UPDATE (4:00 pm, February 3, 2012) The situation is not completely as I understood it to be - and I apologize for the confusion. The porch is going to be rebuilt - it was removed due to the failure of the foundation. The woodwork is still all being removed, to be replaced with identical - it's an issue of lead abatement - and it is still in the dumpster. There will be an in-depth follow-up on Monday.
Langston Hughes, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, had his first works published while a student at Cleveland's Central High School. At this time (his sophomore and junior years) he lived alone, in the attic of 2266 East 86th Street, in Cleveland's Fairfax neighborhood.
When I learned that the house had been forclosed upon and was sitting vacant, back in 2009, I worked to bring public attention to the structure. These efforts resulted in coverage on National Public Radio's All Things Considered and in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The structure was made a designated Cleveland Landmark. All these efforts led to Fairfax Renaissance assuming ownership and management of the rehabilitation, with the intent of offering it to a low to moderate income family at a reasonable mortgage - an idea solution.
Progress was being made. The plans for the renovation were approved by the Cleveland Landmarks Commission and it looked as though things were proceeding well.
Then, yesterday, I drove by the house, and was shocked at what I saw.
A look through the window openings this morning confirmed my worst fears: the house had been gutted to the studs, with all traces of the original building material, save for the staircase, gone. Where has it gone? Likely to the two large dumpsters, full to the brim, in the vacant lot next door.
Detail of a photograph, used courtesy of the Cuyahoga County Archives.
The most obvious loss is the front porch, which was original to the house.
Most of the components of the porch remained, in good condition, when I last photographed the house. It was to be repaired, not removed - and I'm sure that the Landmarks Commission will do whatever is necessary to ensure that it is rebuilt. The staff of the commission will be meeting with Fairfax Renaissance next week to discuss replacement window options, and the porch will be addressed at that time. Of course, it will be much harder to do this if the lumber that made up the porch is in the aforementioned dumpsters, which I fear will be emptied soon.
Unfortunately, the jurisdiction of the Landmarks Commission is limited to the exterior. Original doors, crown moulding, and trim, shown here, have all been removed.
Note how nicely the crown moulding and trim around the doorway complements the stairs - the only remaining bit of original woodwork - and imagine what pictures might have hung from the integral picture rail.
The trim and the doors here, too, are gone.
And then there are the little things, the furnace hot air vent and the remains of an old, disused gas light fixture - these are the details make a house unique.
What can you do?
My primary concern - is that the fabric that makes this house special will be lost, and most likely soon - as the dumpsters look due to be emptied.
How much use do the barely accessible spaces in your attic get? Very little, most likely. They seem, to me, the perfect place to store historic building materials until their importance can be realized.
Got some free time this weekend? Consider visiting the site. Ask the construction workers present for permission to remove some of this significant historic material from the dumpsters. With their permission, take it home. Make note that it came from this house, so that you or someone else will be able to return it here when more sensible minds prevail.