Friday, January 23, 2015

Waters Park and Chestnut Ridge Park

Akron Empire is excited to welcome guest blogger Tessa Gaffney, a senior at the University of Akron, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Theatre Arts. Last year, she gathered stories about hate, love, and courage from gay Akronites to create the musical revue, Hope Will Never Be Silent, which was performed at The Interbelt Nite Club. She believes in the ability of theatre to spark ideas, change minds, and foster empathy. She wishes to help build a world where art is valued in our education system and unavoidable in our public spaces, starting right here in Akron

Elise Gaffney, who took the photos for this post, graduated from the University of Akron in 2013 with a B.A. in Business and Organizational Communications and a minor in Photography. She recently returned to pursue a B.F.A. in Photography. She discovered Chestnut Ridge only a few years ago while exploring her hometown of Kenmore. Her photography project, “Wasted,” a close look at our throw-away society, was a winner of the 2012 Akron Art Prize. All of her work is based out of neighborhoods in Akron, including Cottage Grove and Firestone Park.

Waters Park and Chestnut Ridge Park
by Tessa Gaffney

The Works Progress Administration provided jobs to millions of unemployed workers during the Depression to carry out public works projects. Almost every community in the United States had a new park, bridge or school constructed by the agency. Akron had three: Chestnut Ridge amphitheater, Waters Park amphitheater, and the Glendale steps.

Chestnut Ridge Park sign as seen from East Avenue

In 1933, Frank Hyde Waters donated his $75,000 property to Summit County for a tuberculosis clinic or to the city of Akron for a public playground—the only stipulation being a monument built on the grounds in memory of his wife, Cora Ann Swift, and their daughter, Mary Waters Sheddon, who had died of tuberculosis. As North Akron only had one park at the time and the county already had adequate medical facilities, Waters Park was established—right off the Y Bridge, across from St. Thomas Hospital. Waters specified the park was to be developed by a civic organization.

Monument at Waters Park in memory of Frank Waters' wife and daughter who died of tuberculosis

Over the years, attempts to maintain a lily pond and a fountain with a statue have failed, but recently efforts to fix up the park have been revitalized by David DiDomenico and the Waters Park Restoration Alliance. They successfully cleared the brush in certain areas, planted flowers, installed bird feeders and benches. Unfortunately, for most of its existence, the stage has served little purpose other than allowing neighborhood children to pretend they are performing to adoring fans or giving speeches to a captivated crowd. 

What if they actually were doing those things? 

In the summer of 1965, classical plays were presented by amateur actors on the Waters Park stage. The Akron Recreation Department brought in a voting booth to serve as a changing room and tin cans punched with holes containing candles lined the stone benches guiding the audience to their seats. About ten years ago, Ingenue Theatre Ensemble led by Suzie Graham of Downtown Akron Partnership, gave kids the opportunity to perform Shakespeare at the amphitheaters at both Waters Park and Chestnut Ridge. 
Nowadays, the columns of the Waters Park amphitheater have begun to crumble and weeds are sprouting in its cracks. But when the weather turns nice, the stage is perfectly framed by tall sunflowers and its charm is undeniable.

Waters Park amphitheater from the front (top) and back (bottom)

The amphitheater at Chestnut Ridge, located off of East Avenue, however, remains in pristine condition. We were unable to find any information on Chestnut Ridge in the Special Collections department of the Akron Summit County Public Library, but through talking to others, we found out that a couple years ago, the Akron Regional Chamber Orchestra sponsored a Clean-Up Day in order to host a concert there. 

Except for these few instances, it seems both amphitheaters have seen little use since their construction.

Chestnut Ridge amphitheater from front (top) and back (bottom)

In addition to the amphitheater, Waters Park also features a stone observation deck cut into the hillside, basketball and shuffleboard courts, and a breathtaking view of the entire city. Slightly smaller, Chestnut Ridge contains a picnic pavilion and playground. In 1982, Don Stephens, the executive director of the Akron Regional Development Board, declared Waters Park a Veterans’ Memorial; nowadays, the only veterans who frequent the park are homeless. Chestnut Ridge has a flagpole presented to the Boy Scouts of America by Leo L. Laney. Just last month, Waters Park tied for second place in Akron Empire’s “Favorite Parks in Akron” poll. Both parks are literally the backyard for some Akron residents.

