The coronavirus pandemic drastically altered life over the last year and a half. Amidst fear and uncertainty, events were put on hold, meetings were halted, and interactions diminished. Yet now, as the weather warms and vaccines bring hope back to communities, plans are being put into action. One example of this can be seen at 15517 Waterloo Road in Cleveland with The Blue Windmill project, a garden and performance area that will bring more life into the community.
The building on the corner of E. 156th St. and Waterloo was once home to several businesses. The ground floor was Jepson’s Drugs and above it was doctors’ offices. The field to the left of the building was where the Abbey Theater once stood. Then, after being unoccupied for nearly 20 years, it was slated for demolition in 2016. Through a neighborhood effort to save it, renovations began two years ago. This brought new businesses to the area once again.
The space that used to house Jepson’s Drugs is now an art gallery called Photocentric. The old doctors’ offices have been renovated into artist studios for Don Harvey and Leslye Arian. There are also two project galleries in these offices –– Maria Neil Projects and William Busta Projects.
In the space where the movie theater once stood, The Blue Windmill project was recently started by Michael Loderstedt, the owner of Photocentric. He’s been working on outdoor renovations to turn this space into a garden and performance area that will bring more life into the community.
“I hope the The Blue Windmill becomes a great gathering place for people interested in hearing music, poetry and spoken word, and perhaps want to learn more about the intersection between food production and art,” said Loderstedt. “In many ways, this project has been a culmination of a lifetime of these ongoing themes.”
The design of the garden at The Blue Windmill was intended to provide a sustainable alternative using roof water that would otherwise unnecessarily enter the sewer system. The garden and vineyard area at The Blue Windmill were designed using this roof water to irrigate the garden boxes. The water is captured in a French drain system–– a massive, enclosed underground trench filled with large gravel to absorb water. The system contains 10 cubic yards of gravel and adds another 8 cubic yards of soil in the raised garden beds.
Pinot Noir grapes line the sidewalk and are growing to make a privacy enclosure from street noise. The hens at the garden are close to laying age, and the bees are at work collecting nectar and pollinating the garden. Produce from the garden will include fruits, vegetables, salad greens, eggs and honey. This produce will be shared with the tenants.
The land at The Blue Windmill has already seen growth and provided inspiration to the community. Neighbors are stopping by to express that The Blue Windmill is giving them the boost they need to improve their own gardens and landscape. The garden stage construction has been supported by the tenants of the building and others. Those who can have donated time and money, and the progress is due in a large part to lots of sweat equity from Michael.
The project also aims to generate a new audience for Photocentric by hosting outdoor entertainment–– poetry readings and music performances. Michael and his son, Ethan, wanted to keep a bit of history in this project and used tile remnants from the old movie theater by casting them into the retaining wall at the garden’s stage. The large stage includes covers for shade as well as a decorative backdrop. It is large enough for multiple performers and a sound system.
Viewership for galleries and art organizations plummeted during the pandemic, but that’s beginning to change as the Covid-19 pandemic wanes. The Blue Windmill Project has programming scheduled for June 4th during the monthly Walk All Over Waterloo art walk from 7-10pm featuring music from Jackie Zielke (flute) and Mark Liderbach (guitar), Tongue and Groove (Ray McNiece and friends) and Me and Momma (Janice Fields Pohl (violin) and Charlie Pohl (banjo). Poets will include Ray McNiece, Shei Sanchez, Bill Newby, Haylee Schwenk, Taylor DeClerico, Lindsay Barba, Michael Loderstedt, Brittany McCauley, Sujata Lakhe, Cora McCann Liderbach and Jackie Zielke.
Brittany McCauley is a writer and traveler from Northeast Ohio who has volunteered with The Blue Windmill Project. Her work was most recently published in The Blue Windmill anthology. You can find more of her work on her Instagram page @britt.mccauley and on her website at liveitwriter.com.