The Little Blue Cottage and Forest Hill: Real estate offices of Rockefeller development

Over the last 150 years, the East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights land that once comprised Standard Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller’s Forest Hill estate has seen many transitions and iterations.

One such Rockefeller relic is the 600-square-foot “Little Blue Cottage” on the corner of Lee and Monticello Boulevards that once served as John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s 1930 Abeyton Realty Corporation offices for the Forest Hill Development in today’s Cleveland Heights’ Forest Hill Historic District.

In 1873, John D. Rockefeller bought 700 acres of land in East Cleveland Township (now parts of Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland) and in 1874 built a hilltop water cure resort overlooking Cleveland and Lake Erie. The resort failed within a year and became Rockefeller’s summer home until it burned down in 1917.

In 1923, Rockefeller sold the estate for $2.8 million to his son, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who continued to buy adjacent land in the area. In 1939 Rockefeller Jr. donated 239 acres of the Forest Hill land to Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland to build today’s Forest Hill Park.

John D. RockefellerJohn D. RockefellerBack in 1923, the younger Rockefeller proceeded to make plans for an upscale residential community within the Forest Hill estate on land east of Lee Boulevard. He hired New York architect Andrew J. Thomas to design a garden city planned residential development that originally planned for 600 homes—one of the first planned communities in the country. The neighborhood had underground utilities and lampposts and iconic signage marked each street.

The Great Depression interrupted Rockefeller’s larger plan and only 81 French Norman-style houses that were built between 1929 and 1930. Today those homes are part of the Forest Hills Historic District. Rockefeller eventually sold the remainder of the land to other developers.

The homes were made of brick and cedar siding, in colors custom-made for the development, had leaded glass windows, and featured steeply pitched slate or terracotta tile roofs. The homes were landscaped before sale, shared common back yards, and abutted the new commercial center, the Heights Rockefeller Building.

Innovative interior designs included first-floor laundry rooms, basement playrooms, and multiple bathrooms.

The homes included Protective Deed Covenants, which remain in place today, place strict limitations on visible external changes such as fences and outbuildings. Today, the deed covenants are enforced by the Forest Hill Home Owners Association (FHHO), and preservation committee member Fran Mentch says the most common violation occurs in keeping the same materials, particularly when repairing roofs. She says homeowners are often misled into replacing the slate or tile roofs with asphalt.

To sell the homes and the Forest Hill development, Rockefeller in 1930 established Abeyton Realty Corporation—today often referred to simply as “the Blue Cottage.” Rockefeller named the realty company after his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.

Potential buyers could come to the offices, learn more about the houses and the development plans.

The Little Blue CottageThe Little Blue CottageA miniature version of the original Forest Hill houses, the Blue Cottage had steep pitched cedar shake roof, wave cedar plank siding. It was originally located on Brewster Road and Lee Boulevard—where it could be seen while driving up Lee from Euclid Avenue. In 1937, the cottage was moved to its current location on Lee and Monticello. Today it serves as the FHHO offices.

In October 2005, the Little Blue Cottage was designated an official Cleveland Heights Landmark, and the designation was renewed this past March. In 2007 the cottage was listed on the National Register of Historical Places. The Forest Hill Historic District was placed in the National Register in 1986.

Almost 100 years later, the Blue Cottage is showing its age, with deterioration accelerating in the past six years. In early 2022, FHHO hired South Euclid engineering firm I.A. Lewin & Associates to assess the cottage.

Many exterior repairs are needed, and a sinking and crumbling foundation has caused walls and windows to crack in every room, and, according to an engineer’s report, the door frames and floor are sloping downward, and a burst water pipe caused water damage.

When the cottage was moved to its current location it was placed on wood timbers as a foundation, with concrete blocks added in various spots later. The engineer rated the building as being in poor condition.

FHHO estimates the repairs to save the Little Blue Cottage to be about $80,000, with $40,000 of that needed to repair the foundation. FHHO launched a fundraising campaign that has so far raised a little more than $12,000. The association members are pleading with the community to contribute to the campaign so they can save this piece of Cleveland history.

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Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: 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 20 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.