News: Pinecroft gets a new life.
- Pinecroft, the Powel Crosley Jr. house, is at 2336 Kipling Ave. in Mount Airy, Ohio; Dwight J. Baum was the architect. It has 44 rooms and was built in 1927-28 for $750,000 ($9.5 million to build today) with 13,334 square feet on a 113-acre property originally, 17 acres today, and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.
Pinecroft's new lease on life began when Mercy Health of Cincinnati donated Crosley's home and 17 acres of land from the original estate to the Cincinnati Preservation Association. Plans call for the Tudor revival-style home and its grounds to be used as a combination museum, historic preservation education complex and events center.
Crosley's manufacturing efforts spanned his many careers. He lived in the 44-room mansion for 33 years. Just before breakfast on March 28, 1961, he suffered a fatal heart attack in the living room.
The house sits next to Mercy Mount Airy Hospital. James May, Mercy's president and CEO, handed over the keys in October 2011 to CPA Executive Director Paul Muller in exchange for a ceremonial $1.00.
Mercy, with six area hospitals in its health-care network, bought the parcel that includes Pinecroft in 1999 for $16.5 million. "We're not in the mansion business," May said. "We have to buy CAT scanners and pay doctors and nurses. We can't put $1 million into that place over the next 10 years." Maintenance and utilities alone annually cost $100,000 on the house that opened in 1928.
May, originally of Chicago, said the Crosley house represents "an architectural treasure." It's nearly 5.5 times the size of today's average American home. "Crosley's house was meant to be compared to the Ford mansion (in Dearborn, Mich.)," May said, "and the big homes of other industrialists of the time."
Demolition was never an option. "We needed to find someone," said May, "dedicated to saving old houses to give Crosley's home a new life."
In Cincinnati, CPA also owns the 19th-century John Hauck House in the West End, the modernist Rauh house in Woodlawn, both undergoing restoration, and Westwood's endangered James N. Gamble house, now in the courts over a historic house which has been stripped of much of its contents.
"The cool thing about the Crosley mansion," May said, "is that unlike the Gamble house, this one has not been destroyed. Everything, the woodwork, the paneling, the light fixtures, is still there.", including a thick steel safe door leading to the basement wine cellar, necessary in a house built during Prohibition.
In the 50 years since Crosley's death, the house has been cared for by its two chief owners, Mercy Health and the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. "They have been great stewards of the house," said a visitor waiting to tour the place. "Nothing about the house is in distress. "They have taken great care of the house. Mercy Health realized that to preserve the historic integrity of the house you have to preserve the house and the setting."
The grounds' trees range from pine to oak to apple, and there's a 5-acre lake. The house's exterior and interior are designed to look as if they came from 14th-century England. They tell the story of an owner who spared no expense in building his dream house.
The roofline looks wobbly on purpose. It appears if it were covered by cedar shingles. In reality, the shingles were made in Germany of one-of-a-kind tiles unevenly cast to look like cedar but designed to last a century. Highly decorative solid copper funnels called scuppers attach to downspouts. They bear Crosley's initials as well as the date work started on the house. Mercy's security director Dave Hampton pointed out the spiral-shaped brick chimneys. Each was crafted to send up smoke in rings as it escaped from the home's fireplaces.
The few changes made to the house include banks of fluorescent lights installed in some rooms to accommodate meetings. But the pieces of wood trim that had to be removed were marked and saved, Hampton said. "We tried to keep everything as it was when Powel Crosley lived here."
The breakfast room has a Crosley radio-TV-record player console from 1952, tuned to WSAI-AM, sister station to Crosley's radio flagship, WLW.
Over the back porch, the Latin motto "Esse Quam Videri" is carved in stone. ("To be, rather than seem [to be].") Crosley's creative life mirrored those words. He felt a deep sense of connection to the community. During the Depression, Crosley ran one of the few firms in Cincinnati that hired, instead of fired, workers, making cars, appliances and radios under the Crosley name.
CPA plans to have the mansion host events from weddings to conferences in the manner of such historic homes as Biltmore in Asheville, N.C., Fallingwater in Mill Run, Pa., and Seagate, the 11,000-square-foot 1929 Powel Crosley Jr. winter home in Florida's Manatee County next door to the John and Mable Ringling house, now an art museum. County-owned since 1993, Seagate has 185 events on its 2011 calendar.
CPA believes Crosley's Mount Airy mansion can match the Seagate bookings and wants to lure Crosley car collectors to meet at Pinecroft, saying "This place will amaze people. They won't just be seeing a house. It's part of Cincinnati's cultural heritage."
(See our Pinecroft photos.)