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Painesville: Steele Mansion Renovation

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10 years later, Painesville mansion 'Steele' stands

 

Published: Saturday, January 01, 2011

 

http://www.news-herald.com/articles/2011/01/01/news/nh3437863.txt

 

nh3437863.jpg

 

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"Beyond its paint-chapped walls, beneath its antiquated cracked floorboards, doleful, caved-in roof and dirt-caked marble fireplaces, you can catch a flicker of what the Steele Mansion once was.

 

It requires looking past the scattered debris from fallen chimneys, the dust-filled staircases hiding lavish, intricate woodwork and once-posh architecture.

 

The walls seem to oscillate with the rich history that grazed each room of the mid-1860s mansion in Painesville.

 

It is these phantom glimpses and whispers of nostalgia that have sparked a fire in Arthur Shamakian, the new owner of the home at 348 Mentor Ave."

 

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Kind of reads like a mixed bag of good and bad news. While the house has a new owner with plans to reconstruct it, the new owner also admits having zero experience in historic restorations or ever tackling a project of this scale. The ideal owner would be someone who has already completed a similar project or two of this scale and knows exactly what they are getting themselves into. The newspaper article author should be commended for pointing out some key ingredients for project success. The most critical among these is putting a roof over the shell. Only when the interior is in the dry can any serious interior work begin. Stabilization of the exterior walls should be headed by a structural engineer with personal experience stabilizing damaged historic masonry-stone structures. It may very well be necessary to install some temporary steel beam braces to insure the weakened walls can hold up a roof until additional load bearing interior walls can be reconstructed. The $1-2 million dollar projected price tag is realistic unless the new owner's family members have had years of experience in reconstructing badly deteriorated structures. A project of this kind is exponentially more challenging than run-of-the-mill old house re-dos. (and believe me, even those can have a goodly share of nasty and costly surprises)

 

My only advice to the new owner is to not hesitate bringing in expert help whenever problems occur which they inevitably will. I've worked on a couple of projects similar to this one and can emphatically state that they will take longer and have far more costly surprises than are ever anticipated. Someone mentioned in the article comments the PBS show that renovates old houses; applying their upscale standards to this house might take it well over the $2 million mark. I sincerely hope the house reconstruction isn't being naively looked at through rose colored glasses. There appear to be some good "bones" in what remains of the old mansion, but they are just that: bones. The current reality is a very long way from a pristine-looking fully reconstructed and renovated mansion.  I wish the new owner and his family helpers the best of luck in their new venture-they sure will need it.

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^^maybe you should offer your services as a consultant; it looks like it could be a lucrative and lengthy contract :wink:

 

Ohio has plenty of talented restoration people; the badly deteriorated 1860's Cozad House mansion in Cleveland has recently been brought back to beautiful original condition. It is comparable in size and scope to the Steele Mansion minus the fire damage. No shortage in Ohio for structural engineers either including some who are knowledgeable about fire (and water) damaged structures. I'm currently based in Texas (gasp!) but intend to relocate to Cincinnati when logistics permit. I have tackled projects in St. Joseph, MO and Vallejo, CA, but a project as extensive as the Steele Mansion presents many uncertainties. To be successful, it will require a team approach with multi-disciplinary expertise being called on, especially for the structural issues. When I'm in Ohio again, I'd enjoy going by and taking a look at the Steele Mansion to find out how the project is going. From the photos, videos, and article, it looks do-able, but definitely isn't a project for the faint of heart or shallow of pocket. I hope the owner realizes what he's getting into-he should go watch the movie THE MONEY PIT at least 3 times before going forward. Some aspects of that movie seem almost documentary when compared to the real life experiences of restoring historic structures.

