2012: A salvaged antique, the door of the elegant entrance to "Cornus Hill" has been altered by removing the panels
Why is it that a man just as soon as he gets enough money builds a house much bigger than he needs? I have a house at Akron many times larger than I have the least use for; I have another house at Miami Beach, which is also much larger than I need. I suppose that before I die I shall buy or build other houses which also will be larger than I need. I do not know why I do it – the houses are a burden...
1938, from Men and Rubber by Harvey S. Firestone, father of Russell A. Firestone, who built "Cornice Hill".
…all my friends who have acquired wealth have big houses…When it is done, no one quite knows what it was started...
2012: An overgrown gateway at Cornus Hill
Why ? One wonders, was this house ever built ? Was it meant to be a summer retreat ? For, its privileged owners wintered in New York, at 1040 Park Avenue and at Miami Beach. Completed in 1937 atop wooded slopes, Cornus Hill, west of Akron, in Fairlawn Heights, was the last truly extensive estate built in the area. It was set at the center of three hundred scenic acres, profusely embowered by drifts of white and pink Dogwood, which give the place its name , Thanks to landscape architect Donald Gray, the stately house enjoys panoramic views in every direction. Made from whitewashed, ruddy Holland bricks, the Colonial Revival style building strives through innumerable carefully considered details to authentically suggest all the elegance associated with American architecture from the early republic.
1938: Cornus Hill
Granite Belgian blocks paving the large forecourt at the entrance were salvaged from a W. P. A. project eliminating the streetcar and replacing stones with asphalt in Cleveland. Long, rectangular and two and a half stories, the handsome façade, is divided into five sections, with projecting, gabled bays at each end . Ennobled by a double height portico of wooden piers, the main elevation is derived from Federal plantation houses , at Akin and outside of Charleston. Stylistically, such houses were the source of the attic’s arched dormers, featuring “ Gothick ” traceries . By way of genuine historic fabric, one particular old Kentucky area house also enriched Cornus Hill . It supplied the gracious fan lighted doorway outside and within, the dining room’s delicately ornamented mantelpiece and flanking elliptical archways
At Cornus Hill, Granite Belgian blocks paving the large forecourt at the entrance were salvaged from a W. P. A. project eliminating Cleveland's streetcars
Terminating on a screened porch, the central hall similarly boast reused early Nineteenth century Zuber wallpaper. However a giant reminder, next door, on the right, that it’s 1937 and not 1837, or earlier, is the bow window at the curving staircase’s landing, Glaringly anachronistic in its asymmetrical position outside, even inside this over scaled opening is decidedly unlike any documented period example. Indeed, once noted, such contradictions, infusing this revivalist pastiche with an aesthetic expressive of its own epoch, the modern age, makes pretending otherwise, impossible.
2012: The screened porch
Cross ventalation was provided by a center hall with a front door and an entrance to the garden
1938: As Clifford Norton's photographs show, Cornus Hill was sparely, but deftly furnished. Two handsome and exceptional tall case clocks grace the entrance and stair halls
A dedicated student of early American Neo-Classicism, Robert O. Derrick was among Detroit Michigan’s top architects. While young Mr. and Mrs. Russell A. Firestone had several friends who patronized him for decorous Colonial houses in suburban Gross Pointe, a more likely link is one of the Firestone families closest friends, Henry Ford. It was Ford, who at the eve of the Great Depression, bestowed Derrick with his dream commission, to design the Independence Hall inspired, Henry Ford Museum, at Dearborn. With both jobs, not only was cost not, the foremost consideration, but thanks to the dollar’s relative greater purchasing power, it was easier than ever for the designer to indulge twin passions. Fine hand craftsmanship and the latest high technology figure consistently in all his work.
1937: Mr. and Mrs. Russell Akin Firestone, pictured at a Miami racetrack, were married in 1925
This penchant of Derrick’s, explains the superb custom woodwork that adorns suites of Neo-Georgian reception rooms disposed on either side of the entrance. It also accounts for the louvers of Cornus Hill’s central air conditioning system, a discrete presence in each room. Notwithstanding the living room’s scrupulously correct broken-pediments, the library’s knotty pine paneling or the shell-crowned arched cupboard above the breakfast room’s Delft tiled fireplace, the period decor at Cornice Hill, no less than its architecture, betrays a boldness and simplicity that’s most typical of the 1930’s.
1938: Detroit interior designer Gertrude Cox cleverly re-purposed a Georgian apocathary's japanned canisters as lamp bases. Air conditioning vents indicate a marvelous and still quite rare innovation
Selecting Gertrude Cox, who frequently collaborated with Derrick, as their interior decorator, the Firestones got a great deal of high style glamour. Her deft use of antique furnishings, eclectically combined a Chinese Chippendale looking glass with a Heppelwhite breakfront and Provencal Louis xv fauteuils in the living room. Lined with scarlet damask , the breakfront echoed the color of a pair of lamps, imaginatively made from tole canisters, from an Eighteenth century English druggist shop. Made from French copperplate printed cotton, the dramatically fringed curtains here, are surely as smart as anything that Frances Elkins or Elsie De Wolfe might have offered. Big expanses of bronzed mirror frame the master bedroom’s late Georgian marble chimney-piece. More importantly though, depicted on the hall wallpaper, in statuettes, china figurines and in prints, splendid steeds appear every where one looks, attesting to the Firestones shared devotion to racing and breeding horses.
Dramatically fringed, Gertrude Cox's toile curtains are surely as smart as anything that Frances Elkins or Elsie De Wolfe might have offered.
1938: Library. In eighteenth century England and America alike, pine paneled rooms were always painted
1938: The dining room chimney piece at Cornus Hill was acquired from an early nineteenth century house in Kentucky
Cornus Hill's rustic Colonial Pennsylvania influenced breakfast room
A polo player and Lawrenceville and Princeton graduate like his four brothers, unfortunately Harvey Firestone’s second son had another pastime to rival even his enthusiasm for the turf. Ordinarily, alcoholism would hardly be worth mentioning. In Russell Firestone’s case though, it is. First, because thanks to his and his father’s involvement with the evangelical Oxford Movement in the Episcopal church, Firestone was critically involved with the establishment of Alcoholics Anonymous, in 1935. Sadly, he was destined to loose to addiction. Despite having built a showplace where it’s easy to imagine him, his wife, their two sons, the horses, the dogs and their servants, living happily, even idyllically, instead , the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co.’s assistant treasurer died at only fifty.
1938: The master bedroom's late 18th century English mantlepiece is surrounded by bronzed mirror
1938: The north-eastern view from Cornus Hill's low flagged terrace
Heartbroken, several years latter his widow remarried. Real estate tycoon, John Wilmer Galbreath of Darby Dan Farm near Columbus, had also lost his spouse several years before remarrying in 1955. One of only four men to have raced both a Kentucky Derby winner and an Epsom Derby champion, it’s hardly fair to call his love of horses greater than Dorthy Bryan Firestone’s. Yet apart from from periodic seasonal distraction ownership of the Pittsburgh Pirates entailed, horses were a single minded pursuit, that brought the new couple much joy.
Mr. & Mrs. John Wilmer Galbreath, who married in 1955 were devoted to the turf
Sold immediately following Mrs. Firestone's remarriage, for a time Cornus Hill served as a nursing home before being converted into offices. Its Sylvan dominion reduced to just seven acres, the property has been on the market for five years.