The Hessler Street Fair: proving a small group of thoughtful people could change the world... over and over!

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Tue, 05/17/2011 - 03:46.


Of all the places I've lived around Cleveland, Hessler was my favorite neighborhood... just a few blocks from the Cleveland Museum of Art. Steffanie Coble Roulet, our daughter Grace and I lived in the amazing historic Tudor townhouses at the corner of Hessler Street and Hessler Court... a massive brick landmark certainly built for Case professors and their families, right along with the original university, right on Case campus... Hessler Street is paved in brick and Hessler Court in wood blocks... and it all is intact as Cleveland's first Historic District thanks to a bunch of Hippies back in the 1960s, some of whom are still around today. They formed the Hessler Neighborhood Association (HNA) and fought to protect buildings on the street from demolition, and to designate the street an Historic Landmark District, and they started what became The Food Co-op, still operating on Euclid Avenue, and they organized the first Hessler Street Fairs, formally established in 1969, to fund doing all their good deeds.

By the time we moved to Hessler, in 1994, the Street Fairs had become a distant memory - the last Hessler Street Fair had been held in 1984. The original organizers had moved around and tired of organizing the event, and it was allowed to die. The HNA lived on, and held monthly meetings to discuss community issues - like the impact on Hessler residents of the development now happening on Euclid, already being planned back then... and the attempted preservation of the first Community Garden in Cleveland, at the end of Hessler Court, which was eventually claimed and cleared by Case for their School of Poverty.

At the first HNA meeting Steffanie and I attended, I asked why they no longer held the Hessler Street Fair. A few old timers there started to explain that the organizers had tired and moved on, but there were more than enough of us new timers to say why don't we get it started again - and from that meeting forward the Hessler Street Fair was reborn. It is 42 this year.... nearly as old as I am.

Steffanie and Grace are in Texas now, but their imprint on Cleveland certainly lives on, as Steffanie became one of the principle re-organizers of the Street Fair - spent 100s of hours on the committee planning to get it permitted and going again - and managed the craft vendors for at least two years that I recall... some 16 years ago...... proving:

A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has - Margaret Mead

 Carlos Jones Performing
2009 Hessler Street Fair: Carlos Jones Performing

Because we were such a cohesive community, with history and memory, we were able to act and transform our neighborhood in astounding ways, in short time, to the point of hosting 10,000 people for a major community weekend arts, crafts, children & family, music and food festival with just a few months' planning, and raised money for a good cause there through - for the historic preservation of Cleveland.

Hessler was the only place I ever lived where everyone on the street knew each other - and we were a very dense and diverse street. My next door neighbor was the extraordinary jazz pianist George Foley, while further down the row of townhouses lived Cleveland Institute of Music students from China. The Barking Spider was a block one way... the Euc a block the other way. It was a blast.

It has always been so cool there, I wasn't surprised to learn one of the board members who co-founded the United Cannabis Exchange with me, from Golden, Colorado - Case School of Engineering Alumnus Agua Das - lived on Hessler as well, in the 1960s, and was part of the first small group of thoughtful people who saved Hessler and started the Hessler Street Fair in the first place.

Agua Das, founder and inventor of Hemp I Scream, at KushCon2
Agua Das, founder and inventor of Hemp I Scream, at KushCon2

Now, Das is one of the world's experts in making everything from iced deserts to biofuel from hemp... the first person to press hemp seeds for fuel in America since the 1930s.... the first person to make processed paper from hemp here in as long - 2 different grades - just the other week.... and Das and I are working with a small group of thoughtful people organizing the United Cannabis Exchange, to develop the industrial hemp economy in America, from right here in Cleveland.

Perhaps it is just coincidence that two out of a small group of thoughtful people reestablishing hemp farming and industry in America today also helped establish the first and second generations of the Hessler Street Fair, in different eras, 25 years apart....

Perhaps it is destiny.

It is not coincidence the 2011 Hessler Street Fair will entertain 10,000+ guests to the Hessler Street Neighborhood again this year... that is the work and legacy of many thoughtful people, and has been for generations now. Don't miss it - the weather is expected to be perfect, and there is nothing like a Hessler Street Fair on a perfect spring day!


The Hessler Street Fair History

The Hessler Neighborhood Association (HNA) was started in the 60′s to raise funds for housing renovation and to promote activities enhancing the social and architectural value of Hessler Road.

The Hessler Street Fair started as an annual block party and evolved in 1969 into a street festival.  University Circle Inc. (UCI), an umbrella organization supporting the cultural and educational institutions in the area, wanted to bulldoze the Hessler Road houses to build student dormitories and parking lots. It was through the efforts of the Neighborhood Association, funded by the early Street Fairs, that Hessler Road was dedicated as a Landmark District in November of 1975 by the City of Cleveland. In 1976 Hessler residents participated in rent strikes to force UCI to make needed repairs on the homes it owned on the street.

Subsequently, the Hessler Housing Cooperative was formed when UCI sold some of these properties. These events have helped to ensure the survival of Hessler Road as a residential neighborhood.

By the mid-Eighties many of the original founders of the Neighborhood Association had moved on with their lives. Eventually there were too few people who wanted to organize such a large public event, and the Hessler Street Fairs ceased. The last of the original Fairs was held in 1984.

For the next decade, the Hessler Street Fair would be fondly recalled by the people who had attended. They remembered the Fair for its good art, good music, good food, and “good vibes”.

Thus in 1995, partly out of nostalgia and partly to once again raise funds for the Neighborhood Association, a small group of past and present Hessler residents got together to resurrect the Fair. With a new crew of volunteers to help organize it, the rejuvenated Hessler Street Fair attracts an estimated 10,000 people each year to sample its offering of music arts, crafts and food. The Street Fair strives to promote a spirit of togetherness, community awareness, and fun.

The Hessler Street Fair has once again become an annual spring tradition in Cleveland. The Fair raises funds to preserve and maintain the neighborhood and welcomes other local non-profits to participate and raise funds for their causes. The Hessler Street Fair remains a live event and festival of arts, crafts, food and music welcoming 1,000′s visitors every year from all over northern Ohio to our corner of the world each spring.

The 2011 Hessler Street Fair will be held on Saturday and Sunday, May 21st  and 22nd, from noon until dusk.

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Hessler St. Fair

  Still happening--today :)