Abram Garfield: Known for his grand home designs and public housing developments

Destined to become one of the Cleveland area’s best-known architects, Abram Garfield made a name for himself in Northeast Ohio—from designing iconic Tudor homes around Cleveland, to grand homes in Bratenahl, all the way to hospitals and some of Cleveland’s first public housing projects.

Abram GarfieldGarfield was born in Washington, D.C., on November 21, 1872. He was the youngest of seven children born to future president James A. Garfield and his wife Lucretia. The elder Garfield was then serving in the House of Representatives. When his father became president in 1881 Abram moved with his family into the White House.

On July 2, 1881, James Garfield was shot and badly wounded in a railroad station in Washington, D.C. Abram and his brother Irvin were traveling by train home to Mentor. Passengers on the train were cautioned to say nothing to the boys of the shooting, saving this sad duty for family members upon their arrival in Mentor.

Abram graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts in 1893. Three years later he completed a degree in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

After a year spent traveling abroad, Garfield returned to Cleveland in 1897. In the same year he married Sarah Grainger Williams with whom he was destined to have two children, Edward William, and Mary Louise, known as Polly.

Garfield in 1898 formed a partnership with Frank Meade, known for his unique Tudor mansions, and their firm operated under the name Meade & Garfield. Then in 1905 Garfield opened a solo practice known as Abram Garfield, Architect. He became well known as a designer of substantial homes for the upper middle class.

The homes were prized by their owners, and many remain in Northeast Ohio today. Several notable examples are found on Lake Shore Boulevard in Bratenahl. Among these are Garfield’s own residence at 9718 Lakeshore Blvd., the Chisholm home at 12717 Lake Shore Blvd., and the Dalton residence at 12611 Lake Shore Blvd.

Abram Garfield designed the majestic 8,400 square-foot Georgian Revival mansion at 12611 Lake Shore Boulevard "Edgewater" in 1910.Abram Garfield remarked in later life that he felt that the Chisholm and Dalton homes were his two finest designs.

Garfield’s work included designs like the 1901 Bratenahl school, the original 1923 Babies & Children’s and Hospital (today’s University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital), public housing projects like the 1939 Woodhill Homes—one of the first public housing developments in the country—and the 1944 Seville Homes—100 low rise buildings in the Lee-Seville neighborhood for the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority—and even Bratenahl City Hall and the original Mentor Library.

Outside of Cleveland, Garfield designed a winter home for Frances Payne Bolton and her husband Chester. Located on Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach, Florida, the house was constructed in 1918. It was sold in 2004 for $70 million in a transaction Forbes Magazine described at the time as the largest sum of money ever realized by the sale of a residential property in American history.

Remarkably the house sold for an even larger sum 11 years later when it changed hands for $71.2 million.

Garfield was very active in leadership roles in architecture, founding the Cleveland School of Architecture, subsequently the School of Architecture of Western Reserve University, served as a director of the American Institute of Architects, and served on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.

A resident of Bratenahl for more than 50 years, Abram Garfield chose to move to Cleveland Heights after the death of his first wife.

In 1947 Garfield remarried Helen Grannis Mathews. He came to regret his choice to leave Bratenahl and returned in 1956. He purchased a house on Corning drive where he lived until his death in October 1958.

Abram Garfield died in 1958 at the age of 85 and was buried next to his first wife Sarah in Lakeview Cemetery—quite close to industrialist John D. Rockefeller and in the shadow of the Garfield Memorial dedicated to his presidential father.

Read more articles by Tom Matowitz.

Recently retired after a 37-year career teaching public speaking, Tom Matowitz has had a lifelong interest in local and regional history. Working as a freelance author for the past 20 years he has written a number of books and articles about Cleveland’s past. He has a particular interest in the area’s rich architectural history.

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