Diana Wellman interview, 30 July 2012

Diana Wellman worked as a preservationist in Cleveland for 12 years and was asked to work on a project to get Inglewood on the National Register for Historic Neighborhoods. She talks about the highs and the lows, as well as, the surprises that she found along the way. She first gives a brief history and an overview of the landscape of the neighborhood. She discusses various architectural cues and where she got her information from. She used Sanborn Insurance maps to chart out the neighborhood, but she also stumbled upon blueprints that some houses still had, which was a surprise. She then discusses the Van Sweringen brothers and why they built this neighborhood. She discusses the timeline for acceptance into the registry, and who worked on the application with her. She concludes by saying that history has an interesting way of revealing itself.

Participants: Wellman, Diana (interviewee) / Fearing, Heidi (interviewer)
Collection: Cleveland Heights
Institutional Repository: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Interview Transcript

Diana Wellman [00:00:02] Diana Wellman.

Heidi Fearing [00:00:07] Alright, and today is July 30, 2012. Alright, so if you could just tell me where you were born and grew up and kind of how you came to Cleveland Heights?

Diana Wellman [00:00:17] Okay, I was born in Cleveland at University Hospital and I grew up in Middlefield in Geauga County, and I lived there till I was about 14. And then I moved to New Concord, Ohio, and lived there through high school. Then I went to Ohio University for college, then went on to Belmont Technical College for preservation and then went to CSU for Urban Affairs, got a degree in planning. And when I moved back to Cleveland for my CSU master's program, I got a job at Sandvik Architects as a preservationist, and I worked there for 12 years. And obviously, preservation and history go together. So those two things led me to live in Cleveland Heights because I love history, I love preservation. And you can't find a better place where you kind of have both living around you. So and I kind of see old buildings and old houses as how a designer that likes clothing sees something like Coco Chanel. I see the houses that are in the stock, the housing stock of Cleveland Heights, kind of like vintage Chanel, you know? So, so that's how I ended up in Cleveland Heights. I got married and bought a house here.

Heidi Fearing [00:01:45] So we're going to talk to you about Inglewood today. How did you end up working on the National Register nomination?

Diana Wellman [00:01:51] Well, I bought a house here, so and because I'm a preservationist, it would only seem natural that I live in a National Register district. And so I kind of had an interest when I first moved here to do it. I was very busy. Not that I haven't been busy enough to do it anyways, but I decided it was something I really wanted to do. And Diana Woodbridge, who is a local. She's very active. And she was she started the Home Resource Repair Center in Cleveland Heights. She was also a neighbor and she had an interest in it as well. So she was very supportive and kind of pushing me to write the nomination. And it's something that I do, I write National Registry nominations for my job. So it's something that is very easy for me to do, very natural for me to do. It's still finding the time. So I gave myself a two-year goal that I was going to work on it over a period of time and, and get it out. And so that's what I that's why I did it. I mean, I wanted to live in a district and it seemed natural. And once I got to where I was doing the research, it was, became more fascinating. So it prompted me to get the work done.

Heidi Fearing [00:03:03] So what are some of the distinguishing features of Inglewood?

Diana Wellman [00:03:06] The most distinguishing feature is that it is a Van Sweringen neighborhood. Most of Van Sweringen neighborhoods are over off a Fairmount, almost all of them except for this one. And the reason why this one ended up being developed here was that you had three major estates, you had Rockefeller's Forest Hill Estate, you had the Prentiss Estate, and then you had, was it John D. Rockefeller and then, oh, the Severance Estate across the street. So those three estates were quite large. And so it seemed natural to stick that type of a development in this area. And so they purchased the land from Charles Pack and started the development. They start off by advertising the development similar to how they advertised all their other developments. And there was a really great article in the Town Topics that described the advertisement for Inglewood, and they show the photograph is a picture of the Severance Estate's gate that this is where you'd live across. So that was kind of their ploy to to bring people in to purchase houses here. So.

Heidi Fearing [00:04:29] Can you tell me a little bit about the architecture of the neighborhood?

Diana Wellman [00:04:33] Sure. It's a nice mix. 1920s. It's very, it's very 1920s architecture. We have everything from shingle style to like a French Neoclassical style. It has, also has a lot of famous architects have done houses in the neighborhood, Blood. What's his name? Bloodgood Tuttle. Blood Tuttle Bloodgood, Good.

