Fifty-four rooms make for rather a large house and Roundwood Manor, on Daisy Hill Farm in Hunting Valley, was in fact the second largest private dwelling to be built in Ohio. Smaller than sixty-five room Stan Hywet Hall, thirty miles South, it had only 600 acres, as opposed to 3,000 and eleven bed rooms, instead of a full dozen. None the less, there is at least one superlative connected to the Mount Vernon-mimicking Colonial Revival style building that helps to make it unique. With an interior measuring well over 90,000 square feet, on average , most rooms at Round wood Manor were, far more spacious than, most rooms in most other country houses anywhere else in the state.
1928: Roundwood Manor depicted by Cleveland's foremost studio photographer, Clifford Norton
But then, considering the owners of Daisy Hill Farm, this is no less than fitting. Nor is it in any way a shock to learn that so eager were they to reduce the time required to build a new house, that in 1923, the builders took the unusual expedient of having their architect remodel and extend an existing structure, a nearly new, hollow tile and concrete dairy barn.
Sharing a passion for work and American history, the Ohio farm boy Van Sweringen brothers, Oris Paxton, ( 1879-1936 ) and Mantis James ( 1881-1935 ) surely rose from early obscurity, as rapidly and spectacularly, as any Dickensian hero. Life long bachelors, who always appeared together and slept in the same room, inevitably they were addressed collectively as, ’ the Vans.’ With caviler daring-do, they might well to of coined , as a personal, motivational motto the famous admonishment, “ make no little plans .” For, whatever it was they undertook, they never did.
What’s more, from the very beginning of their success in business, around 1909, until the amazing collapse of their mammoth real estate, railroad, timber, coal, shipping, rubber, auto, hotel and securities conglomerate, worth $9,000,000,000 in 1929, they customarily used other people’s money. Their first coop was to exercise an option to develop the farmland of a utopian, but celibate Shaker settlement, on Cleveland’s Eastern edge, into the city’s première upper middle class residential district. Restrictive deed covenants mandating architect-designed houses, minimum set backs and prohibitions against Jews or Negros helped to attract a few buyers. But, what really caused exclusive Shaker Heights to take off, was the Vans’ construction of a rapid transit line that made the trip Downtown, to the office, the club ,the bank or stores an easy and pleasant commute. Starting ‘ the Rapid ‘ had necessitated acquisition of a right of way owned by the New York Central’s Nickel Plate Railroad, in turn, launching the brothers as rail-barons. Their inter-urban line, all the way out to the countryside and beyond, followed. This was what brought the Vans, along with scores of servants, to Hunting Valley, where they were already building speculative estates to encourage land sales.
The Van Sweringen brothers' built Cleveland's Union Terminal in 1928, to serve as an office building atop the city's new railway and rapid transit station, for $ 179-million. Designed by the Daniel Burnham's successor firm, Graham, Anderson, Probst & White of Chicago, it was inspired by McKim, Mead & White's New York Municipal Building.
Originally envisioned to be a mere14 stories, the Terminal Tower was expanded to 52 floors with a height of 708 feet. An engineering triumph, it rests on 280-foot pylons.
The Terminal Tower, sufficently complete to open to tenants as early as 1928, wasn't officially dedicated until 1930. Until completion of the State University Tower in 1953, at Moscow, this hub of the Van's empire would remain the tallest building in the world outside of New York City.
Circa 1930: Terminal Tower by Margret Burke White
Philip L. Small, their architect, was enlisted with little effort from among a group who’d produced their model houses at Shaker Heights . Both Vans were much taken with the Washington D.C. native, admiring his efficiency . They appreciated as well the aesthetic and fiscal economy Small employed building Roundwood Manor. With its completion, in 1927, the brothers rewarded his firm, Small & Rowley, with the commission for their pioneering shopping center, Shaker Square. It was the aplomb with which Small again mastered this complex job, that caused the Vans to hire him full time as their company’s official designer in 1928 . Only a short time latter, this led to his work at the Greenbrier Hotel at White Sulfur Springs .
The importance of laying out this background is to put Roundwood in context. Small’s collaborator in both these commercial projects and at ’ The Country Club , in Shaker Heights , was the interior design firm Rorimer-Brooks . Cleveland’s leading decorating studio, it was operated by Louis Rorimer . Both men showed a genius for deftly manipulating echoingly big structures, for providing them with a human scale. But, where Rorimer increasingly grew to favor modernism, Small, was mostly a dedicated traditionalist. If his preferred Neo-Colonial-Neo-Classicism played up to his patron’s sense of American exceptionalism, Small’s fellow architect, Alexander C, Robinson, recalled, how for the designer, it held far more significance.
