Two Lakewood transformations: from nuisance properties to market value homes

A stunning 1898 Victorian Gothic home at 1436 Grace Avenue along with a 1906 home at 1446 Mars Avenue have left a dubious past behind and are ready for their close-ups.
Back in the 1930s, both homes had been converted from single-family homes to boarding houses with multiple bedrooms. In recent years, they had become overcrowded and the subject of numerous police, fire and EMS calls.
"They were really pulling down both streets and devaluing properties," says Ian Andrews executive director of LakewoodAlive, adding that one person owned both parcels. In 2012, the city purchased them for a total of $200,000.
While city officials first considered demolition, they instead opted to enlist the nonprofit community development organization LakewoodAlive to investigate saving the structures. LakewoodAlive then turned to the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization.
"They have a track record and experience doing this exact kind of work," says Andrews, "where you take an abandoned property and rehab and renovate it and turn it into a beautiful market rate home." LakewoodAlive stayed on as the local development entity, overseeing and marketing the project.
"We were able to create a really great public/private partnership between the two nonprofits and the City of Lakewood," says Andrews of the collaboration that initially came together in May of 2013.
To kick off the marketing campaign, they brought on Jeff Marks, who works on historic home renovations, to tour the property and come up with some initial floor plans to give prospective buyers an idea of each property's potential.
"How do you take these beautiful homes that have been chopped up and return them to their prior splendor?" recalls Andrews. "With all the doors and walls, it was hard to visualize."
So with some potential floor plans and renderings, they listed the homes thusly, $1 for the Grace Avenue property and $25,000 for Mars Avenue home. Interested parties had to have a minimum of $150,000 for renovations, a plan, and a proven track record. There were also deed restrictions on the homes: they could not be demolished or become rentals.
"We had a lot of control," says Andrews.
They held the first open houses in December 2013. More than 200 people toured each home, both of which closed in early 2014. James and Lilli Valli purchased the Grace Avenue property. The Mars property changed hands in summer of 2014, but ended up under the wing of Relief Properties.
The Grace and Mars properties, 3,744 and 2,641 square feet respectively, are now market rate, single-family four-bedroom homes. The Vallis have uncovered beautiful architectural arches and hidden pocket doors during renovations and are slated to move in next month. Andrews describes the Mars home, for which Relief Properties found a buyer almost immediately after the project's 2015 completion, as having a "cool, historic mod mix." That family is already settled in. Each of the renovations cost more than $200,000.
"It's really a great outcome," says Andrews, adding that he sees value in the projects reaching far beyond the front door thresholds.
"It's so important that we invest in our older housing stock. It's critical to the success of our neighborhoods. We can't just have teardowns and vacant lots. You end up getting the missing tooth. You lose the density. It pulls down property values and the character of the neighborhood," he says, adding that stable residents bring in tax revenue and invaluable vitality.
Andrews cites one more reason for inner ring suburbs and the City of Cleveland to invest and focus on improving existing housing stock. "Because it is beautiful."

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit for complete profile information.
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