And yet these stages sit, unused.
The spectacular view of Akron from Waters Park

WPA amphitheaters are standing proof that an era existed in which the government found art important enough to fund it. They are also an homage to open-air theaters in ancient Greece, where going to the theatre was a communal activity that was hard-wired into the social, political, and religious rhythms of the ancient city; the entire city would shut down to watch theatrical festivals that incited discussions about the state of society and questioned authority. They are important historical landmarks that should not only be preserved, but cherished and utilized to their full potential.

Placemaking is a philosophy that encourages the use of a community’s assets, inspiration, and potential to create public spaces that promote people's health, happiness, and well being. It sparks an exciting re-examination of everyday settings. Imagine these forgotten parks as central hubs, filled with sculptures and murals, spontaneous theatre and music, vegetable gardens and flower beds. There could be Saturday brunches and Sunday beer gardens, concerts, contests, and festivals. The possibilities are endless.

EraAir Theatre Company was created to fill the seats and light the stages of these beautiful relics of local history. For more information, please visit our website at, like EraAir Theatre Company on Facebook, or follow @eraairtheatre on Twitter and Instagram.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Half Cleveland at the Akron Civic Theatre

Half Cleveland at the Akron Civic Theatre, Feb. 6th, 2015
by Joanna Wilson

There is snow coming down from a dull gray Akron sky as I write this.  If you're anything like me, it is very easy during this time of year to stay indoors in isolation and do nothing.  But to do that means missing out on the buzz about town: Half Cleveland is playing downtown on Friday, February 6th.  There is limited seating for this seating-on-the-stage show so get your tickets and book the babysitter now.  Let me explain why.

Half Cleveland is not your average rock n' roll band.  Formed in 2003, Half Cleveland's creative core is two guys with a history of making music in Akron.  In the 1970s, Chris Butler and Harvey Gold were members of the seminal art-rock band Tin Huey--a band which casts a lasting legacy in the music scene.  Among their many band credentials, Butler is formerly a member of the Numbers Band and creator of The Waitresses, and Harvey Gold has accomplished numerous recording projects as well as toured with singer/songwriter Sally Spring.  Their impressively long list of musical accomplishments have provided Butler and Gold with the background, street-smarts, and sense of humor required to continue to want to make rock music in the twenty-first century.

Half Cleveland (Nov. 2014) on stage opening for Chrissie Hynde at the Civic.

In a conversation I shared with Harvey last week, we discussed a little about the current state of rock n' roll these days.  We both laughingly agreed that rock is no longer the top of the charts, most popular style of music it once was.  Harvey pointed out that the few artists who do create what they call rock are more likely to be solo performers--and not bands.  And this is where Half Cleveland's experience and sense of humor comes over: they don't care that they're not creating new music to please the latest trends in the music industry.  This lively, brash attitude by Half Cleveland reminds me that rock n' roll isn't defined by cool, youthfulness or decadence alone, but rock does require rebellion.  It sounds to me like Half Cleveland feels it.  Join the on-going conversation about what it is to create rock for contemporary audiences, using #geezerhipster.

Half Cleveland last October at the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern. (Left to right: Gold, Butler, Ethington, McIntosh, and Smith-Cahan.)

Did I mention Half Cleveland has an absurdist sense of humor?  The band's name Half Cleveland suits them for several reasons. The title may have first come to them because Harvey and Chris are essentially half of Tin Huey, and Chris is from Cleveland while Harvey is from Akron.  But the term 'full cleveland' is a descriptor for ultimate nerd fashion trend of wearing a white shoes with a matching white belt. (Believe me, it's a real thing--check the Urban Dictionary.  Or, better yet dig deep and recall the character Herb Tarlek from the TV comedy WKRP in Cincinnati, the radio station's skeevy sales manager with horrible taste.)  With a band name that plays off that kind of hilarious cultural reference, you can figure the band brings a fair amount of that sense of humor to their music as well--and you'd be right.

For the first time, CD copies of "Live at the Wi-Fi Café" will be available for purchase at the Feb 6th gig.

