Originally named the Yugoslav Cultural Garden, the Slovenian Garden is located near the intersection of St. Clair Avenue and East Boulevard, adjacent to the Polish Garden.
Over 100,000 people paraded in support of the Yugoslav Garden’s dedication on a rainy morning in May 1938. Dignitaries included Mayor Harold Burton, Governor Martin Davey, Senator Robert Bulkley, Judge Frank J. Lausche (later a United States Senator), United States Representatives Martin L. Sweeney, Robert Crosser and Anthony Fleger, Chief Ohio Supreme Court Justice Carl V. Weygandt, WPA Director Colonel Joseph H. Alexander, and Dr. Konstantin Fotic, the Yugoslavian Envoy in Washington. The garden reflected the culture of Cleveland’s Croatians, Serbians, and Slovenians and their sometimes conflicted past. As Yugoslavia dissolved in the 1980s and 1990s, so too did the ideal of a unified Yugoslavian Cultural Garden. In 1991, the garden was rechristened the Slovenian Cultural Garden, and separate Serbian and Croatian Garden Delegations emerged.
In “The Paths Are Peace”, Clare Lederer describes the Yugoslav Cultural Garden’s design: “A circular fountain and pool are the central features of a paved court. Two stately linden trees, the typical Slovenian “lipa”, whose sweet-scented, delicate blossoms are used in the brewing of a delightful tea, tower at either side of the garden entrance. The Jugoslav Garden slopes in three levels between the upper and lower boulevards. To the left of the entrance is a reposeful, formal, sunken garden to the right, a semi-circular section. A semi-circular stairway leads to the halfway lower level, and a wide stairway from the mid-level to the lower level, where there extends a spacious, stage-like paved court. Encircling this setting is a beautiful, natural amphitheatre formed of massive shade trees and the cooling stream of Doan Brook.”
Over the years, statuary in the Garden has included Bishop Frederick Barago, a missionary to the Ottawa and Ojibway Native American tribes (1797-1868); Ivan Cankar, a poet and political activist (1876-1918); Simon Gregorcic, a priest and poet (1844-1906); General Rudolph Maister, a poet and political activist (1874-1934); Bishop Petar Petrovich Njegos, poet and ruler of Montenegro (1813-1851); and Ivan Zorman, a poet and composer (1885-1957).
Slovenians began settling in Cleveland in the 1880s. The first to arrive settled in the Newburgh area. By the late 1880s and early 1890s a much larger community began to form along St. Clair Avenue. At its peak in the 1920s and 30s, the community ran from E. 30th to E. 79th Streets between the lake and Superior Avenue. The Slovenians kept moving east until the 1980s, eventually establishing a sizable presence in Lake County. Few Slovenians settled on the west side of Cleveland. The two small communities that developed in the West Park and Denison neighborhoods later moved to Maple Heights and Garfield Heights.
U.S. Census data for 1910 lists 14,332 Slovenians already living in Cleveland. By 1970, the number had risen to include 46,000 foreign-born or mixed-parentage Slovenians living in Greater Cleveland area. In the 1990s, the community in the Cleveland area numbered well over 50,000.
After the establishment of an independent Slovenia in 1991, its government opened an Honorary Consulate and appointed a local Slovenian, Dr. Karl B. Bonutti, honorary consul. While the use of the Slovenian language has all but disappeared in large parts of the community, many Slovenians still support organizations and attend performances that reflect their ethnic heritage and traditions.