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^^maybe you should offer your services as a consultant; it looks like it could be a lucrative and lengthy contract ;)

 

Ohio has plenty of talented restoration people; the badly deteriorated 1860's Cozad House mansion in Cleveland has recently been brought back to beautiful original condition. It is comparable in size and scope to the Steele Mansion minus the fire damage. No shortage in Ohio for structural engineers either including some who are knowledgeable about fire (and water) damaged structures. I'm currently based in Texas (gasp!) but intend to relocate to Cincinnati when logistics permit. I have tackled projects in St. Joseph, MO and Vallejo, CA, but a project as extensive as the Steele Mansion presents many uncertainties. To be successful, it will require a team approach with multi-disciplinary expertise being called on, especially for the structural issues. When I'm in Ohio again, I'd enjoy going by and taking a look at the Steele Mansion to find out how the project is going. From the photos, videos, and article, it looks do-able, but definitely isn't a project for the faint of heart or shallow of pocket. I hope the owner realizes what he's getting into-he should go watch the movie THE MONEY PIT at least 3 times before going forward. Some aspects of that movie seem almost documentary when compared to the real life experiences of restoring historic structures.

 

Like they say, you never know issues you'll encounter until you start demolition.  Hopefully, there are no foundation issues.  Most likely the electric and plumbing systems will need to be replaced.

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On the verge of demolition only a year ago after a devastating fire that collapsed the roof, followed by a decade of neglect which reduced it to a shell, the 148-year old Steele Mansion appears to be well on its way to recovery, with the reconstruction of the top floor and hopes to complete winterization before, well, winter! (btw, the Steele Mansion is one of a number of buildings in Painesville that are purported to be "haunted." :roll: Perhaps the ghost-in-residence is on a leave of absence while renovations are taking place)--

Steele Mansion eighty years ago: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.213025222068856.52666.213024515402260#!/photo.php?fbid=213025225402189&set=a.213025222068856.52666.213024515402260&type=1&theater319205_252707818104093_125149374193272_687511_1428009317_n.jpg

 

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If we had sound here you'd hear me clapping and cheering! This is SO encouraging and a rare good end to what is often a total loss. Hat's off to the restorer(s). They deserve an award for bringing this one back.

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Steele Mansion renovation well under way

 

Published: Sunday, October 09, 2011

 

http://news-herald.com/articles/2011/10/09/news/nh4495409.txt?viewmode=fullstory

 

By Betsy Scott

BScott@News-Herald.com

It was an emotional moment when the Steele Mansion's latest owners toured the forlorn 1867 home — once the crown jewel of Painesville's main thoroughfare.

 

"It was so sad," said Carol Shamakian, the matriarch of the family doing the renovations. "The home was so elegant, and you saw the incredible staircase and the doors that had survived. It was obviously struggling to survive. It just needed to be saved."

 

It appears that the Shamakian clan is well on its way to doing just that.

 

In only a few months since work began, the endeavor has resulted in a new mansard roof — lost to fire more than a decade ago — a rebuilt three-story carriage house; the fixing of caved-in floors crushed by toppled chimneys, removal and refurbishing of black walnut paneling and the staircase, and the start of trying to piece together shattered remnants of several Italian marble fireplace mantles.

 

"This is going to be a very formal, very elegant place when it's all done," Carol said.

 

"We keep trying to get into George Steele's head to figure out what he would have done. I think he would like what's going on. It'll be a beautiful blend of old and new."

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It seems virtually inconceivable that anyone would have objections to this project at this point. I have no idea who this apparently very small minority is. I didn't think there were any old-guard elitists left in town (having fled to more upscale communities decades ago) for whom this type of enterprise would even be an issue (assuming there won't be any historical inaccuracies such as the installation of orange shag carpeting and avocado appliances). In case they haven't noticed, Painesville ain't exactly Palm Beach.

 

 

Hearing set on Steele Mansion plan (with documents)

 

Published: Wednesday, December 07, 2011

 

http://www.news-herald.com/articles/2011/12/07/news/nh4813407.txt?viewmode=default

 

By Betsy Scott

BScott@News-Herald.com

@ReporterBetsy

 

It seems most everyone in the Painesville area has an opinion of how the Steele Mansion should be used.

 

On Thursday, they will get their chance to weigh in with the Painesville Planning Commission. A public hearing is at 7:30 p.m. in Courtroom No. 1 at Painesville City Hall on a rezoning request required to use the Steele Mansion as a bed-and-breakfast/inn.