Heidi Fearing [00:05:08] Bloodgood Tuttle.

Diana Wellman [00:05:10] Thank you. I always miss his name.

Heidi Fearing [00:05:11] I knew that was the one. He lived in Shaker Heights... [inaudible]

Diana Wellman [00:05:12] Yeah. Yeah. His name is kind of like which way does it go? So Walker & Weeks, there's a house on the corner that's Walker & Weeks. We have Schweinfurth, I think is his name. So there's a nice variety in the neighborhood. Also Van Sweringen and all the neighborhoods required there was like a deed restrictions and they the city of Shaker Heights has the full book. I mean, they told you, how much, what color your roof could be, what color you shutters could be, what color the house could be, and those still fall under those restrictions. And so all the houses are all that same kind of they required it to be mixed. They didn't want any house, two houses to look the same. And it seems like the development, according to Sanborn maps, almost like they skipped a lot. So they would build a house, skip a lot and build another house. I don't know if that just happened to be that way or, you know, if there was it was an intent to pattern or if it just happened to sell that way. But for the most part, we have a good sample of 1920s housing architectural styles. Typical that you would see pretty much throughout Cleveland.

Heidi Fearing [00:06:29] Who designed your house?

Diana Wellman [00:06:29] You know what? It's the one, of the one the ones that were lost. So city of Cleveland Heights had the permits for all the houses and they had a flood, I think, sometime in the eighties. And ours was unfortunately one of the ones that were lost. And almost all of the information that I was able to get for the houses that was specific who their architect was the homeowner had it and the homeowner had it in their home, had the original plans. One homeowner, homeowner not only had the original plans, but they had the original specs. So I told you specifically what wood was to be used for millwork, what tile was to be used in bathrooms, which was really neat that they had every document that was needed to build their home. But I would say probably only a third of the homes had that specific information. But there was enough of it to kind of show that there's, again, this pattern. So.

Heidi Fearing [00:07:26] I was also curious about the sort of the landscape features.

Diana Wellman [00:07:33] Right? Again, they. There was, you know, this movement, the beautification movement in, in New Jersey, there was a housing development. It was this whole idea of twists and turns and to give you a very natural sense of the landscape. And so those same elements you, you know, you find in the neighborhood, there are three homes that are located on the turn of Oak Ridge that Frederick Law Olmsted's nephew designed the back part of the property in a landscape format. So you have stone walkways, there's fountains, and all three of the properties kind of connect there in the wooded area of the of the neighborhood. But you'll see, like remnants of stone walls, our house has a pool. It's a 1920s pool. It doesn't work anymore. And there was a woman who passed away about six years ago who her parents built the house when she was a child and she lived there her whole life. And according to her, they used dynamite to put in the basements and then so they would blast a hole and then they would use horses to pull all this stuff out of the hole to build basements. There are three pools in the neighborhood all date to like 1920, 1930, several fountains. One neighborhood, one neighbor found a fountain, buried, a buried fountain from the 1920s. But I think those were just elements that in general were attracting, they were trying to attract the upper middle class. And these were elements that they needed to separate them from any other neighborhood. So that's why they're there. And if you drive around the neighborhood, you'll see stone walls leading back to houses and some of them are really crumbling. They're barely there. Some were moved or removed. I imagine that there was one on either side of our property. Again, you can see some notes of it on Sanborn maps, but because now we have a surround fence, they probably went out and they put the fence in.

Heidi Fearing [00:09:57] What is the Sanborn map?

