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Breaking Ground

University Circle's Magnolia Clubhouse completes major renovation in historic home





Since 1961, Magnolia Clubhouse has been a place where people with mental illness can go for friendship, counseling, help finding employment, and even just to get a good meal. Situated in two neighboring early 1900s houses, Magnolia Clubhouse is located at 11101 and 11027 Magnolia Drive in University Circle—and about to enter the final stages of a $3.85 million renovation effort.

Originally known as Hill House, the organization was one of the first psychological rehabilitation centers in the United States. It became Magnolia Clubhouse in 2004, joining a network of more than 300 Clubhouse Internationals around the world.

“Simply put, the difference between the Magnolia Clubhouse model and other mental health centers that help with rehab is we’re not just a drop-in center,” explains Whitney Bohan, Magnolia Clubhouse's development director. “People come here, and they help to run the clubhouse.”

For instance, members run the Clubhouse’s extensive gift shop—stocked entirely with vintage and antique furniture and housewares donated by supporters. They also help with fundraising efforts, work in the kitchen, or produce the daily news from the media center.

“People with mental health issues run the whole spectrum, so we have lawyers, people with PhDs, people who are very capable, and people who are very ill,” explains Bohan. “Wherever we can incorporate them into our work, we do that. The notion is to help with work and relationships, not just with physical well-being but with mental health.”

The club serves 410 members, 75 of whom attend the clubhouse daily. The organization moved into the now-10,875-square-foot East House at 11101 Magnolia in 1971 and subsequently bought the neighboring 9,380-square-foot West House in 1981 when it was still named Hill House. But by 2006 Magnolia Clubhouse leadership realized the two historic houses—one designed by Frank Meade and the other by J. Milton Dyer—and a carriage house needed repair and renovation.

Magnolia Clubhouse embarked on a $3.85 million capital campaign to make renovations and expand its service capacity to accommodate up to 120 members a day. The team is just now completing the final renovations on the two buildings, keeping the historical integrity of the homes while creating an open, 21st Century space to operate.

Between 2009 and 2012, the carriage house was transformed into a clinic (where a nurse practitioner sees members twice a week and a physician sees patients once a month), and an addition to the kitchen in the East House was made. A new circular paver-lined driveway was installed in front of the East House, a garden installed in front of the West House, and additional parking created in back.

The larger project—renovating the East and West houses—began in Spring 2016. Architecture firm Westlake Reed Leskosky led the design aspect, while The Krueger Group led the demolition and construction work. In working with The Krueger Group, Magnolia Clubhouse joins a multitude of historic projects in the University Circle area that have also been clients, including Montessori High School, Hawken School’s Gries Center, and University Circle Inc.

Bohan says the motivation behind the renovation was not only to increase capacity at the clubhouse, but to restore the historic building and make a nice facility for the members. “Our members deserve the dignity that it should be a nice place for them to come because the work is important,” she says. “And we were intent on being a good neighbor and being part of this historic street.”

When Krueger started, they had their work cut out for them. The second floor of the West House was a maze of rooms with decaying walls and crammed full of junk and debris. “It was a hovel, we didn’t use this space,” says Bohan. “It was unusable.”

Construction manager Dan Krueger says a lot of the beginning work was simply clearing out all the debris. “It was closer to a gut job than a rehab job,” he jokes. “The demo was done for us, really; all we really needed to do was move things out of the way. Short of being new construction, if it wasn’t already back to the studs, we put it back.”

The team also opened up the space, replaced drywall, installed new lighting, replaced old knob-and-tube electrical where needed, reallocated the supply and return ductwork on the existing HVAC system, and installed LED lighting.

The second floor of the West House is now home to a large, airy conference room, a work area for members, and the director’s office. The bathroom, along with other bathrooms throughout the property, has been remodeled and updated. The center hall, with its original leaded glass window, wood steps, and railing, has been restored. The railing was sealed—no stain necessary.

Next door in the East House, Krueger restored the first-floor café and dining room and installed some modern amenities. “This entire room was gutted back to studs,” he says of the dining room. “There is all-new electric, new speakers in the ceiling, and sound-absorbing panels on the walls.”

In gutting the rooms and moving walls, Krueger discovered some structural issues that were addressed as well. “We’ve been around the block enough to know that happens, and the important part is to keep your wits about yourself," says Krueger. "The trick is to put it back together better than we found it.”

Like the West House, the center staircase was restored—black paint was removed from the railings, steps were sealed, and wallpaper replaced with paint.

The second floor houses a renovated membership room where new members receive orientation, and all members get tutoring or education guidance. “It seemed much darker, it felt different [before],” member Lakecia [last name redacted] says of the East House. “It’s very open and bright. When you go up to the second floor, it’s way more open than it used to be.”

Krueger says the construction team was mindful throughout the project to maintain the original crown molding throughout the two houses. He calls the process a “disassembly,” rather than a renovation.

“By disassembly, you’re able to maintain what you need to maintain,” he says. "We went through efforts to maintain crown molding, maintain the trim. When we needed to take the trim out, we took it out as such so we could put it back in.”

The original hardwood floors were kept, with some infill where needed.

The final renovation push will start in early 2018, with the renovation of the third-floor media lab in the East House and the Magnolia Club Store in the West House. With the work almost complete, everyone involved is proud of the transformation.

"Maintaining the architectural integrity of facility while eliminating the functional obsolescence is a fancy way of saying these structures exist and clearly they are magnificent,” says Krueger. “We have a passion for this. When we walk in and see the simplicity of how clean and orderly it is now, and we know where we started from, it’s still exciting for us, and we’re so proud of it.”

Bohn agrees and is eager to show off Magnolia Clubhouse’s new look: “We have gone from frog to prince."

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 18 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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