Overlook Condominiums

El Canon Apartments before conversion to condominiums in the 1970s. [Wayne W. Wood, Jacksonville's Architectural Heritage.]

Built as El Canon Apartments in 1916, and later renamed Overlook Place Condominiums, the iconic Prairie School multi-family building at 2577 Overlook Road matches the scale if not the architecture of a street dominated by grand apartments.

El Canon and its neighbors appeared in the wake of Euclid Heights developer Patrick Calhoun’s failure to fulfill his vision of building an affluent allotment of large single-family homes. Succumbing to financial hardship in 1914, Calhoun saw hundreds of unsold lots go on auction. This watershed moment enabled the eclectic neighborhood we know today, with its mixture of single- and multi-family residences, and commercial buildings. 

El Canon conjures Spanish associations, mirroring a trend of popular affection for Mediterranean imagery in the early 20th century, but its name is also an exotic extrapolation of a more pedestrian origin. Its developer, after all, was a man named Edson L. Cannon.

El Canon’s Prairie-style architecture was the handiwork of Paul M. Matzinger. Three years earlier, Matzinger had worked with fellow Cleveland architect Harry T. Jeffery (later known for his Alcazar Hotel design) to design the striking stucco and tile-roofed residence at the curve of Washington Boulevard just east of Coventry Road. One year before the construction of El Canon, Jeffery also designed a large Prairie-style, tile-roofed brick apartment building on Superior Road. 

In 1972, the seven-unit El Canon was remodeled according to a design by architect Jerry F. Weiss. Its open balconies were replaced by solid stucco ones.

Before the redo, which converted El Canon into condominiums, the structure was almost identical to the Klutho Apartments in Jacksonville, Fla. Built in 1913, the Florida building is credited to architect Henry J. Klutho.

Prairie School researcher Wayne W. Wood, on the Prairie School Traveler website, surmises that Matzinger may have traveled to Florida, discovered the Jacksonville building (which lies directly on U.S. 17, called Main Street in Jacksonville), and “plagiarized the design” in the Cleveland Heights building.

Wood argues convincingly that Matzinger probably photographed the façade rather than actually obtaining blueprints from Klutho because his building’s footprint differs significantly. Thus, the resemblance is only skin-deep. 

That an attempted facsimile of a preexisting building merits landmark status should not be surprising, for it reflects a time in which architects inspired and borrowed—often liberally—from one other. While not one-of-a-kind, Overlook Place is a rare local expression of the style made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Mark Souther

Mark Souther is a member of the Cleveland Heights Landmark Commission, which preserves and protects buildings, works of art and other objects of historical or architectural value to the community.  The seven members are appointed to three-year terms by CH City Council.

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Volume 9, Issue 2, Posted 11:38 AM, 01.29.2016