Sunday, January 21, 2018

Restoring an Akron Classic: Hackberry House

Editor’s Note: Charlotte and Michael Gintert are proud to call Akron, Ohio their home, and those of us who have followed their journey as they settled back into the area after several years abroad are very happy that they have returned. As Charlotte is an expert photographer, she often posts photos online—not only from their past travels, but also many local subjects that she has rediscovered since returning to Northeast Ohio. Of course, it was the photos of their remarkably preserved 1920’s Tudor revival home that caught my eye, and she was only too happy to provide some details as well as photos of the house upon request.

The home's Entrance Hall is warm and welcoming.
TLG: What made you choose this house?

Charlotte: My husband and I were being relocated back to Akron in August 2017 after living in Europe for six years for his position at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. We came to Akron in May to look at available houses. This house was listed for sale the day before we were scheduled to fly in from Germany. The listing was still very basic, they hadn’t even photographed the interior yet, but we both had a feeling it was going to be the one for us. Akron has a large quantity of Tudor revival homes, probably thanks to Stan Hywet’s presence, and we’ve always dreamed of owning one of Akron’s Tudors. While we looked at several other houses, this one was something very special. Not only is it a Tudor, but it had been lovingly preserved by the previous owners. Unlike all the other houses we looked at, it hadn’t been remodeled to have a modern open floor plan. Almost everything was original or had been replaced by period correct pieces. Most people would balk at such a house, but historic preservation is very important to us. We felt a kinship with the owners, and delighted at the chance to continue the legacy of keeping a 1920’s Tudor as it was designed. We knew if we bought another house we would regret passing this one up because another buyer would probably end up gutting it.

The Living Room's large bay window is the perfect home for a Christmas tree.
TLG:  What do you know about its history, builder or original occupants?

Charlotte: The house was completed in 1927. It was designed by Roy Firestone, a local architect who is responsible for many homes in Akron, from some of the large mansions of the rubber barons to more modest dwellings. Firestone homes are quite special, many were designed specifically for the original owners. We were lucky enough to acquire the original blueprints from the previous owners so it’s nice to see exactly where everything is and what the architect originally intended for the rooms. The original owners were Christian A. Strobel and his wife Fannie. Strobel was a realtor and had an office in the First National Tower (now Huntington Tower) in downtown Akron. We think the fact the house was built for a realtor is rather important since we’ve noticed it has a few unique features that the other houses in the neighborhood of the same size don’t have even though they were designed by the same architect. For example our house has a maid’s staircase, large walk-in closets in every bedroom, and a first floor half bath. The Strobels only lived at the house for 7 years. We can only speculate as to why, but our theory is that the Depression had something to do with it. He and his family relocated to a much smaller home in Akron sometime in 1934. The next owner was a doctor and he and his wife lived there until the late 1960’s. After that, the records become a little fuzzy, and the house had fallen into disrepair. However, the last owners of the house moved in around 1979 and painstakingly restored most of the rooms. They ran an antique coin and ephemera shop in Akron for many years, and used their knowledge and connections to get the house as ship shape as they could. They completely redid the library, kitchen, and master bedroom and replaced all the ceilings of the first floor with drywall.

Another view of the Living Room and its wood-paneled fireplace.
TLG:  What were the biggest challenges in repair, restoration, etc.?

Charlotte: Thankfully most of the work we would like to do to the house just involves redecorating. However we did need to have the cornices rebuilt on both the chimneys shortly after we moved in. The project took much longer than the contractor thought and there were a few hiccups along the way. They had limited experience taking down chimney caps from this period and didn’t expect there to be a solid 500lb mass of concrete inside. They also had some difficulties working around a slate roof. There were a few nail-biting moments, but in the end the chimneys look beautiful and can now last another 90 years! We are just beginning the process of improving the house, so I’m sure there will be more challenges ahead.

TLG:   Did you come across any surprises or anything unexpected in the process?

Charlotte:  Old houses always have surprises. So far the biggest one was discovering unfinished pine floors under the carpet that we removed shortly after moving in. Apparently the home had always been carpeted! We decided to finish the pine floors instead of replacing the carpet and we’re very pleased with the results.

The home's cozy study seems like a great spot to enjoy a good book.
TLG:   What are the things/rooms you love most about your home?

Charlotte: I have many favorite rooms. First and foremost the living room was what sold us. The mantel and fireplace are magnificent and there is nothing cozier in the winter than sitting around the hearth with a crackling wood fire. My second favorite room is the library. When the last owners moved in this room was completely falling apart. So, they gutted it and rebuilt the room as it originally had looked, keeping the built in bookcases and the large picture window that overlooks the back garden. My third favorite spot is, surprisingly, the first floor half-bath. Sometime in the early 1980’s the previous owners bought the entire bathroom from an old mansion that had belonged to one of Akron’s prominent families that was being razed for a new housing development. They took everything from this bathroom- down to the last cobalt tile and reconstructed it in their half bath. So, we have a little bit of lost Akron preserved in our house! Other favorite things are the swan sink and bathtub fixtures in the master bathroom and the marble recovered from the former Temple Israel synagogue on Merriman Road that is now incorporated in the hearth, the window seat of the front staircase, the telephone nook, and the maid’s bathroom.

The Dining Room's vintage Jacobethan furniture helps set a dramatic mood.
TLG:   Do you have any plans for additional work or things you'd like to do in the future?

Charlotte:  We fully expect to be working on this house for decades to come. There is a long list of things that need to be done or that we want to do. The big projects are the kitchen, den, garage, and garden. The garage is overdue for a new floor and we would like to completely rebuild the patio in the back garden. The kitchen was last done in the 1980’s and it shows. We want to remodel it to make it period correct, but as functional as a modern kitchen. That’s going to be quite the project. There is also an unfinished den with a fireplace in the basement that we want to make more cozy and attractive. The three season porch needs new windows and paint and we still have quite a lot of carpet to replace or remove on the second and third floors. But, the first priority on my list is getting down all the 1980’s wall paper in the dining room, breakfast room, service hallway, and the main staircase. Our goal is to take the home back to the way it would have been in the late 20’s and early 30’s in regards to interior design. We will be looking at using historic paint colors and papers once we fully begin the redecorating process.

TLG:   Anything else you'd like people to know?

Charlotte:   We are also the caretakers of the largest Hackberry tree in Summit County and we even have a plaque to prove it! In honor of the tree and the English tradition of naming homes, we’ve named our “new” old house Hackberry House!

Charlotte and Michael’s home is a prime example of the many fine Tudor revival and Old English-style homes that were built in Akron during the period of The Rubber Boom. Their West Akron neighborhood became the preferred location for many of the successful industrialists, bankers, entrepreneurs and civic leaders who were eager to emulate the lifestyle of local icons like Frank Seiberling, Harvey Firestone, Paul Litchfield and William O’Neil—all of whom chose to build in the Tudor revival style. Thankfully, most of these fine houses still stand today.

You can see some of Charlotte's photography work here, at: - she also has a 2018 Scenic Europe Calendar available HERE. Many of the images are stunning.

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