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Issue Date: December 2008

Steel Support

Why is the house where Superman was born not a well-known Cleveland landmark? Author Brad Meltzer wondered the same thing. Then, he helped make sure Jerry Siegel’s childhood home will be preserved for future comic book fans.
Lynne Thompson
Brad Meltzer doesn’t look like a superhero. In fact, the author has more in common with Superman’s alter ego,Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent, than the Man of Steel.

But when the South Florida resident flew into Cleveland two years ago to research his latest novel,The Book of Lies — a story based on the death of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel’s father in a 1932 robbery — he found that the now-dilapidated Glenville home where a teenage Siegel dreamed up the mythology behind his iconic superhero was in serious need of rescue.

He appealed to friends in the entertainment and comic book industries for donations and staged a series of online auctions in September that included everything from original comic book art to a walk-on part in the NBC seriesHeroes. The auctions raised $101,000 for the home. “The more I told the story, the more people asked, ‘What can we do to help?’ ” Meltzer recalls.

The house at 10622 Kimberley Ave. was built in 1918 and in pretty good condition when Jefferson and Hattie Gray bought it in 1983, unaware of its history.

They didn’t learn about the house’s pedigree until they received a letter from the city regarding an effort to designate the house as a historic landmark, a distinction bestowed in 1986.

Jefferson and Hattie graciously began giving free tours to the unannounced visitors, some from as far away as Japan, who wanted to see the second-floor bedroom and attic where Siegel did most of his writing. “It never bothered us,” insists Hattie. “They stay just a couple of minutes.”

But even Hattie’s constant tidying couldn’t prevent the house from showing its age. The worst damage has been caused by a leaky roof. The plaster has cracked and crumbled on the ceiling and walls of Siegel’s former bedroom and attic workroom.

It was the home’s run-down condition that shocked Meltzer into action. He was further dismayed by Hattie’s claim that the city wouldn’t spring for a plaque designating the house as Superman’s birthplace.

“I said, ‘I’m going to get you your plaque, and I’ll be back,’ ” Meltzer recalls.

The Grays never expected to see him again. Over the years, others had talked of help that never materialized. Tracey Kirksey, executive director of the Glenville Development Corp., says she has been trying to raise support for fixing up the home since she began working for the nonprofit organization 14 years ago.

“But there’s just been no real passion on so many levels to do it,” she says. “Because of the socioeconomic burdens that you often have in urban areas ... it just has not been a priority.”

Meltzer is more blunt. “I am disgusted that [Ohio’s] two senators and congresspeople still haven’t responded to this,” he says.

Thanks to Meltzer and his friends, help has arrived. Contractors were putting a new roof on the house at press time. There are plans to replace the wood siding and windows, rebuild the front and rear stairs and repair the interior walls. In exchange for assistance from the recently formed Siegel and Shuster Society, the Grays have agreed to let the nonprofit group buy the house when they’re ready to sell it.

Meltzer would like to see it become a museum, a place that commemorates “where a 17-year-old kid sat up in bed one night and dreamed the impossible.”

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