Half Cleveland's creative core may be Butler and Gold, but they round out their performances with an ever-revolving cast of experienced musicians.  On Friday Feb. 6th, Half Cleveland will be Butler, Gold, and Bob Ethington, Friday Mike Wilkinson, and Taylor McIntosh.  This gig supports the recorded efforts of Half Cleveland's "Live at the Wi-Fi Café," a semi-plugged set recorded at Tri-C last year, and Chris Butler's newest solo effort, the critically acclaimed "Easy Life."  The Akron Civic Theatre show on Friday Feb. 6th is coming together through Clone Records--the same indie record label that originally included recordings by Tin Huey, Rubber City Rebels, The Bizarros and other Akron artists.  Not only will Clone Records be selling records at the event but The Bizarros are sharing the stage that night!

Half Cleveland and The Bizarros are playing at the Akron Civic Theatre
on Friday, February 6th, 8pm. 

For more information: the Akron Civic Theatre's website link
Feb. 6th concert Facebook event link

Even if you can't make this concert, follow along with Half Cleveland's adventures on their facebook page.

Friday, January 16, 2015

2014's Most Popular Guest Posts, Part 2

2014's Most Popular Guest Posts, Part 2
by Brit Charek

Earlier in the week, Joanna shared her most popular guest blog posts of 2014. Today, I'm following suit by sharing the five most clicked-through posts by guest bloggers that I worked with last year.

1. 4Cats Art Studio in Kent

This was local photographer and entrepreneur Chris Rutan's first time blogging for Akron Empire, but back in 2013 Joanna wrote about her Etsy store and small business, Rigmarole. She wrote about 4Cats Art Studio, located in Acorn Alley in Kent, which offers a variety of art classes for children and adults. She took her 3-year-old daughter and wrote about her experience.

Chris's daughter, Lydia, posing by her masterpiece.

2. Paranormal Paranoia

Roza Haidet wrote this piece about an art exhibition at the BOX Gallery that she and her twin brother curated. This isn't the first time Roza has blogged for us. Ironically, she wrote about the BOX Gallery and the Artists of Rubber City for Akron Empire in 2013.

Art by Tattoo Artist Cory Schofield
The show was strictly the artwork of tattoo artists, who were asked to create a painting within the theme of "paranormal,"or something that is not explainable by science. Tattoo artists from all over the country entered work in the exhibition, and the results were incredible.

3. An Outsider's Guide to Akron

Chris Horn is a recent Akron transplant from down south, but you wouldn't guess that considering his enthusiasm for our fine city! His newbie guide to Akron is worth the read whether you were born here or you're just visiting.

Inspired by all the awesome he's experienced in Akron, he's launching The Devil Strip, a guide to what's happening in local arts, music, business and culture. You can check it out at for now, and soon it should be in print form as well!

4. 5 Great Hikes

My friend and new guest blogger Jenny Jones beautifully documented five of her favorite hiking spots in the Greater Akron Area. I've been following her adventures on Instagram, and it seems that the winter weather isn't holding her back from her treks in the woods!

5. Sarah's Vineyard & Winery

Jackee Clark is another first time blogger for Akron Empire! Her review of Sarah's Vineyard and Winery made my mouth water. It seems like the perfect place to kill some time (and some fine) with friends.

Thank you to everyone who guest blogged for Akron Empire this year! I can't wait to see what you come up with in 2015.

Are you interested in blogging for us? Here are some tips to get started, and here is a complete list of all our posts written by guest bloggers.

Thanks for a great year, Akron!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

2014's Most Popular Guest Posts

2014's Most Popular Guest Posts
by Joanna Wilson

Akron Empire has always been a way for Brit and I to interact with the greater-Akron community and this means including more voices than our own.  We usually split up the duties of working with guest bloggers.  That's why this is actually only part one in the list of most popular posts written by guest bloggers.  The below list reflects only the writers that worked with me--and later in the week, Brit will announce her list of top five posts of 2014 written by a guest blogger that worked with her.  It's not as complicated as it is to explain it.  We're happy to host a variety of voices about their favorite places, restaurants, bands, events, and experiences in the Empire.  For the complete list of links for past guest bloggers, click HERE.  Interested in guest blogging for us?  Please read the suggestions at this link, and follow the simple instructions.

