To raze or not to raze? Beaumont's decaying Painter Mansion begs the question

Update: Last night, Wednesday, April 10, the Cleveland Heights Planning Commission unanimously denied Beaumont’s request to demolish the Painter Mansion.

Surrounded by a historic stone wall in Cleveland Heights, Beaumont School’s 21-acre campus is rich in Cleveland history.

Located at 3301 North Park Blvd., the school is situated on the estate of wealthy banker John Vickers Painter, who started building a summer home in 1903 before his son, Kenyon Painter, completed construction upon his father’s death. In addition to the 65-room, 21,000-square-foot Jacobean Tudor Revival mansion (designed by Cleveland architect Frank Skeel), the younger Painter built a number of outbuildings—including a carriage house, a zoo, an aviary, and two trophy rooms.

But the Painter Mansion—located at 3240 Fairmount Blvd. and renamed Lennon House in 2012 after Swagelok founder Fred Lennon’s family donated to the school’s Advancing Excellence capital campaign—is showing all of its 114 years. School officials say they have no use for the deteriorated mansion, and the renovations would be too costly, so it’s time to tear down the house.

Painter Mansion exterior“This was a grand estate in its heyday,” says Wendy Hoke, Beaumont president. “You can just tell it was a beautiful place.” In fact, the Painter Estate earned a place as one of 53 designated Cleveland Heights Landmarks in 1979.

But despite multiple renovations over the years, and about $30,000 spent each year on maintenance, Hoke says the historic mansion just isn’t salvageable. She cites peeling lead paint, asbestos, a host of safety and code violations, and ADA compliance issues as just some of the reasons Beaumont will go before the Cleveland Heights Planning Commission this Wednesday, April 10, to get permission to raze the 1905 house.

Hoke says cost estimates to bring the mansion up to code and in working condition for offices are about $8 million, not including any costs for historic preservation or adaptation for other uses. Additionally, demolition and abatement estimates are about $500,000. Hoke sent a letter to alumnae in March, informing them of the decision, and she says the school has received support for the decision.

Yet not everyone is happy with Beaumont’s plans to tear down the Painter Mansion. The Cleveland Restoration Society (CRS) issued an advocacy alert in mid-March, after the Cleveland Heights Landmarks Commission denied Beaumont’s initial demolition request on Wednesday, March 13.

“We appreciate the challenges that the school faces,” says Michael Fleenor, CRS’ director of preservation services. “There is almost always a way to find a creative solution. CRS is only weighing in on this because we believe the Painter Mansion to be an architectural, historic, and economic asset to Beaumont, Cleveland Heights, and the larger region. The potential loss of this community asset is something we all should strive to avoid.”

Fleenor says CRS issued the alert to make the public aware of the situation. “So often, we are called about potential demolitions at the 11th hour, when nothing can be done; when a building is not designated and there is no local process,” he explains. “Fortunately, the mansion has a local historic designation, and there are landmark and planning approvals needed. Cleveland Heights is a progressive community with a really engaged citizenry. That is what we believe is needed at this time.”

Painter Mansion interior

While Hoke says the school has no use for the building that warrants the expense to renovate it, the school is open to at least one alternative. “The building has been a school, a convent, and business offices,” she says. “We don’t have a use for any of those things. We do, however, have a need for the land.”

Current plans call for the creation of greenspace on the land, with the eventual construction of regulation-sized track and field . Two-thirds of Beaumont students are involved in athletics, Hoke says, and the current fields make it difficult to host home games.

“It became clear there is no educational purpose to the mansion. But the eight acres would have a benefit to our students," Hoke says. “We are not interested in selling the land to a developer but if someone were interested in moving the mansion to another location to preserve, we would consider that option."

Painter Mansion interiorHoke says no one has approached Beaumont about purchasing and relocating the mansion, and Fleenor says relocating an historic building like the Painter Mansion is difficult.

Kara Hamley O’Donnell, Cleveland Heights city planner, says the Landmarks Commission denied Beaumont’s initial demolition request in part because of the historic designation. “The Landmark Commission unanimously denied the demolition, citing the significant historical importance of this intact estate,” she explains. “The commission noted that there are no architectural or engineering plans, detailed explanation, or cost estimates for the demolition or a new use on the site of the estate. They also stated that no information was provided about selective demolition.”

However, Hoke says they do have their plans outlined in the application for demolition submitted to both the Landmark Commission and the Planning Commission.

The Painter Mansion was already in disrepair when the Ursuline Sisters purchased the estate from Maude Painter (the widowed wife of Kenyon Painter) for $50,000 in 1942. Reportedly, the first-floor wood paneling had been ripped out, as well as fixtures, fireplaces, and even doorknobs. The Sisters consulted with an architecture firm in 2007 about possible renovations before selling the land and the house (which was used as a convent) to Beaumont School in 2009.

While the school continued to use the mansion for offices, the building was mothballed last year after being deemed unsafe for occupancy. Hoke points out that many of the other original outbuildings on the estate—the carriage house, garage, aviary/zoo, and trophy rooms—have been incorporated and used as a gym, classrooms, and project and art studio spaces.

“The Painter Mansion is the type of resource that should not be lost without a great deal of community input and exploring every potential option,” says Fleenor.

The CRS has been urging members to attend next week’s Planning Commission meeting and voice their concerns. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Cleveland Heights City Hall (40 Severance Circle). 

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 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.
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