Circa 1981: Pittsburgh native, Columbia-trained acclaimed Cleveland architect Alexander C. Robinson, expounds on the work of his colleague Philip Small, to Mary Louise Knerly, the author and others at a party in Robinson's honor
“ For Phil Small, he wanted to make someone immediately feel at home. And, he was absolutely great at it, by introducing something so familiar--that it was iconic. “ Robinson also spoke of the designer of Roundwood’s connoisseurship, saying, that this was something that the Vans had especially valued about him . “ Just imagine, they gave him carte blanch to buy their antiques! Both at their home in the country and at the triplex apartment he did for them downtown, at the top of the Terminal Tower . At the Greenbrier Hotel, at nearly all of the jobs he did for the Vans, Phil choose their art and antique pieces . As much as anyone, outside of their family, he was their friend. They trusted him, absolutely! ”
The Terminal Tower's 14th floor contained the Vans' unrivaled triplex apartment, designed by Philip Small and decorated by Louis Rorimer. Fully furnished, even the great hall-like living room seemed welcoming. Note the balusters in the roof timbers, a distinctive, lost, Philip Small touch
As for Small’s style, Robinson at least, had some reservations. “ Here, you had these two rough and tumble brothers, who hadn’t gone to college and were not a part of ‘ Society ’. Only, on paper at least, they were richer than almost everybody. They wanted, they wished, to be well thought of. It only made good business sense. They had their spinster sisters, and a brother who married and his family who visited them, as well as a small clique of close friends and some extremely loyal, even devoted business associates---these were the people who they entertained. Guided by Phil, they got a gracious setting , with one million dollars worth of antiques and custom reproductions. He gave them ’ background ’, with spinning wheels and an entire library devoted to Dickinsia. His broken scrolled pediments, somewhat stylize, exaggerated, were elegant. That’s beyond question. But, overall, I’d have to say that I found it all a trifle dry . But it was exceptionally good work of its kind you see. “
Winding along a serpentine driveway, Albert Taylor’s park-like landscape, with its rustic bridge and a round, stone tower built by famed local mason Gorge Brown, unfailingly seduced the visitor to Daisy Hill Farm. Seen long before the house, the farm group, ranges of greenhouses, eleven cottages, stables and extensive garaging, set the stage for the house’s star role in an environment conceived as a romantic pageant .
A tributary of the Chagrin River runs past the farm group at Daisy Hill Farm. Today the picturesqe complex is a seperate 'estate'
As big as it was, on the façade, most of the house was only one and one half stories high. This was on account of the original dimensions of the existing barn, which was long and low ,with a gambrel roof. Distended over 200 feet, its remains can still be made out. Only, near the center Small raised the main, five bay, block, a floor higher. He gave it further emphasis with a double height porch of slender, square post topped by a latticed parapet. From this main gabled section, three-bay hyphens , with one storey porches retained the gambrel roof. At a Colonial era Tidewater plantation, Small’s projecting , gabled wings would have been dependencies. At Roundwood , more than anything else, they were meant to detract from the building’s endless length that so recalled a resort hotel.
On the garden front, providing one walked some distance, it was clear to see that Small had laid out the house as an enormous letter T. Extending between two former silos, reused as stair towers, the two and one half floor guest wing, at the middle of the main block was stucco, instead of brick. This clever device of varying materials, also helped to reduce Roundwood’s visual enormity. While, in addition to providing guest easy access to their rooms and a maximum of privacy, positioning this long wing at the center of the house also helped to literally hide its vastness, as when near it, the guest wing was difficult to see around .
Half of the guests room wing, above Roundwood Manor's indoor pool, has been eliminated
The outdoor pool at Roundwood was filled in after the Vans' death
Despite familiarity, a host of “ iconic ’, well executed details, wind vanes atop the towers, shaped as riders and horses, or the front door’s eagle knocker and bottle glass transom-light, offer delight . Wind mill cut-outs, in the window’s shutters refer to the brother’s illustrious Dutch heritage. Once inside it’s not the proliferation of such charming elements however that most attracts one’s attention. Instead, it’s impossible not to note the brilliant way that the architect has taken a structure with an entirely conventional exterior, with a straightforward a layout, and invested it with as much brio as San Simion. He’s done it through judicious juxtaposition. Dark and low ceilinged , the vestibule leads to a soaring stair-hall. The full height of the house, it’s top lit by skylights between the beams of a timber framed roof . Here and elsewhere, Small also introduces surprise, with an interior that’s by far more vernacular than suggested by his façade. Some of his components, like random flagged slate floors or the beaded chestnut paneling in he main reception rooms, almost seem rustic. But this was meant to contribute to an informal atmosphere.