Diana Wellman [00:09:59] Sanborn? Sanborn insurance maps. Back, you know, prior to local fire departments, you would buy insurance from the Sanborn Insurance Company and then you would pay them. This is my understanding, you would pay them your insurance premium and then they would put out they would if they had their own fire department and that fire department would put out your fire. So they had maps that they had created of all the people who had insurance with them. And it would tell them very specific fire like information, what the height of the ceilings are. If there was what type of combustible materials were the buildings made of? So it would note whether or not they were stone, brick, or if they were wood. More particularly for manufacturing, they'll have information. If there's a nightwatchman. If there's a sprinkler system. So the maps really were more for them, but they're great resources. When you're trying to find out when something was built. They're almost, there almost, they're very close to being accurate on dimension's scale of buildings, especially when you fill the list. Like I said, they'll list the floor to ceiling heights and then they'll list the width of the building. And if you check that off most buildings, it's fairly accurate. So it's, it's a great especially since they started late 1800s. So you can find them as early as like 1890. I think there might even be an 1879 for some areas and then they go to about 1950 and they're revised. But it's nice to be able to like trace a building through especially something like a manufacturing facility where there's growth and you can see change. But even on houses, if there's an addition, sometimes you can see that that addition wasn't there in 1920 and then it shows up in the 1930s or 1940s. So it's a, it's a fabulous resource for...

Heidi Fearing [00:11:55] Yeah, that is very cool.

Diana Wellman [00:11:58] Primary resource.

Heidi Fearing [00:12:03] Yeah. Now, I understand that some rather famous people also lived in this neighborhood.

Diana Wellman [00:12:08] Well, there's always rumors too. The biggest rumor is Eliot Ness that he owned a home here that could not be proven. So that's just definitely a rumor. The biggest is Sears [Spock]. He is most people know who the baby doctor, Dr. Sears [Spock], is. He kind of established the whole idea of how to raise your children. And he lived, he did a, he did a stint at the Cleveland Clinic. And so he lived here for, I think, about six to eight years while he was at the Cleveland Clinic. Ranker [R. Richard Renner] is also another hospital person. He started Hillcrest Hospital. They lived actually in the same house. So I imagine maybe there was some kind of hospital connection that, you know, one doctor left and sold it to another doctor. Our neighborhood is also known as Pill Hill. There's a lot of there's always been a continuous amount of health care professionals that live in the neighborhood. So as neighbors, we don't really call it the Inglewood Historic District. We call it Pill Hill. But again, that's more of a word of mouth kind of nickname. It's not really official nickname. So the district's named Inglewood, because that's how it was sold and that's how it was set up. But those are really kind of the key famous people. There were people from. I cannot think of. May Company. I'm like what is the department store called? May Company, treasurer, secretaries, those type of people that I want to say, like upper middle management professionals, they don't necessarily own the companies, but they were still key up and rising middle-income family type people that lived in the neighborhood. You know, they weren't, they weren't the highest end of society, but they definitely had the means. They wanted a nice home in the country. So.

Heidi Fearing [00:14:14] Did you include anyone like Sears [Spock] in that on the nomination?

Diana Wellman [00:14:18] Yeah. Yeah, we did. Diana Woodbridge, how she supported me was she went to the trouble to research every single house's ownership and trace it back from the time. And it was amazing, like the one, the one woman who passed away in the house that she was literally raised in. She was the first homeowner. She was the only homeowner up until six years ago of that home. But she went to the trouble to follow all the deeds, all the registers, to find out who lived in each house and when, who bought the house off of who. So that was a lot of work. And she took care of that for me. And it revealed a lot of information. Like I said, it revealed there was a beer company in... So we know the person who lived in our house was in upper management of a beer company, and I believe it's called Erin, E-R-I-N, and it's long gone. But there's I have seen an ad for the Erin Brewery on the Flat Iron building at Huron and Prospect. And there's an advertisement, there's a photo of an advertisement of the Erin Brewing Company on that. There was a lot of brew companies in Cleveland, naturally. But so we know that that was someone who lived in our house. I think our house had six owners prior to us, but that was the most that, you know, you could make a connection there. Like, okay, this is a company and this is what this person was doing at that company and the old city directories tell you what their position was that they had a position, if they were secretary, treasurer, president, you know, versus if they were just a laborer and a housewife. I mean, it tells you that in the city directory. So you could even though Erin Brew Company is long gone. We could still find out that, oh, there is this piece of history that is kind of lost, forgotten about because it's no longer around. So that was neat.

Heidi Fearing [00:16:16] I actually, I took a historic preservation class last semester and then we filled out a national register nomination form. So what was, and I'm not, not the period of significance but like what is the?

Diana Wellman [00:16:27] The statement of significance?

Heidi Fearing [00:16:29] Yeah.