If you missed last week's posts, Brit and I are looking back over last year's successes before moving on to work in the new year, 2015.  Click HERE to see the list of my most popular blog posts of 2014--and click HERE to see Brit's list of her most popular blog posts of 2014.  How many of these essays did you catch the first time around?

1.  New Store Opening: Birchwood and Pine 
Erica Scheutzow wrote an informative piece about a new brick-and-morter space for local artist Rachel Jernigan and other artists' wares in downtown Canton.  Canton might be slightly out of the Empire, but c'mon, we all go there!  Erica wrote for us several times last year--including an essay about her personal experiences when she was offered the rare opportunity to take a tour of the Goodyear blimp hangar.  Click HERE to read that again.

Ultrasphinx at Annabell's - Photo by Matt Stansberry

2.  Ultrasphinx Album Review
Dominic Caruso wrote about Akron rockers Ultrasphinx and their 2014 self-titled recording last March.  Who are your favorite music makers in the Empire?
Dominic, like Erica Scheutzow (above), guest blogged several times in 2014.  His other piece was a review of his experiences taking the terrarium workshop that was offered during Crafty Mart Summer Faire last July.  I can't wait until the next workshops offered through Crafty Mart.  There's so much to look forward to in 2015.

A fine looking group of people: the Towpath Turtles, Jim Klett 10k race, 2013.

3.  Towpath Turtles and The Ohio Runners Network
Runner and writer Stephani Itibrout shared about her favorite Akron running group the Towpath Turtles, an organization associated with The Ohio Runners Network (TORN).  Looking to join a running group?  Look these people up.  Thanks Stephani!

4.  Akron Art Prize 2014
I'm extremely pleased to see interest in the Akron Art Prize pushed this guest post written by Rob Lehr into one of the top spots of the year.  Which local artist did you vote for in 2014? 

How well do you thrift?

5.  Portage Trail Barn: 5 Steps from Thrift Store to Fashion
Re-purposing items into valuable goods isn't just what Mary Beth Filion does--she also runs a shop called Portage Trail Barn where others sell their handmade and refurbished materials as well.  She knows what she's talking about.  Check out her simple suggestions--and check out the Portage Trail Barn, located in Cuyahoga Falls.

Thanks to all our writers in 2014.  I'm hoping you'll share what you're passionate about with us in 2015 as well. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

2014 in Review, Part 2

2014 in Review, Part 2
by Brit Charek

Just like we have done at the start of the past two years, Joanna and I are reflecting on our Akron Empire adventures before moving on to new ones, which has become a ritual I look forward to.

This has been an incredibly busy year for me personally and professionally! In addition to teaching high school full-time, my organization Crafty Mart expanded by hosting three handmade markets instead of just two, including the biggest event I've ever organized-- and not by just a little. As I reflect on the success I've had, along with all the things I'll do different next time, I'm feeling optimistic about 2015, despite the ridiculous weather it's brought us so far.

Earlier in the week, Joanna posted a list of her most popular posts from 2014, and now I'm excited to share mine!

5. Fresh Fork Market Brings Local Foods to School Lunches
As a high school teacher, I've heard my fair share of complaints about school lunches. There are days that if I hear one more sarcastic "Thanks, Michelle Obama" I have to stop myself from screaming.

Fresh Fork Market, a local CSA service, seems to have done it right. They brought the Farm-to-Table movement to teens in ways that they can understand, like pizza and burritos. I think they're off to a terrific start with the part of our population that seems to never be pleased!

4. Lucky Records
I first wrote about Lucky Records in January of 2014, just after they opened their storefront in Wooster, Ohio. Since then, I went back to see Buffalo Killers, an Ohio-born band who are now getting national attention, play an in-store event over the summer, which was so fun.

It seems that Lucky Records was at the start of a mini-movement in its town-- every time I go to visit, there seems to be a new store, restaurant, or boutique opening downtown Wooster, and they all seem to be focused on helping each other out. It's worth taking the trip to spend the day there.

3. Wanted: Guest Bloggers
Akron Empire has always been a two-way street between ourselves and our readers. With all the awesome suggestions we get to create new content, Joanna and I can't possibly cover them all, even though we really want to, which is one of many reasons we put out this call for Guest Bloggers. Do you have an idea you want to write about? Check out this post to give you some guidelines to help you get started. Hope to hear from you soon!

