The 14 000 – strong Cleveland‘s Lithuanian community dates to the 19th century.
Within the city limits, you may find old St. George church (1921, 6527 Superior Avenue). Towerless massive building is similar to the St. Anthony in Detroit. It has two stories with a church hall on the upper floor and a former school downstairs. Unfortunately, there are no more pupils in its classes and the last Mass in the church itself was celebrated in 2009. Saving money Cleveland Diocese the closed the church. At that time it was the oldest Lithuanian parish in the USA (established 1895).
Diocese planned to sell the building and the surrounding lot which also includes a historical 19th cnetury house for at least 220 000 USD, but it had to reduce price to merely 11 000 USD. This is the reality of cities like Cleveland where decayed urban centre is unsafe since the 1966 race riots and subsequent white flight. The buildings were acquired by Community Greenhouse Partners which will use the area for urban agriculture. Yes, in the rapidly depopulating cities like Detroit and Cleveland cheap land is regularly acquired for gardens. The new owners plan to renovate the church building and grow food on its roof.
The closure of Lithuanian church in Cleveland failed to spark protests akin to those in other communities influenced by the church-closure spree. This is because there was another Lithuanian church in Cleveland – Our Lady of Perpetual Help (18022 Neff Rd) which remained open as a newly-united (2009) St. Casimir Lithuanian parish. The Mass is celebrated there in both Lithuanian and English. The sharp-cornered church building was constructed in 1960s after the influx of some 4 000 displaced (exiled) persons from the Soviet-occupied Lithuania. The parish itself is older, but formerly it had been using a simple house as a church building.
Away from the churches, a Lithuanian Community Center (877 E 185) houses a Lithuanian Gintaras restaurant, bar, lounge and party center. Various Lithuanian memorabilia and crafts are kept inside. Like the new church, the Community Center has been built in 1973 after the refugees moved in and many Lithuanians resettled east of downtown.
In the All Souls Cemetary (Chadron suburb of Cleveland) the President of Lithuania Antanas Smetona (his main term was in 1926-1940) is buried. He is very important in Lithuanian (and Baltic States) history and entire era of his rule is typically called the Smetonic era. It was an era of prosperity followed by the tragedy of World War 2 and Soviet occupation when hundreds of thousands Lithuanians were murdered, exciled or had to flee Lithuania. Antanas Smetona also fled Lithuania to the USA, where he died in house fire in Cleveland in 1944. Lithuanian Americans had various opinions about Smetona at the time as some disliked him for his authoritarian rule. Among his policies were the clampdown on communist and nazi terrorist movements (the first anti-nazi trials in the whole Europe).
Cleveland Rockefeller park has a collection of ethnic gardens for each of the city’s ethnic communities. A Lithuanian garden blooming there is one of the oldest, established in 1930 (together with the Italian, German, Slovak and Ukrainian gardens). The garden has three levels; the upper level has Lithuanian flag and the fountain of duchess Birutė (legendarily a pagan priestess) surrounded by busts of 19th century Lithuanian National Revival poets who called for Lithuania to be independent once again and romantically sought inspiration in the last era Lithuanian was truly free (the Grand Duchy era). The poets are priest Maironis (built 1961) and Vincas Kudirka (built 1938), the author of Lithuanian National Anthem. The middle level has the Pillars of Gediminas, a patriotic symbol related to Grand Duke Gediminas. The lowest level has a bust of Jonas Basanavičius, known as the "Patriarch of the Nation" this scholar is frequently credited the most for the restoration of Lithuanian statehood in 1918 (bust erected 1936).