 

The use is the first choice of the Lake County-based Shamakian family, which is restoring the 1860s home. The property, at 348 Mentor Ave., is zoned R-2, Multifamily Residential and they seek to change it to B-1, Business/Residential. In addition, a conditional-use permit is required.

 

The home was used as a 14-unit apartment building before a fire in 2001 led to heavy damage. It was acquired by the Shamakians shortly before it would have been ordered torn down by city officials.

 

Surrounding land uses include duplexes, some single-family residences, a funeral home, a church, and another former home converted to apartments. Lake Erie College is nearby.

 

In a memo to commission members, City Planner Russ Schaedlich outlined some issues to consider before voting on the rezoning and CUP.

 

"Although the inn is an intriguing prospect, especially considering the historic nature of the Steele Mansion, there are many aspects that could potentially become problematic for neighboring properties," he said, noting that several neighbors are expected to speak at the hearing.

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No matter how worthwhile such a project as this one is to the community, there's always the NIMBY (not in my back yard!) contingent. Bed & Breakfast Inns are the lowest impact kind of hospitality facility with most often having just a few guests at a time. But you watch, some old timer will get up and argue passionately that the whole darn thing should have been bulldozed and something new built there. There's still that subset of citizens who see no value in preserving anything older than what was built in the past 20 years. Largely, they subscribe to the now faded American ideal of planned obsolescence which dictates the minute something starts to look dated, its time to replace it with something new and "better" whether is it a car, a home, or in some cases, even a spouse. (just joking about the last one)

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Rezoning for Steele Mansion OK'd by Painesville Planning Commission

Published: Thursday, December 08, 2011

 

http://news-herald.com/articles/2011/12/08/news/doc4ee18ccbb7c22368750568.txt?viewmode=fullstory

 

By Max Reinhart

MReinhart@News-Herald.com@mreinhartnh

 

Plans to convert the Steele Mansion into an inn took a step forward Thursday, although not without some controversy.

 

The audience at a packed Painesville City Hall made their voices heard at the public hearing with almost exactly half the comments in favor of the proposed inn and the other half against it.

 

In the end, however, the Planning Commission voted 3-1 in favor of rezoning the property from R-2 Multifamily Residential to B-1 Business/Residential.

 

According to the Shamakian family, who owns the 1860s home, a majority of Painesville residents had expressed desire to see it transformed into an inn.

 

“We don’t want just a few people to get to live there,” Elissa Shamakian said. “We think it should be a special place to stay and something to draw people to Painesville.”

 

Numerous city residents agreed the inn could become an asset to the city’s historic district.

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Painesville's Steele Mansion approved for use as inn

Published: Friday, March 09, 2012

 

http://www.news-herald.com/articles/2012/03/09/news/doc4f597cba4a0f9026999283.txt?viewmode=fullstory

 

By Max Reinhart

MReinhart@News-Herald.com

@mreinhartnh

 

Not long ago, Painesville’s historic Steele Mansion was expected to become a pile of rubble. It now appears poised to begin a second life as an inn.

 

The city’s Planning Commission voted 3-0 Thursday to approve a conditional use permit to convert to the 1860s home into an inn featuring about 20 suites and various amenities.

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This is a win for everyone involved. Special thanks are due to the Shamakians for taking on a challenge of this magnitude. Few people even with adequate financial resources would tackle a project like this one. It shows that so many allegedly "hopeless" faded landmarks can be brought back if the money and determination are there. It's sad to see so many once fine homes and commercial buildings reduced to rubble in the name of "eyesore" eradication. Some should come down, but others had so much potential now lost forever.

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^additionally, if this plan was not approved I think there would have been an insurrection against established authority. This project has taken on a life of its own in Painesville, with overwhelming popularity with just about everyone in town except for some residents whose properties adjoin the Steele Mansion, and, according to what I've read, a couple of other politically connected people who apparently had threatened to derail it. I look forward to its continuing progress, as the owners are being scrupulous in their efforts to achieve as much historical accuracy for the structure as possible, even (according the their facebook page) down to the quality of the glass to be used in the windows.

