Monday, October 26, 2015

The Van Sweringen Brothers

Mantis James (M.J.) Van Sweringen  (1881 - 1934)                   Oris Paxton (O.P.) Van Sweringen  (1879 - 1936)

One Summer — America, 1927 by Bill Bryson — What happened in America in 1927? What didn’t happen? The book introduces a beautiful account of that summer’s events and its cast of characters - Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Ernest Hemingway, Al Capone, Thomas Edison, JP Morgan... and the Van Sweringens, who are described as the most powerful men in America. At their peak, they had over 100,000 employees and assets between $2 and $3 billion. Their estate called Daisy Hill was built on over 477 acres and had eighty telephone lines so they could keep in touch with their business associates. They decided to turn an existing T-shaped barn into their "personal haven as well as business retreat". (Tittle, 103) The Van Sweringen's Daisy Hill farm included Roundwood Manor, the garage group, stables, and a greenhouse. The brothers died in 1935 and 1936. Daisy Hill was later subdivided in the early 1940s. Roundwood Manor was never conceived as a single-family home; it was meant to be not only a country home for the brothers, but a business retreat where they could entertain guests. This is clear thorough its physical division into three wings and separate guest apartments.
The Van Sweringen imprint on the city of Cleveland was vast. "On August 18, 1927 an act more important than anyone at the time appreciated, took place in Cleveland, Ohio, when the last piece of steel framework was hoisted into place on the massive new Union Terminal construction project. While building their empire, they also quietly but significantly changed the world. At a place called Turkey Ridge outside Cleveland they built a new town from scratch and called it Shaker Heights. First planned community in America.” In that year America stepped out onto the world stage as the main event." (Bryson) 
The biographer of the Van Sweringens, Herbert H. Harwood’s “Invisible Giants: The Empire Of Cleveland’s Van Sweringen Brothers (Ohio)," writes that the Vans “TRANSFORMED CLEVELAND FROM A SMALL MIDWESTERN CITY TO A NATIONAL BUSINESS CENTER.”
The Van Sweringen's Terminal Tower transformed the Cleveland skyline. The Terminal Tower is a 52 story, 771 ft skyscraper on Public Square. When it was built, it was the fourth tallest building in the world. It is estimated that it cost $179 million and it served as offices located on top of the rail stations, the Cleveland Union Terminal. The 14th floor of the tower held the Van Sweringen's triplex apartment, the Greenbrier Suite, designed by architect Philip Small who was also the architect for Roundwood Manor, the Country Club, and Moreland Courts. 

The Van Sweringen brothers were inspired by traditional European town squares when they created the historic American Colonial-Georgian center between 1927-1929, today known as Shaker Square. They also developed the first planned community at Turkey Ridge outside of Cleveland, creating what is now known as Shaker Heights. 

Images: Cleveland Historical /

Sources: One Summer — America, 1927 by Bill Bryson / Hunting Valley A History by Diana Tittle and Mark Gottlieb 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Interiors & Exteriors—A Historical Perspective of Roundwood Manor as the Van Sweringen Home and Business Retreat

The home was transformed from a barn, the vision of O.P. Van Sweringen. 
The Ship Room / This room maintains the original beams and meat hooks from the previous barn. The room was named for the red and green lights at its entrance. Previously the hayloft, the Ship Room was the largest of eight parlors in the home, measuring at 40-by-80-feet. 
A Typical Bedroom at Roundwood Manor
The Dickens Library / The brothers collected and maintained original Charles Dickens first editions and manuscripts. 
The Pool / Measuring at 60-by-25-feet with original mosaic tile with Dutch motifs. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

"The Cows Lose Their Home"—How It Began

"Daisy Hill Farm was named in honor of Louise Jenks, know as Daisy, who was the hostess at Roundwood Manor, the business retreat of the Van Sweringens. History writes that, "one day in the 1920’s O. P. Van Sweringen took a good look at the T-shaped barn and saw beyond it. Why not make that into the guest house they wanted? As Roundwood Manor, their name for the house, went up, it was the talk of Cleveland. - O. P. and M. J. cringed at publicity and were careful that little about their castle-in-the-country got out. What they spent on it could only be surmised, though it was freely heralded as over $2 million. Much of the barn was incorporated in the metamorphosis. The main downstairs room which measured 80 by 40 feet, had evolved from the hay loft. Its beamed ceiling was an architectural detail to which the Vans were partial, particularly if the wood was oak. Left intact were the great meat hooks from which some long-ago farmer had hung his hams, his sides of beef and slaughtered lambs. The hooks can be seen today in the house. The old barn had been flanked by two silos. Both became wings of the house, part of the first making one of several sitting rooms. The other encased glassed spiral stairway that afforded private access to second floor guest suites.” 
"The Cows Lose Their Home", Copyright 1966 The Plain Dealer

