Healing and Closure Come for Imperial Ave. Residents as Garden of Eleven Angels Memorializes Lives Lost

November 6, 2021

Healing and closure have come for the residents of Imperial Avenue and the families of 11 women murdered on the block by convicted serial killer Anthony Sowell. Hundreds of local community activists, residents, elected officials, businesses, and family members of the 11 Angels were on hand today to witness the grand opening of the Garden of Eleven Angels.

Western Reserve Land Conservancy, Burton, Bell, Carr Development, Inc. LAND Studio and a host of other local organizations led the years-long effort to acquire and demolish the site of Sowell’s home and other adjacent properties to create a space comprising eight parcels in total. Construction on the site began in July.

“This beautiful garden will be a living memorial to the Eleven Angels whose lives were so brutally taken,” said Joy Johnson, executive director at Burton, Bell, Carr Development, Inc. “It’s been years in the making, we now have some closure and healing for this community. And to have that healing centered on a beautiful green space and memorial that will be here for generations is a tremendous success.”

The home where the bodies were discovered was demolished in 2011. In 2016, at the request of project partners, Western Reserve Land Conservancy stepped in to help establish the memorial by facilitating site acquisition of the two vacant parcels adjacent to that on which the killer’s house once stood, in close partnership with the families of the victims and the local community.

“The Garden of Eleven Angels is a very special project for all of us at the Land Conservancy,” said Matt Zone, senior vice president at Western Reserve Land Conservancy. “We are all proud to have played a role in this. Partnering with the families, the contractors, the residents, and the community made this project stronger. Now that it is finally complete, we hope the Imperial Avenue residents and the families of the 11 Angels will be able to enjoy this garden for many years to come.”

The Garden of Eleven Angels is a much needed investment in a community that has experienced tremendous tragedy both acutely in the form of the murders that occurred on the site, and more broadly in the systematic disinvestment and gradual depopulation of the neighborhood. The transformation of these eight vacant parcels into a memorial garden will help bring closure and healing, restoring the site to a beautiful and ecologically thriving natural area that will provide the surrounding community with a space to gather, recreate, reflect, and enjoy nature.

“The Land Conservancy made a conscious effort to reach out and contract with Black-owned businesses for this project and I believe that has made a huge impact,” said Ariane Kirkpatrick, owner and CEO of the AKA Team, a minority-owned diversified construction company based in Cleveland. “For every Clevelander, the tragedies on Imperial Avenue are ingrained upon our minds. To be able to help build the memorial to the Angels whose lives were taken is an honor. We are made stronger when we stand and work together.”

Vacancy, economic depression, and violence are the legacies of this recent history, which are still felt acutely in these neighborhoods today. The transformation of eight vacant residential parcels where blighted and abandoned homes once stood into a vibrant urban green space will not only improve the aesthetic quality of the block, but will also provide nearby residents with direct access to a publicly accessible natural area.

“We believe the Garden of Eleven Angels will be a transformative project for the Mount Pleasant and Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood,” said Keshia Johnson Chambers, owner of Chambers Global Group, a Cleveland-based construction services firm. “By partnering with Western Reserve Land Conservancy, Burton, Bell, Carr Development, LAND Studio, the families of the Eleven Angels and many others, we were able to bring our unique and vital perspectives into this project. I truly believe that the diversity of our lived experiences was what made the Garden such a huge success.”

The Garden of Eleven Angels is also intended to uplift the surrounding neighborhoods of Mount Pleasant and Buckeye-Shaker. Both of these neighborhoods, much like many neighborhoods in the city of Cleveland, have experienced significant population loss, disinvestment, and blight resulting from the foreclosure crisis and Great Recession of 2008, which disproportionately impacted these communities due to discriminatory practices including redlining and predatory lending.

“The Garden of Eleven Angels will serve as a call for our community to do better, to protect and care for one another, and to oppose the systems of oppression and injustice that often allow these kinds of horrific acts to go unnoticed, and to happen in the first place,” Zone said.