The early 1920s marked a time when Cleveland’s wealthy industrialists began to make their exodus from Millionaires’ Row along Euclid Avenue—headed eastward to places like Doan’s Corners, the Wade Park Allotment (eventually University Circle), and to the emerging suburbs of Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights.
But James “Jim” Brown, founder of Brown Fence and Wire, and his wife, Fannie Spitz Brown, decided in July 1919 to settle on the shores of Lake Erie in Euclid. They bought a two-acre plot of land from table grape farmer Isaac Newton’s 50-acres along what is today East 201st Street.
By 1925, the Browns’ dream mansion was complete. They lived in the home for nearly 20 years—taking care with every detail of the décor and architecture—before selling it to Nellie Gottschalt in 1943. Gottschalt in turn sold it to Joseph and Catherine Morabito in 1958.
Developer S. H. Kleinman bought the remaining 48 acres from Newton in 1923 with a vision of building the “Utopia No. 5 subdivision” from East 201st Street to the East 196th Street and up to Lakeshore Boulevard. The area today is known as Utopia Beach.
Brown Fence and Wire CatalogAfter she sold the original house to the Morabitos, Gottschalt lived in a house on a portion of the larger property until she died in 1992.
Cheri Morabito, one of four children in the Morabito family to grow up in the lakefront home, recalls fond memories. Today, she has the home for sale with real estate agent David Reimer with Berkshire Hathaway’s Beachwood offices for $1,199,900.
The original construction—and all its ornate details—was originally built for $250,000, says Morabito.
“It was fun,” says Morabito of growing up in the house. “We were right next door to the Utopia Beach Club and all the kids were right there. Growing up, my parents had a good sense of the history of [the home], so it didn’t change much.”
Because of the Morabito’s care, the house at 50 E. 201st St still stands almost exactly as it did 95 years ago.
A house with history
In 1922 Jim Brown hired architect Harry L. Shupe (known for his home designs in Shaker Heights). From 1923 to 1925, the 8,659-square-foot, six-bedroom, 3.5-bathroom brick Tudor mansion overlooking Lake Erie was constructed.
Brown earned his fortune through his fence company—he started it around 1900 to supply farmers with a woven wire fence that could be easily erected with his invention of the “Brown Knot.” His fences became standard on farms everywhere, and he later went on to open Jim Brown Stores in rural areas.
With the wealth he earned in his business, Brown was known for giving back to the community. In 1944, after acquiring the deed to 190 acres that would become Manakiki golf course and country club in Willoughby, he gifted the land (valued at $750,00) to the Cleveland metropolitan Park Board.
“[Brown] hung out with Howard Hanna and they all got together and built a golf course,” says Morabito. “The property was in danger of being repossessed—as many were right after the Depression—and Brown had the money before and after the Depression to pay the back taxes and gain the deed.”
While building their Euclid home over the course of almost three years, the Browns would often travel to Europe and bring back items to incorporate in the house.
Morabito’s research on Ancestry.com revealed the Browns’ passport applications show the couple traveling extensively in Europe and surrounding countries during construction and she says they designed the four main rooms on the first floor after four different countries.
“They traveled a lot,” she says. “The dining room is French, with French purple marble on the radiator covers and on the mantle; and there’s an Italian marble fountain [in the study].”
The study also features Tuscan-style plaster walls and ceiling with leaded glass windows and bookshelves, according to Reimer, while the sunroom is Spanish themed.
The living room is English, with a marble fireplace featuring carvings of Tudor rose, royal oak, pomegranate, and Scottish thistle.
“My parents didn’t change anything on the first floor, other than updating the kitchen,” says Morabito. “We knew about the history. We also knew it was important not to break anything.”
The second floor boasts a sleeping porch with a triangular window overlooking the lake, says Reimer.
Many of the home’s windows feature the stained glass of Cleveland artist R. Toland Wright.
The annunciator that allowed people to call each other from different rooms.Morabito lists one interesting artifact that still exists: An annunciator that allowed people to call each other from different rooms. She says it’s been disconnected, but the boxes are still intact.
Structurally, Morabito reports the house is solid, with a one-inch thick Vermont slate roof, and Flemish bond brick masonry. “The house does not move during a storm in wintertime,” says Morabito. “It was built with such care. The plaster work is original, the light fixtures are original.”
Outside, the entire original property is surrounded by a brick wall—which was erected, Morabito says, to keep kids from running through the estate.
Original stone staircases and landings lead down to a private beach. Around 1930, the Army Corps of Engineers built a seawall and two piers, which extend down to the bedrock, says Morabito. “So that whole area really has no erosion,” she says.
Before building the Euclid house, the Browns lived on Euclid Avenue. Prior to that, they lived just outside John D. Rockefeller’s Forest Hill Estate in East Cleveland.
To inquire about purchasing the house, contact Reimer.