Diana Wellman [00:16:29] The statement significance, I mean I could read it to you. But ideally, it's the fact that it's the 6th. There were six Van Sweringen neighborhoods in Cleveland Heights. Most of them are in Shaker Heights and it was the fifth and sixth so the, the main neighborhood was laid out for as development number five. And then there was a portion off a Quilliams that was added to it and that became number six. So it's kind of the last of Van Sweringen in Cleveland Heights. And the fact that it's totally in a different area of Cleveland Heights, it's kind of, you know, they were clearly trying to branch out. But as the development occurred, it's 1920. They are now starting to build their business and railway. And so the Van Sweringens just kind of stopped being home developers. I mean, they continue to do it, but not to the same level because they're now literally collecting railroads across the country, which ultimately end up being their demise because railway was out. Cars were coming in and they were getting them for a deal for a reason. There was a reason why they were able to buy up railroad companies very cheaply because they were not going to be the modes of transportation. So, so that's really the statement of significance is that it's the last Van Sweringen neighborhood in Cleveland Heights.

Heidi Fearing [00:17:49] I was wondering also how did that work? Like how did the Van Sweringens work it because I have always been a little confused like they bought the land and then would they sell it to an architect or how?

Diana Wellman [00:18:03] No, they would, they would start a company. So, I can, I know I have that company name. And I think this was like they used kind of the same company through most of it. Yeah, so it's the Shaker Heights Improvement Company, its subdivisions, number four, number six, not number five, number six subdivision number four, number six. So that was their, you know, sister company, if you want to say. And they would hire someone to sell off the property and they would market it and sell the property and they would create these deed restrictions. And deed restrictions are real common in 1920. If you go about looking at most neighbor... most ex[clusive]... I don't want to say exclusive neighborhoods, but neighborhoods that were trying to bring in the middle class, they had deed restrictions and sometimes their deed restrictions were, would be very politically incorrect. Now, restricting types of race, restricting religion. There's a suburb out in Chagrin Falls, Paw Paw Lake, Lake Lucerne. They and they still have their, those, they still follow those deed restrictions, it's just they've taken those and amended those politically incorrect items out. But, so they would have these deed restrictions and then they would advertise and, you know, they would try to do the same marketing ploys of, you know, get your site before it's gone. And it's rumored that they built a model home and it's on the corner of Glenwood and Inglewood. And but it's rumor, I've no, I could not prove it. It's something that I think was always, oh, that's the model home. And it probably was always known in the neighborhood. But I couldn't actually find a document that said that it was the model home. Now it is it was built prior to 1920. So we know that the we have the map when they plotted out the neighborhood in 1920 and we know that that house was built in 1918, so it would make sense that it was the model home. It's, there was not a row. Inglewood was not here when the house was plotted, but it shows up again on a map and they have their permit. So it would indicate that yes it was, it was the model home but there's no there was nothing that said this is the model home and there was no picture of it in the advertisement, so.

Heidi Fearing [00:20:50] Were there any other challenges in the process of getting it on the?