2. World Cup Viewing Party with Akron American Outlaws
I've never been a huge sports enthusiast, but I love love LOVE watching the World Cup! This summer, I had the pleasure of cheering on the US Men's National Team with the Akron chapter of the American Outlaws, a group of US soccer supporters, at Manny's Pub in Akron. Although the outcome wasn't what we had hoped for our team, the comradery enjoyed among the fans was worth coming out for!
The Akron American Outlaws are gearing up for the Women's World Cup in 2015. Perhaps we'll see you at one of their watch parties this summer to cheer on the US Women's National Team!

1. Akron Empire Favorites: Favorite Burger
This past summer, we polled our readers about their favorites in the Akron area: food, music, activities, events, and whatever else they wanted to share! Joanna and I spent the fall revealing a series of posts with the results, where we were able to pay tribute to some of our favorites and also discovered a few gems we had never heard of! For the full list of links for the results, click here.

I wasn't too surprised by the results of the Favorite Burger, but you'll have to check out the post to see the results. In the meantime, my grandma and I will forever continue our Swenson's vs. Skyway debate.

Want to see more of Akron Empire's most popular posts? Check out my lists from 2013 and 2012.

Check back next week for when we reveal our most popular guest blog posts of the 2014! Happy New Year!

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Year in Review (2014)

Thanks again to everyone voting for Akron Empire in Akron Life Magazine's 2014 Best of City poll.

The Year in Review for 2014
by Joanna Wilson

Before moving on with new content, Brit and I are looking back over the previous year.  For the past two years, we created lists of our most popular 2012 posts and most popular 2013 posts.  So I'd like to once again, create a list for my top 5 most popular posts.  Click on the titles for the link to return to each of these posts.  How many of these posts from 2014 do you remember reading?  Next week I'll create a second list, one consisting of the most popular guest blog posts of 2014.  Thanks for joining me on this journey and giving me an excuse to meet some wonderful people throughout The Empire. 

The lines started to form early to speak with Archie the Talking Snowman at Chapel Hill Mall in 2014. Photo courtesy of Tommy Uplinger.

1. Archie the Snowman and Akron's Other Christmas Attractions in 2014
It is no surprise to me that information about our city's Christmas attractions would be the most popular post of the year.  I've spent the past year researching and writing a book about this exact subject and I know how passionate we are about our favorite Akron Christmas traditions. Archie the Snowman's unveiling at Chapel Hill Mall this past November was a spectacular event that was also well attended.  Did you go down to Lock 3 to enjoy the holiday family activities there?

2.  The introduction to the Akron Empire Favorites 2014 poll.
This past summer, we gave our readers one month to voice their opinions in a write-in poll about their favorite places, events, bands, organizations, and more.  Brit and I spent the fall revealing a series of posts with the results.  For the full list of links for the results, click here.

3.  UnWined on Main Street
This January post about one of my favorite restaurants is showing its age.  The restaurant has since closed its doors.  Hopefully the owners will re-open their cupcake business soon.  I guess we'll have to be patient.

The Nightlight at 30 N. High Street in downtown Akron.

4. The Nightlight Theater
One of the most exciting things to happen in Akron in the past few years is the opening of our first independent movie theater downtown, The Nightlight.  But you know all this--right?  I'm really looking forward to seeing the movies they have listed on their upcoming schedule.  Click here for the link to the Nightlight Theater website.

5.  Akron Empire Favorites 2014: Favorite Place to Take a Tour
One of the posts revealing our readers' opinions on their favorite places in the Empire.  I think this particular post benefited from good timing--it was published just at the start of the holidays when people are often looking to entertain family and friends from out of town.  Interestingly, this post ties in number of page views with another--the post from last June in which I introduced my latest book project about Archie the Snowman.  I'm eager to report that the book is due for release in Spring 2015.  I'm pleased and comforted to see that many of Akron Empire's readers are also looking forward to the book's completion.  Thanks everybody!

Next, Brit will reveal her top 5 most popular blog posts from 2014.  Happy New Year!