By Kevin Kelley
The demolition of a historic house dating to 1833 began last week, bringing an end to more than a decade of vacancy and neglect, city officials said.
Crews from Cutting Edge began taking down the Taylor House, located across from St. John Medical Center, last week.
According to public documents from the Westlake building department, a complaint for property maintenance violations was filed on Oct. 28, 2013, in Rocky River Municipal Court against the structure’s owner, Curtis Lockhart, a Westlake surgeon. According to city officials, Lockhart is the contact person for a group of doctors that collectively owns the building under the name AKL Properties.
The complaint said the owners “failed to repair the roof, rotted wood, crumbling steps, tuck pointed mortar joints, gutters, downspouts, broken windows, collapsed stairs and a collapsed chimney onto the roof of the structure at 28989 Center Ridge Road, Westlake, after being so ordered in writing.”
Lockhart was not present at a scheduled court appearance Tuesday morning. Magistrate Kelly Larrick Serrat said his not being present made him subject to a warrant. But Westlake Property Maintenance and Zoning Code Officer Tom Blue said the case could be dismissed with Lockhart paying court costs since the house has been demolished. Lockhart paid for the demolition.
Lockhart did not return phone calls or e-mails from West Life seeking comment by press time.
In a Nov. 15 letter to Clerk of Court Deborah Comery, Lockhart informed the court that the structure would be demolished due to the economics of the issue. He also requested that the case be “dismissed at the city or state’s cost without my appearance.” This request was denied, according to court records.
Lockhart again wrote the court Nov. 27 to request that a Dec. 3 court hearing be continued for 45 days. He informed the court that a contractor had been retained “to demolish the building as the rebuild would be cost prohibitive.”
The next court date was to be Tuesday, Jan. 21, according to court records.
Don Grayem, who leads Westlake’s building department, told West Life that the city has been more patient with Lockhart regarding building code violations than it would have been with others due to the home’s historical significance. However, the structure’s condition had deteriorated to the point where something had to be done.
“That building was starting to collapse, and I didn’t want it to end up in Center Ridge Road,” Grayem said.
Will Krause, the assistant director of the city’s planning and economic development department, said that the home’s owners really never seemed interested in preserving the structure, despite efforts from his department to persuade them otherwise.
“It was a case of demolition by neglect by the owners,” said Krause, who is a member of the Westlake Historical Society and has researched the background of several historical homes in the city. “Unfortunately, the owners were never willing to put any serious effort into working with the city or the historical society to save it.”
Built in the Federal style, the house has some interior walls that are made of brick, Krause noted. The exterior walls are three bricks thick, he added.
Krause said the house was part of a 10-acre site that is zoned for office buildings. The land includes a now-vacant metal pole barn that had been used for a farmers market and by St. John Medical Center as a health promotions site.
In the building department’s files, e-mails from the city’s planning department to Lockhart indicate that city officials had shown interest in preserving the house since at least 2009.
In a May 2009 e-mail, Krause told Lockhart the city wants to create “win-win” situations.
“We continually get calls of persons interested in both the century house and the pole barn building,” Krause wrote. “We want to work with you to find a way to save the landmark century home.”
In February 2009, Lockhart wrote the planning department inquiring if the $25,000 paid in property taxes on the site could be earmarked for its renovation.
As late as September 2012, Krause suggested Lockhart contact a local preservation specialist and investigate low-interest loans for historical preservation projects.
However, Krause acknowledges that the city never made an offer to purchase the house or attempted to obtain it though eminent domain.
According to Krause, the house was likely the fifth-oldest building in Westlake. It takes its name after John Taylor, the son of Jasher Taylor, a Revolutionary War veteran with whom he migrated from Massachusetts in 1814. The house was constructed in 1833, and the Taylors owned the property until 1851. Except for a brief period around the turn of the 20th century, when it was owned by Baldwin University, the structure was home to several prominent families over the years. It was rented out as recently as the 1990s, Krause said.
Some elements of the house’s interior that had not been stolen by vandals during the past 13 years will be saved or recycled by the demolition company, Krause said.
Lysa Stanton, president of the Westlake Historical Society, said she has received more than 200 phone calls or e-mails about the Taylor House since the windows were removed as part of the demolition. Many were upset about its demise, she said.
“People knew people who lived there,” she said, explaining the interest.
Stanton noted that the Taylor House was never owned by the historical society.
“We like to see historical buildings preserved, but we don’t own all of them,” she told West Life.
Stanton had been encouraging people upset about the Taylor House’s demise to donate money to fund a renovation the Weston House, located at 27946 Center Ridge Road. The historical society would like to one day open a museum dedicated to the community’s early history at the house, which is owned by the city.