, city staff and others to conduct municipal business.

His modest desk — actually, it’s more of a hutch — occupies one corner. Its most important furnishing is a picture of his wife, Kim.

Naturally, during Tim’s interview with the mayor, the subject of the Whirlpool manufacturing site’s demolition arose. Arguably, the project — which is a pivotal part of the downtown district’s redevelopment — is the most important piece of news going on inside the city right now.

In his comments, it became obvious the mayor — like most Cleveland and Bradley County residents — has been following our newspaper’s headlines for the past few months regarding downtown revitalization and the Whirlpool initiative.

In most of our accounts — whether in news stories, editorials or personal columns — we have referenced the Plant 2 razing whose work has now been reduced to a few leviathan piles of debris. Mega-trucks are now methodically hauling them away while the wrecking crews labor across the railroad tracks to take a bite out of Plant 1.

When the mayor looks at the field of Plant 2 rubble, he sees it through different eyes.

“I don’t see it as a pile of debris,” Mayor Brooks stressed. “I see that as an opportunity for future generations … we are clearing the path. Yes, there’s 150 years of manufacturing heritage on that site. But think of that site before those buildings were built … someone had to clear the brush, someone had to clear the way for what became our largest downtown manufacturing campus.”

He added, “And that’s really the way I look at it. I look at us as we are now clearing the way for the new sports complex.”

The likable public servant went on to say, “I think about our children, and our children’s children enjoying this new possibility of tomorrow, and when I stand at the corner of Third Street and Euclid Avenue, I stand there not with sorrow of what’s been torn down. I see it as the hope of the next generation.”

Yes, the mayor is right. But there’s another perspective. It’s the other side of the tomato.

That old manufacturing site — whether Bradley County families worked there in the 1870s era of Hardwick Stove, or in the 1916 world of successive appliance competitors like Dixie Foundry, Dixie Products, Magic Chef Company, Maytag or Whirlpool — represented a job. It was a livelihood. It was food on the table. It was payment on a first mortgage. It was the rent. It was a new car, or payments on a used car. It was Friday night at the Star-Vue Drive-In, Saturday mornings at Headrick’s grocery or window shopping at the Village Shopping Center.

Floor laborers at the factories — those unseen blue-collar workers — didn’t get rich. They made a living off the strength of their backs. They earned an honest dollar. They went home exhausted, their hands stained in grease, their faces sometimes etched in pain.

They built the kitchen stoves of this proud nation and the stoves put a paycheck in their hands every week.

In spite of my reflection on a day gone by, and this sense of melancholy at the sight of the walls of history coming down around us, Mayor Brooks — my longtime friend, confidant and colleague — is wise when he reminds us: This is about the future, and those who ignore it will become the first to wish they had not.

I like the mayor’s gumption. I share his vision for a better Cleveland and a bigger dream for a day well beyond tomorrow. I hope he succeeds, and I believe he will.

Until then, I just want a chance to ponder all sides of the potato. And I want others to know of a day when that delectable tomato wasn’t so red and not nearly as ripe.

Either way, we are what we eat … whether vegetable, fruit or history.

The mayor said a mouthful when he offered, “I really do pray and ask for God to let me live long enough to see this dream come true.”

I hope God is listening. The mayor has earned this chance. I pray he gets it. Because I, too, want to see the dream come true.


(About the writer: Rick Norton is an associate editor at the Cleveland Daily Banner. Email him at


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