1930: An eventful welcome
Current conventional 'taste' could not countenance the dramatically 'modern' juxtaposition of plain frosted glass between massive timber beams that originally lighted Roundwood's hall
Two tunnel-like lateral passages sustain the drama. The way into the 'Ship Room' is even rather inspired. The short corridor leading to it from the stair-hall , has a wide, eighteen foot high opening. Ingeniously, Small has inserted a gallery of the stairway above it . Quite distinct from the function of creating a architectural flourish , this gallery’s balustered grill concealed one of largest and last house organs installed in the U.S.
The passage to the Main Dinning Room at Roundwood Manor
With the organ original to Roudwood removed, the grills for the instrument's pipes were covered over
The view from this balcony into the ‘ Ship Room ’ was terminated by the fireplace, where the mantelpiece displayed a caravel model that gave the room its name. At Roundwood, it was the timber roofed 'Ship Room', furnished with six chintz covered sofas that made it reminiscent of the lounge of a large country club, that functioned as the living room. Thirty-eight by sixty-four feet with a thirty by thirty-two foot alcove, it occupied almost half of the front of the house, with a screened porch next door.
Following the Van's tenure at Roundwood, their grand living room was altered to conform with changed taste. The chestnut paneling was painted, the floors were covered with the modern cliche of conspicuous luxury, a white carpet, and the room was greatly reduced in size. The screened porch beyond it was eliminated altogether, and the lofty space proceeding it, trimmed by half. A large arched window was inserted in much closer original 'fireplace' wall and a new fireplace positioned to replace an eliminated alcove. Needless to say, the resonate, old fashioned status symbol-organ, was dispensed with.
There are three ample dining rooms at Roundwood. For the sake of entertaining, the two largest open onto each other. They were divided only by curtains and while the smaller one is raised a step above the’ Banqueting Room’, the beamed ceilings of both spaces are pleasingly low.
Upstairs, in the main block of the house one found the Vans’ large, but unassuming bedroom, with twin double beds that had rush bottomed settees at the foot. Their room was by far the most modest of all Roundwood’s bedrooms. These were grouped along a passage with slanting beams, meant to look like the companionway of an old sailing vessel. Some had scenic paper and canopied beds. One had an inglenook, all had fireplaces and adjacent , private baths and dressing rooms.
1930: The ship-inspired bedroom passageway
1930: At the top of the main staircase, the Vans had twin beds in their shared bedroom
Occupying the whole of the guest wing’s ground floor was the sixty foot long pool, a gymnasium and changing rooms. More windmills ornament the pool’s blue-green tiled walls. Through its enfilade of French doors, just outside, there was a bowling green as well as tennis courts . In front of the house there was yet another pool, out-of-doors. It adjoined the rehabbed eleven room farmhouse original to the property. Famous visitors included Charles Lindberg and several member of the Rockefeller clan.
But, as Alexander Robinson suggested, although the Vans might have entertained their family and a small circle of close friends with some regularity, at Roundwood, entertaining only twice approached the large scale social events that were common place at houses like Gwinn or Stan Hywet Hall. Overextended, with ‘The Crash ’ the Vans became embroiled in a titanic struggle to save their empire. In 1935 and 1936 they died, only fifty-four and fifty-seven. Orris went first, causing Mantis to lament, “ I don’t know what I’m going to do ! ”. Both brother’s funerals brought out an assemblage of five hundred representatives of America’s industrial elite, most of whom had never before seen the Vans’ fabled place.
2010: The Dicken's Room
Leaving an entangled economic wreckage that took decades to fix, huge swaths of Daisy Hill Farm were subdivided. Philip Small’s painstakingly amassed English silver, Staffordshire figurines, Audubon engravings, settles, churns, whale oil lamps and early American quilts, many as fine as similar examples owned by the Webb’s at Shelburne Farms, were knocked down for a lowly $89,286.50
Purchased in 1946 by Gordon Stouffer, a restaurateur and frozen food magnate, Roundwood was rechristened “ Stowood ” . Subsequently , changing hands six times more, the house has undergone several radical alterations. Outside, the pool was filled in and while the inside pool was spared, part of the guest wing above it was demolished. So was the service wing and half of the 'Ship Room'. Currently, only retaining seven acres, Roundwood Manor is offered for sale at a little less than $5-million.
Circa 1928: A quadrant of Shaker Square, the early shopping center designed for the Vans by Philip Small
Gordon Stouffer's restaurant at the Vans' innovative Shaker Square residential, transit and shopping center development was so renowned that it led to the foundation of his successful upscale frozen food business. Yet despite such enterprise, even he found the Van's rustic but imposingly proportioned estate difficult to maintain
1930: Following the death of the Van Sweringen brothers, their rural retreat was extensively reduced by at least one third