Meanwhile, the old Siegel house was falling into disrepair, as was Glenville. Kimberly Avenue, where Siegel lived, has few longtime residents—there were 11 abandoned houses on the boys’ block alone—but Hattie and Jefferson Gray, the couple who lives in Siegel’s old house, have owned it for decades.
Visiting comic book writers and fans often asked Sangiacomo for a tour of the Siegel home, and he would drive them by the place. Two years ago, he took best-selling thriller and comic book writer Brad Meltzer by the house, and the pair was invited inside. After seeing the condition of the interior, Sangiacomo says, “I realized we had to do something.”
Sangiacomo and Meltzer decided to raise money to restore the house. Melzer uploaded a video of himself at the house that went viral. He followed by sponsoring an auction of comics-related art, raising over $100,000 in the process. Sangiacomo and Meltzer formed the nonprofit Siegel and Shuster Society, and asked the Glenville Community Development Corporation to take charge of restoring the house, in partnership with the Grays.
According to Tracey Kirksey, executive director of the Glenville CDC, her group offered to buy the home from the Grays. But “they have lived there for over 20 years and were not interested in selling the family home to us.” Before the Glenville CDC proceeded with repairs, though, the Grays agreed to give the group first right of refusal should they decide to sell.
The Glenville group took charge, hiring contractors to repair a leaky roof, redo the siding, improve the landscaping, and paint the house Superman blue and red. A plaque was installed honoring Siegel. Written by Sangiacomo and Meltzer, the plaque says that Siegel “was a teenaged boy who lived here during the Great Depression.” “Jerry wasn’t popular,” it continues. “He was a dreamer, and he knew how to dream big.” The plaque ends with the aphorism, “[Siegel and Shuster] didn’t just give us the world’s first super hero.…They gave us something to believe in.”
Proud of the house’s historical importance, the Grays participated in the 2009 ceremony to unveil the plaque, which was affixed to a steel fence (for the Man of Steel) with a large red Superman shield at its center.
Where the Shuster house once stood, the Glenville group installed another fence with six poster-size reproduced plates of the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1. A seventh poster proclaims, “On this site once stood the home where Superman was turned from words into pictures.… With the creation of Superman, these two friends showed the world that the most ordinary of us can turn out to be the most heroic.”
The city finally took notice. Tracey Kirksey had been trying, like Sangiacomo, to have the city tear down abandoned houses, “but it never seemed to be a priority.” With the Siegel house restored, the city has now demolished seven houses on Kimberly Avenue, Kirksey says, and is now looking to “green-up the lots and replace those houses with new developments.”
The Siegel house is still owned by the Grays and not open to the public, but Sangiacomo hopes it may one day become a museum. “I’d love to turn it into a mecca for comic book lovers from across the world, into a place where people visiting the city could come and walk through it and see where Jerry created Superman, to turn it into something Cleveland could be proud of.”
Kirksey has more ideas, too, such as a permanent sign at the Cleveland airport, or a Superman statue. The best spot for such a statue? Perhaps downtown, underneath the place where the billboard of LeBron James once hung.