Then and Now: Beachland Ballroom
The History of a Rock 'N' Roll Hotspot
By Annie Zaleski, Image by Cody York
Sock hops, poodle skirts, Beatniks and the dawn of rock 'n' roll. The 1950s were a time of affluence, transition and growth in the United States — and Cleveland.
In the east side neighborhood of Cleveland, the 1950s were kicked off with the opening of the Croatian Liberty Home, a bustling nexus for Cleveland's Croatian community. The sturdy Collinwood brick building became known for hosting political speeches, polka, dancing and Tamburitza music.
The location made sense: Croatian immigrants settled in neighborhoods all over Cleveland between the 1880s and 1980s, but especially put down roots in Collinwood, which offered easy access to factory and railroad jobs.
Today, Collinwood still takes pride in its global origins — especially as seen (and heard) in the eclectic music booked at the music must-visit hotspot Beachland Ballroom, which operates in the former Croatian Liberty Home space.
Image by: Cody York
Croatian ex-pats formed fraternal societies that served as community and charity hubs. For example, Lodge 235, which was called Croatian Liberty, was founded in 1906 by the National Croatian Society (later the Croatian Fraternal Union). As the decades progressed, new immigrants began to protest against the oppressive conditions back home in Croatia, and these lodges also became places for political activity.
By 1950, the local Croatian population needed a larger gathering place. Enter the Croatian Liberty Home, which was built and then operated by the Croatian Fraternal Union Lodge 235. According to a Plain Dealer story on the building's grand opening—a gala event featuring dinner and dancing—the building cost $100,000, a sum the group had reportedly spent an impressive two decades amassing.
In addition to being a place for politics and community, the Croatian Liberty Home hosted music and dance performances and, later, Croatian Chess Club meetings.
In 2000, then-Pat's in the Flats booker Mark Leddy and long-time area journalist (and Collinwood resident) Cindy Barber opened a music venue in the Croatian Liberty Home space. (The pair purchased the building, which was by then vacant, for $250,000.) Leddy and Barber called the venue the Beachland Ballroom, in a nod to a nickname given to the area around the nearby amusement park Euclid Beach Park.
Although the Beachland started off having shows mainly on the weekends, the venue now buzzes with activity nearly every day of the week, with concerts taking place both in its cozy tavern and a larger ballroom space. Both of these spaces pay homage to the building's Croatian roots, in the form of vintage beer signs, original building accents and intricate wall art.
The Black Keys and White Stripes played early shows there — a testament to the venue's dedication to giving new bands a shot — while its current slate of concerts covers every genre under the sun, including roots, hip-hop, punk, rock and electronic.
Perhaps even more important, the Beachland is and was a catalyst for Collinwood itself, particularly on Waterloo Road. Bars and restaurants (Millard Fillmore Presidential Library, Citizen Pie), record (Blue Arrow Records) and retail (STAR POP Vintage + Modern) stores, and art galleries (Waterloo Arts) have given the neighborhood an economic and cultural boost.
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