Another new historic district for Cleveland Heights
Cleveland Heights’ wealth of historic houses provides one of the most compelling reasons so many residents choose to call it home. Many of these homes date to the early part of the last century and represent an unusually complete architectural expression of that era. A combination of devoted citizens, stringent city inspections, enduring craftsmanship, and a long sluggish economy have made Cleveland Heights’ built environment remarkably resilient by national standards. Yet the architectural legacy we have inherited is not sacrosanct. The recent wave of foreclosures and the ongoing public debate over the planned demolition of two World War I–era houses to enable a reworking of the traffic flow in and out of Zagara’s Marketplace illustrate that our city’s architectural fabric is a fragile resource that underpins our quality of life.
In recent years, several Heights citizens have worked to raise local awareness about the importance of historic architecture. As a result, Ambler Heights, Euclid Golf, Fairmount Boulevard, John D. Rockefeller’s Forest Hill, and the Herrick Mews carriage house district have been added to the National Register of Historic Places (with a sixth district, Inglewood, under review), lending national recognition to Cleveland Heights’ place in American architectural and suburban history. Over the last few months my wife Stacey and I have begun work to nominate another National Register district—Grant W. Deming’s Forest Hill Allotment. The district would include the 1916 Arts and Crafts front-porch colonial we purchased on Lincoln Boulevard almost three years ago. Our effort sprang from an interest in history and architecture as well as a desire to raise public awareness of the value of conserving one of the things that makes Cleveland Heights stable, sustainable, and desirable. As we walked the streets of Forest Hill photographing houses, we also learned that it’s a great way to meet our neighbors and make new friends. And, we found that many others share our commitment to a thriving Cleveland Heights.
Deming’s Forest Hill, not to be confused with Rockefeller’s later Forest Hill historic district to the north, is an early planned garden suburb development that includes much of the area bounded by Coventry, Cedar, and Lee roads and Euclid Heights Boulevard. Forest Hill was conceived in 1909 by Grant W. Deming, brother and sometimes business partner of Euclid Golf developer Barton Deming and a prolific designer of residential neighborhoods on Cleveland’s East Side. Deming, who built an imposing home for himself on Redwood Road (behind Zagara’s), laid out Forest Hill in four stages in 1910-11. The great majority of the more than 660 houses in Forest Hill date from the 1910s and 1920s. Unlike the uniformly gracious high-style homes of Euclid Golf (another quintessential garden suburb), Forest Hill is a more architecturally and socially diverse development that combines a section of mostly large, high-style, architect-designed homes on curvilinear streets in the western part of the allotment and a section of mostly builder-designed homes of more varying sizes on straight streets to the east. More than 30 two-family houses, situated along Cottage Grove Avenue, Parkway Drive, and Superior Road, add to the neighborhood’s diverse character. Forest Hill today represents a highly intact collection of homes in pure Tudor Revival, Arts and Crafts, Colonial Revival, and Italian Renaissance styles, as well as eclectic designs that combine two or more architectural influences. The result is an architectural exuberance that is matched by few other places in the Heights.
The National Register of Historic Places recognizes historically or architecturally significant areas or those that represent important trends in urban planning. Designation as a historic district has no drawbacks but several advantages. It does not preclude one’s choice to remodel or expand a house, nor does it prohibit one’s choice of paint colors or use of building materials. On the other hand, it offers several advantages: local and national recognition of the district’s historic character, a basis for community pride and sense of place, heightened awareness of the importance of the district to the city’s future, eligibility for federal programs that finance restoration efforts, and even the possibility of improved property values.
Thus far we have researched Forest Hill Allotment’s early history, inventoried its structures, and worked closely with Kara Hamley O’Donnell, historic preservation planner for the city of Cleveland Heights. After a preliminary review, the Ohio Historic Preservation Office agrees that Deming’s Forest Hill may merit recognition as a historic district. The next step is to raise the neighborhood’s awareness of this opportunity and identify individuals who may wish to become involved. The public is invited to an informational meeting at Cleveland Heights City Hall, 40 Severance Circle, on Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2008, at 6:30 p.m. We would also welcome any information and old photographs or plans that might enrich our effort.Mark Souther is an associate professor of history at Cleveland State University. He lives on Lincoln Boulevard in the Forest Hill Allotment.