Diana Wellman [00:20:55] You know, it's just, I wouldn't say that's necessarily challenges you, you try to be as document, document-oriented as possible. So when you're writing a National Register nomination, the biggest thing is material. If it's out there, if it's available, historic information and you want primary sources. You can always go to secondary sources, a book that somebody else wrote. But if they don't give you your source, you know, you're kind of relying on the fact that it's whether it's true or not. So luckily, the neighborhood there was maps, there were the Sanborn maps. There was the, the plot map before that told us who owned the property. The person who owned the property was a significant person. So there was some, again, information on that. I have done research on projects before where you all you can do is find out who the person is who purchased the property and that's it. There's nothing, you know, you search every high and low and you can't find anything more about that person. But because this is a little more influential neighborhood, there were people where you could find out information and if not necessarily on that person particular, you could find information about the company they worked for. And even in the case of the architects, there were several architects that I was not familiar with prior. I've worked on a lot of National Register nominations in the Cleveland area, and they were people that I hadn't really heard of and there wasn't a lot of documentation on them. I went to Bobby Craig [Craig Bobby] for information because he kind of seems to be that resource and, you know, and even he kind of came up dead on those people. But we knew that they were the architects. So okay, they, they had some kind of they had a business at some point in time. They were designing houses for people. So the challenges really are just trying to find that historic information and that it's available. So I was fortunate that, that it was available. Otherwise, it is, it's time-consuming and the process of a National Register is time-consuming. But I was also not under any real timeline, you know, that the neighborhood was very appreciative that I was doing it. We didn't have any homeowners that didn't want to participate, didn't want their house listed in the district. So, you know, that, that element made it very easy. We had a celebration when we got our letter back from the National Park Service. It said the neighborhood was listed and it seemed like it prompted a lot of other neighborhoods to look into it. Mark Souther did his nomination. He started while I was kind of finishing up and I spoke with him several times about some items. And then Mary Dunbar did her neighborhood. And then one just finished the Euclid Heights Allotment Historic District, I believe. And that's a huge district. I don't even know how many resources there are, but I think there's over four hundred and Marian Morton did that one. So it's kind of fun because it seemed like, you know, all of Cleveland Heights could be listed on the National Register. It's really all historic. The homes are beautiful. So there there's something that you kind of want to capture and document and, and have when they all change. So it's kind of fun that you look at the plat map and you can just kind of see all these developments, all these people that were went we're kind of going into the development business and then other people, you know, recognize that they could do it, too. And added, added more listings for Cleveland Heights on the National Register. So it was neat.

Heidi Fearing [00:24:41] Did anybody else work on it with you? I know you mentioned Diana Woodbridge.

Diana Wellman [00:24:44] Diana Woodbridge and Mazie Adams. I had her, like, read. She's a historian. She was with Lakewood Historical Society. She's no longer with them. But she, because I knew she kind of knew more history items, I would have her overlook stuff or ask her if she had heard of someone. And so those, those are the two people that help me with it. Editing helps. Having someone to edit your work helps a lot.

Heidi Fearing [00:25:17] Yeah, I don't have anymore specific questions.

Diana Wellman [00:25:18] Okay.

Heidi Fearing [00:25:19] Is there anything you wanted to add about it

Diana Wellman [00:25:24] No, I mean, I don't think so. No.

Heidi Fearing [00:25:35] Was it more fun to do it for your own neighborhood?

Diana Wellman [00:25:37] It was, it was. It was also, you know, one of those where, you know, they always say the plumber's piping is always the one with the leaks. It was one of those things I had to really say, okay, I'm going to work on this right now. And I, you know, setting a goal, made a big difference that I wanted to get it done within a two year period. The National Register nomination takes about 18 months. They you have a date that the drafts have to get in and then they do a revised draft. And then even once you're through what is the Ohio Historic Board, you have to go in front of a board. Well you, the, the nomination goes in front of the board not so much you go in front of the board. Those deadlines and dates are set. So if you decide to start in June, you might have missed the first draft deadline and you're already like another year out. So and I've also found that when you start research, [you'll] find a whole bunch in the beginning and then they'll be these some unanswered questions and remarkably, they find their way to you. And it almost seems like you need that period of time because they don't come to you like in three months. Someone will have heard you're looking for it and they'll stumble across it and somehow find their way back to you, get that connection to you, and give you that information. So even I just finished up a National Register nomination in Kent, had the board meeting, it's off to National Park Service. And someone just approached me about a scrapbook regarding the building that I knew was out there. I didn't know where it was because it wasn't with the family anymore and the family didn't know where it was. And then again, just somebody through the grapevine heard about it. So I'm like, oh, I'd like to see it. And obvious that there's information I feel is pertinent. I'll amend the nomination and get it added to the nomination because it ends up being a great resource down the road. But in general, it seems like you need that much time because history has a way of an unveiling itself to you in a very slow process. So. This was fun.

Heidi Fearing [00:27:42] Well, thanks so much.

Cleveland Heights

Initial interviews in this series were conducted between 2011 and 2013 at the Coventry Village Reunion in support of Historic Heights App Tours, a Cuyahoga Arts & Culture-funded grant project sponsored by FutureHeights, Cleveland Heights Historical Society, and Cleveland Heights Landmark Commission. Additional interviews were collected in 2018 in coordination with the Cleveland Voices podcast.