Saturday, October 31, 2009

Save this Greek Revival house!

Greek Revival house

Greek Revival was a style of architecture popular from about 1800-1855. The most defining element in its vernacular form is a roof with a pitch similar to that seen in classic Greek temples. I've always liked the style. I started thinking about the style in earnest when we were still looking at farms, out at the western edges of Ashtabula and Trumbull counties, before we decided to buy a house in an inner-ring suburb. Out there, plenty of these houses are still standing.

It started me thinking about the possibility of the existence of such houses in the city of Cleveland. I knew they existed in the suburbs - I'd lusted over this 1853 farmhouse on Fairmount Boulevard, in Shaker Heights. While many of the older houses in the city have succumed to decay or redevelopment, some still must be standing, I assumed. This started me on a quest to find as many Greek Revival houses in the city of Cleveland as I could.

My focus was on the east side, due primarily to the location of my house and job. I began by just driving up and down the streets, a photocopy of a local street atlas in hand, crossing off streets as I checked them. This house, on E. 130th St., just north of Kinsman, was the first that I found. It encouraged me to look further.

Greek Revival house

In my quest so far, this house is the best one I've found that isn't currently being used as a residence. It is located at 1209 East 71st Street, just north of Superior. I assume that it could probably be available for sale at a reasonable price. The current owner, Great Lakes Home Remodelers, purchased it on July 13, 2006 for $4800. They do not appear to have done any work to it since then. They also have not paid taxes on the property since then - the back taxes amount to about $2700. They own four other properties in the city, all foreclosures, all purchased under similar conditions. They don't appear to have ever paid taxes on any of them.

Greek Revival house

The house needs work - I'll be the first to admit that. It's not too far gone, though - it can be saved, probably without an insane amount of money. The lines are really clean and the proportions are just right - imagine how great it would look without the front porch. The people who removed the aluminum siding have allowed us to see the original locations of the windows on the first floor. My hope is that the windows on the second floor are original - they appear to be in the original locations.

Greek Revival house - foundation detail

This is what the tooling on the foundation looks like on the main part of the house. I had assumed that the flat-roofed addition was built considerably later, and was a probable candidate for demolition for the purchaser of the house. When I looked at it yesterday, I saw that the foundation for the addition was also made out of sandstone and had similar toolmarks to the foundation on the main part of the house. Now I'm inclined to keep it and research the original design - I find it hard to believe that a structure with a flat roof could have lasted so long.

The lot behind the house and the one next to that, as well as the lot to the south of the house are all city owned. The city is presently selling lots adjacent to homeowner's property for $26, including transfer fees. The three lots total 19,200 square feet - added to the 5500 square foot lot, this would give you slightly more than half an acre - plenty of space for gardening, a nice sized garage, or whatever other needs you might have. The house itself is 1500 square feet.

The tax mailing address for Great Lakes Home Remodelers, a company incorporated by Gregory Green in 2001, is 1418 E. 65th St., Cleveland, OH 44103. This appears to be Mr. Green's residence. In addition to the five properties described above, he owns another former forclosure under his own name.

I do not know what Mr. Green's intentions for these properties are. I would assume, however, given his financial situation, that he would be more than willing to sell this one.

This is the best opportunity I've yet seen to find a Greek Revival house in the city. Providing that the inside isn't totally trashed, this represents a very worthwhile project. This house needs to be saved. I'd buy it myself if it was closer to my job or my house.

Imagine this house and the adjacent property a couple of years down the road. You've removed the porch, replaced the rotten boards, and painted the house white. A picket fence encloses your yard and the surrounding lots, which you purchased from the city. On one of those lots sits a garage, painted red, reminiscent in shape of the sort of barn you'd find near a farmhouse like this.

I really believe in this house. If you buy it, I'll gladly throw whatever labor I can into the project.

We need to act now. Without futher action, this house will probably be gone in a few years.

A Curious House in the Central neighborhood

circa 1860 house

I often browse the local real estate listings, in search of interesting historic properties. This house, at 2208 East 36th Street, caught my attention recently. According to the listing, it was built in 1860. With all the redevelopment in the Central area, this would make the house one of the oldest in the neighborhood - I had to investigate.

Cuyahoga County offers some of the best access to real estate records anywhere. While the County Auditor provides a considerable amount of information about each property and piece of land, the dates that they have for houses are often incorrect - just about everything built before the 20th century is dated as "1900". But when a house is given a date before 1900, it's often correct, or at least close. The Auditor agrees with the date, 1860.

The next step would be to trace back the ownership of the house, using the County Recorder who provides online access to property records dating back to 1811. By tracing the transfer history, one might be able to get a better idea as to when the house was built.

Two houses on East 36th Street

On my lunch break yesterday, I decided to check it out. The house does, in fact, appear to have been built in about 1860. The one next door, according to the Auditor, was built in 1880. I don't feel completely confident of that number, due to the similarities in shape and style - they might have been built by the same builder. The pitch of 2212 E. 36 is a bit greater and the house is sited closer to the street, both of which would support a later date.

circa 1860 house

An addition was built on the rear of the house at some point, with a second chimney.

The house is bank owned. Architecturally, it isn't especially impressive. The interior has that lovely 1970s faux wood paneling. It's small - 795 square feet.

As an example of what a large part of Cleveland used to look like, it is significant. Due to the small size of the house and simplicity of the roof, it wouldn't be a terribly expensive house to rehab, even though it clearly needs quite a bit of work. The asking price on the house is $7,000, though you might be able to obtain it for half that.

Rehab it as a rental property. Do something with it. Isn't this bit of Cleveland history worth $3500?


In my work as a Youth Services Librarian at the Hough Branch of Cleveland Public Library, I've come to realize that local history in Cleveland simply does not get the attention that it deserves. It isn't taught in the schools. It doesn't get much attention elsewhere.

Langston Hughes residence

Take the house that Langston Hughes lived in at 2266 East 86th Street. It sat unrecognized for decades. Over the summer, when I was preparing programming for a daycamp, I started looking for important individuals who had lived in the area. It's easier to teach history when you can show important things that happened in the neighborhoods where the kids live, on the streets that they walk every day. Langston Hughes was one of the first names on everyone's lips, but no one really knew exactly where he had lived. Thanks to the research and resources of the Literature department at the Main Library, I was able to discover this house, one of only two surviving places in Cleveland where Hughes had lived. It had been foreclosed upon, and faced the threats that every boarded up property faces - vandalism and eventual demolition.

Thanks to the article in the Plain Dealer, the community became aware of the house and took action. The property was, as of October 20, transferred to Fairfax Renaissance Development Corp., who has stated the intention of rehabbing the property.

Through this venue, we will bring many other important places to your attention.