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A set of photos of the Steele Mansion from days past has been posted on its Facebook page. You don’t see interior furnishings like this anymore, and judging from their overall condition it appears the mansion was already past its glory days (like me) and had entered a Sunset Boulevard phase. Paging Norma Desmond…

 

 

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Thanks for the old photos! I agree that most were taken when the house was starting to fade but some of the furnishings are undeniably Victorian and likely date back to the early days. More importantly, the photos show how the various rooms were originally used. The new owners-restorers might want copies of these old photos to hang on the walls but doubtful they would want to receate furnished replicas of the interior rooms. And to think this landmark home came dangerously close to being a total loss....

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Thanks for the old photos! I agree that most were taken when the house was starting to fade but some of the furnishings are undeniably Victorian and likely date back to the early days. More importantly, the photos show how the various rooms were originally used. The new owners-restorers might want copies of these old photos to hang on the walls but doubtful they would want to receate furnished replicas of the interior rooms. And to think this landmark home came dangerously close to being a total loss....

yeah, I don't even know how you would begin to recreate these rooms as they exist in these pictures. It's like when you see period rooms from this era in museums (The Brooklyn Museum has some excellent examples of Victorian interiors) and marvel at the detail and craftsmanship yet are overwhelmed by their oppressiveness at the same time. As indicated (in the Facebook comments) these pix were taken in the late 1800's. I think I had read once that George Steele died not too many years after the mansion was completed. Perhaps this led to a reversal of fortune for the family that led to a sort of deferred maintenance (?).

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The deferred maintenance you mention was not limited to the Steele Mansion but to nearly all Victorian era homes. By the outbreak of WWI in the teens, critics were lampooning and verbally ripping apart everything Victorian including architecture. The ornate homes of that era were labeled as examples of "dishonest" architecture. By the 1950's, Victorian era homes were so despised that they became associated with the dead and macabre. Alfred Hitchcock used a ghostly towered Second Empire home in his movie PSYCHO. Cartoonist Charles Addams used creepy Victorian backdrops for his Addams Family cartoons. Against this negative backdrop which lasted over 50 years almost countless formerly grand homes from the 1800's were neglected, abandoned, and razed. The Urban Renewal era of the 1940's, '50's, and 60's razed many thousands more of the old style homes. Even legendary Euclid Avenue in Cleveland where John D. Rockerfeller and Charles Brush (founder of General Electric) lived with their millionaire peers in lavish mansions saw most of them disappear in the following years so that now only archival photos provide a hint of how grand it once was. Not surprisingly, the Steele Mansion suffered a similar fate and pattern of neglect. Like so many large Victorians, it was probably divided into apartments and the only goal of the landlord was to maximize rent revenues, not keep the old home in pristine condition. It's truly amazing that we have as many Victorian era survivors as we do considering the hazards they faced when everything Victorian was considered worthless. But they built these grand old homes to last back then and when permitted to stand they have held up remarkably well considering the many years of neglect.

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^thanks for the history! I didn't know these homes were so hated on a purely aesthetic basis. I just thought no one wanted them anymore (back when I was growing up especially--50's & 60's) because they were so drafty and hard to heat and maintain due to aging. It's interesting that you mentioned Psycho and Charles Addams. Before the current owners had acquired the Steele Mansion I had read a report that a group of Japanese investors had expressed interest in buying it as a location to produce films. No information on the nature of their "artistic" endeavors--lol.

   

It's tragic what happened to the great old mansions on Euclid Avenue, but that could just be a natural result of its commercialization during Cleveland's growth years in the early 20th Century considering this is the city's main artery. I'm sure this sort of thing happened in every large city, but still sad.