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Christmas 1928

"No lights were visible in the Van Sweringens’ residence when their friend and hostess, Louise Jenks, slipped out of her home  and walked briskly across the former meadow toward Roundwood Manor on Christmas morning 1928. She could see the figures wending their way toward the Big House from staff cottages and workers’ quarters that dotted the estate. Forty of the Vans’ employees and their children had accepted Mrs. Jenks’ invitation to join her at 7 a.m. in waking up Roundwood Manors’ masters and their business guests with a spirited of Old English caroling. The Ship Room engulfed with a 24-foot Christmas tree around which were heaped toys and presents for Daisy Hill employees and their children. Mrs. Jenks shopped year round for these gifts.  M.J. and O.P. regarded Mrs. Jenks’ Christmas celebration with some satisfaction. Once poor farm boys whose mother had to deny Oris the little red wagon he desired, the brothers were now rich enough to act on Oris’ wish never to see another boy or girl cry for the want of a toy. Not only had the Van Sweringens overcome poverty — an achievement they had in common with several of their Hunting Valley neighbors — they could also count themselves among the most influential shapers of modern-day Cleveland.”  
Hunting Valley, A History by Diana Tittle and Mark Gottlieb

The Architect: Philip Small

"While most Clevelanders have never heard of the architect Philip Small, it is very likely that they have seen his work around town. In the 1920s, Small and his associate Charles Rowley became favorites of the Van Sweringen brothers, who commissioned them to design Shaker Square, the interior of the Higbee's department store on Public Square (now the site of the Horseshoe Casino), and the brothers' own Daisy Hill estate in Hunting Valley, to name a few. Separate from his work with the Vans, Small also designed nearby John Carroll University, the Cleveland Playhouse, the Karamu House, and a number of buildings on the Case Western Reserve University campus. 

The Van Sweringens also entrusted Small and Rowley with the task of designing one of the four clusters of Demonstration Homes in Shaker Heights. Built early on in Shaker Heights's history, the Demonstration Homes provided potential home owners with examples of the high-quality type of home that could be found in the exclusive suburb. Indeed, the homes were a symbol of the dignified, up-scale community that the Van Sweringen Company desired to create, and they provided the foundation from which the city grew. The houses were designated as Shaker Heights Landmarks on June 27, 1983.

Small's five demonstration homes, built in 1924, lie along South Woodland Boulevard, just west of Warrensville Center Road at (from east to west) 20000 South Woodland, 19910 South Woodland, 19700 South Woodland, and 19600 South Woodland. The fifth is nearby at 3158 Morley Road. All of the houses were designed in various types of English style, are built of brick and stucco with wood shingle roofs, and feature Tudor half-timbering and leaded glass casement windows on their exterior. English architecture was popular during the development of Shaker Heights, and Van Sweringen Company newspaper advertisements from the 1920s favorably compared Shaker's ambience with the "charm of England." A 1926 ad even refers to Small's Demonstration Home at 19910 South Woodland Road as "a true modernization of the famous old country houses of Dickens' England." At this time, the idealized English countryside served as a symbol of peacefulness, beauty, and security to wealthy Clevelanders looking to escape an increasingly chaotic big city. Indeed, as the same 1926 ad asks, why "go to England, thousands of miles away, to visit that charm" when "we can live with it always in Shaker Village, thirty minutes away[?]"

Philip Small's masterfully designed Demonstration Homes helped further this conception of the English countryside in northeast Ohio, contributing to Shaker Heights' ultimate success. It is little wonder, then, that the Van Sweringens continued to turn to Small for the design of some of their most important construction projects."

-Michael Rotman

Country Life in America ~ November 1937