Like many other Van Sweringen initiatives, construction of model homes was uncommon at the time.
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In September of 1922, builder W.W. Jepson was issued a building permit to construct
a $30,000 home on behalf of The Van Sweringen Company on Courtland
where it intersects with Manchester. After serving as a demonstration home for
about a year, the house was sold to Colonel William A. Colston, who had recently
moved to Cleveland to serve as vice president and general counsel of the New York,
Chicago, and St. Louis Railroad. The Nickel Plate, as it was commonly known, had been
purchased by the Van Sweringens from Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York Central in
1916 (with the help of New York Central president Alfred Smith, who
was born in Cleveland) in large part because it provided the most direct
rail connection between Shaker Heights and the Van Sweringens’
downtown terminal, soon to be the site of the Terminal Tower.
The Colonel, who retained that title long after serving in the
Kentucky National Guard, along with his wife Cora, pregnant with
their first daughter, moved into the house in February 1924. A second
daughter was born shortly thereafter and by 1930 the family was
joined by Colston’s mother and Mrs. Colston’s younger sister.
By 1932 the four-bedroom home may have been straining to
provide sufficient space for the household, so a $2,000 alteration
added bedroom space, followed the next year by the $3,000 addition
of Colston’s vaulted-ceiling library above the garage.
The library has become the most defining feature of the home.
Unlike most homes, where the grand rooms are on the ground floor,
the second floor library is accessed through a narrow and winding
stairway near the kitchen.
Although there is also an entrance from one of the second floor
bedrooms, the lack of a more formal entry could indicate the library
was the Colonel’s private retreat rather than a room for entertaining
guests. There is also a third-level balcony that opens to the library,
reminiscent of a theatrical stage set.
The library’s striking interior features stained glass windows, one
containing the Colston family crest, and a large carved stone fireplace. Large grills on
either side of the fireplace allowed air to circulate from the heated garage below.
The Colston family lived in the house for over 26 years, selling it in November
1950. Colonel Billy, as he was known to friends, had died unexpectedly at the age of
61 in November of 1934. By 1949 the Colonel’s two daughters had left for college and
married, and within a year Mrs. Colston sold the house. She remained a resident of
Shaker Heights until her death in 1969.
The 1950s would see four different owners of the house, most for less than two
years. In 1958 the house was purchased by an owner who saw it through the 1960s,
and after another two-year ownership period the house was purchased in 1973 by
a family who cared for it for nearly as long as the Colstons. In 1992 a small addition
added a breakfast room to the kitchen, and in 1998 the house was sold again.
A decade later Shaker Heights, along with the rest of the country, experienced a
housing crisis not seen since the Great Depression. The Colston house was a victim
of this crisis, entering a 10-year odyssey that would eventually involve the City, the
non-profit Cleveland Restoration Society, and a developer, Palmieri Builders.
But the brothers had earlier success building speculative homes on Fairmount Boulevard
and would go on in 1924 to build additional homes on South Woodland Road, Parkland
Drive, and Van Aken Boulevard. Most of these homes are now on the Shaker Heights
Local Landmark List; 22 of the 46 individual properties were demonstration homes.
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