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The Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit Projects has posted a set of photos showing recent Steele Mansion progress on flickr--

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/63837784@N08/sets/72157628593272437/

 

The Steele Mansion rescue and restoration is one of the most inspiring and uplifting preservation stories to come out of Ohio recently. Whatever praises, awards, or credits the project receives are all well deserved.  This amazing transformation defies the current trend towards "right-sizing" and "Blight abatement" via demolitions underway in many other Ohio cities.  I mentioned this successful example today in the Cincinnati demolition thread as a major landmark home there (the former Christian Moerlein House of Moerlein Brewery fame) is now facing a city nuisance declaration followed by demolition despite it appearing to be in much better condition than the Steele Mansion was prior to restoration.

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^I guess the biggest obstacle is finding someone with the resources to invest in a project like this. I would imagine that's not an easy thing to do these days. re Steele Mansion--I especially look forward to seeing the reinstallation of the staircase, which apparently is being refurbished; and the reconstructed sunroom on the west side of the building (not shown in any of these pics)

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Steele family members visit Painesville mansion (with video)

Published: Tuesday, April 10, 2012

 

http://news-herald.com/articles/2012/04/10/news/doc4f835e3f34885594713346.txt?viewmode=fullstory

 

By Betsy Scott

BScott@News-Herald.com

@ReporterBetsy

He is a retired computer science professor who was born and raised in Wisconsin. She is an attorney who hails from Chester Township.

 

The one thing they have in common is George Worthington Steele.

 

George Hathaway Steele Jr., his great-great-great-grandson, and great-granddaughter Sarah Heffter got acquainted with each other Saturday, when they toured the old family homestead at 348 Mentor Ave. in Painesville.

 

Steele was invited to come see the renovation project going on to restore the historic property to its early years. The Shamakian family, based in Painesville Township, intends to use the once-lavish 1867 home as an inn.

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This view, from the rear of the Steele Mansion, is the rebuilt wing that is believed to have housed the servants’ quarters. From what I understand, the original structure, an indistinct jumble of brick and some wood (as I remember it) with a rather treacherous-looking network of fire escapes, had fallen into such a state of disrepair (worse than the main house) that it completely collapsed while trying to save and hopefully restore it, although the replacement appears to occupy that building’s exact footprint--

e35dcdb9-14fd-4daf-b9fc-266892d15ade_zps279d5793.jpg

(photo by Traci Burzanko Holzheimer on Steele Mansion Facebook page)

 

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Absolutely amazing transformation of the kind that is very rarely seen. I hope the new Inn enterprise is equally amazing and successful. The next time my spouse and I are in the area I'll make it a point to book reservations for us.  Given all of the disappointing news about rampant state-wide demolitions in the past couple of years, this story is indeed a very happy one. It also demonstrates that even dilapidated (beyond saving?) structures can be brought back and added back to the local tax rolls without demolition being an intermediate step. I hope the Shamakian Family receives national media attention for their exceptional efforts. Very few would have had their vision and resources to see a project of this scope to completion. They will always be "preservation heroes" in my book.

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Absolutely amazing transformation of the kind that is very rarely seen. I hope the new Inn enterprise is equally amazing and successful. The next time my spouse and I are in the area I'll make it a point to book reservations for us.  Given all of the disappointing news about rampant state-wide demolitions in the past couple of years, this story is indeed a very happy one. It also demonstrates that even dilapidated (beyond saving?) structures can be brought back and added back to the local tax rolls without demolition being an intermediate step. I hope the Shamakian Family receives national media attention for their exceptional efforts. Very few would have had their vision and resources to see a project of this scope to completion. They will always be "preservation heroes" in my book.

I believe the projected time frame for the inn to be fully operational will be the Spring, although I think I read that it might be so on a limited basis by the end of this year.  I think it's interesting that despite restoration, based on Facebook comments, even some of the biggest cheerleaders of this project are nevertheless waxing nostalgic over the decayed state that characterized the mansion in what surely seemed like its last years and inevitable death knell. I hesitate to use the term "ruin porn" (oops, I just did! :laugh:), but the romanticization over this sort of thing seems to be in vogue. Before the structure was rescued, a talented local photographer named Johnny Joo did a series of sensational photos--some of which are below (I've seen more but can't locate them right now)--of the interior in its most dilapidated state, many of which have contributed to those past memories--

http://www.redbubble.com/explore/steele+mansion

tumblr_mt4h5nfJeF1sglcgwo1_500_zps2c74e593.jpg

 

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I think it would be appropriate for the Inn owners to collect and post "before" photos like these showing the transformation throughout the house-it might turn a few die-hard skeptics into preservation believers. Thanks for the updates about the anticipated opening-might be Spring before we can break away for a trip. (from Texas)

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I learned from the Steele Mansion Facebook page the following (having never purchased any property, I'm not sure all this entails, but it may be an opportunity for some enterprising entrepreneur in the Lake/Geauga area--as specified below--to be a part of this project. I've provided a link to the plans as mentioned and it looks awesome. I especially look forward to a visit to a room called The Hatch. How can you go wrong with a name like that, especially since it's located next door to the Wine Room?! :laugh:):

 

http://www.lakeblueplanroom.com/plans.php?job=235&jobName=Steele+Mansion

 

"We have applied for the final completion permits to the City of Painesville and the State of Ohio. We should be full speed ahead in a few weeks. We are accepting bids from subtrades now. Plumbing; Electric; Heating/Cooling; Fire Sprinklers; Insulation;Drywall/Plaster;Painting/Wall Paper;Hardwood Flooring/Lino/Tile/Carpet;Concrete for Basement/Drive/Parking Lot;etc. Plans are on file at Lake Blue's Website. We are partial to Lake/Geauga suppliers. Questions...See George at the Mansion."

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It's my understanding the Steele Mansion will (tentatively) hold its first event on June 2--the birthday of patriarch George Steele.*

 

A couple of recent photos--

 

Interior doors have been refurbished. I believe there are six sets of these double doors--

1982234_704050239633016_4286612_n_zps55aba529.jpg

basement view--

1896918_704050662966307_1561155387_n_zps9331245c.jpg

 

*in case anyone was wondering what Geo. Steele looked like  :laugh:--

1379991_622861397751901_2141956080_n_zpsf14cbbef.jpg

...and his gravesite, no less! (Evergreen Cemetery, Painesville)

63818468_129434231192_zps73de742f.jpg

 

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I'm amazed at the meticulous steps the owners are taking to bring this back. It should be a required study for planners in communities with a significant number of faded historic homes. The default position in many cases is to pay the demo contractors and clear the lots. While that step is unavoidable in some cases, I have seen restorable (in far better condition than the Steele Mansion) fine period homes razed for no justifiable reason except that the city had the demo funds and wanted to use them. Hats off again to this family for showing what is possible. They deserve a plaque commemorating their efforts to save this local landmark. I only wish others would be inspired to do the same. This is a remarkable story in preservation with state-wide, even national ramifications for promoting more restorations and fewer demolitions.

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I'm amazed at the meticulous steps the owners are taking to bring this back. It should be a required study for planners in communities with a significant number of faded historic homes. The default position in many cases is to pay the demo contractors and clear the lots. While that step is unavoidable in some cases, I have seen restorable (in far better condition than the Steele Mansion) fine period homes razed for no justifiable reason except that the city had the demo funds and wanted to use them. Hats off again to this family for showing what is possible. They deserve a plaque commemorating their efforts to save this local landmark. I only wish others would be inspired to do the same. This is a remarkable story in preservation with state-wide, even national ramifications for promoting more restorations and fewer demolitions.

you're right, this is an unusual situation, even (maybe especially) for Painesville. So many historic homes have been demolished over the years it's surprising there are as many left as there are.

 

This place, the Studio Inn, located a few doors down from the Steele Mansion, was one of the earliest to face the wrecking ball in the early 70's. Adding insult to injury, it was replaced by a Red Barn, a fast food "restaurant" which (I think) has been defunct for ages (though at the time, since it was located only a few steps from my high school, I don't recall any of my fellow classmates mourning the loss of a historic home--lol)

57dc3f29.jpg

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