Monday, August 16, 2010

Greenacres rejects CPA plan for Gamble House

The Greenacres Foundation has apparently rejected a proposal by the Cincinnati Preservation Association (CPA) to purchase and renovate the James N. Gamble House, an 1870s High Victorian Italianate villa at 2918 Werk Road in Westwood.

CPA received the three-page letter, signed by Greenacres executive vice president Carter Randolph, late last week.

Although Randolph's letter didn't mention demolition specifically, it did say that saving the house was not a realistic outcome.

"Needless to say, we're disappointed by this turn of events, because our offer was produced from a thoughtful process," said Paul Muller, CPA interim executive director.

Greenacres applied for a demolition permit for the 2,600-square-foot, 13-room house in February. Its current plan is to recreate four of the house's rooms for public display in the property's historic James N. Gamble Barn.

"Context is an extremely important aspect of an historic building's value," he said. "Removing a few rooms to a barn will destroy the context of the rooms as well as trivialize the history of the barn. Ironically, the house's connection to its setting is one of the great stories it has to tell.

"The presence of the house in the neighborhood is a powerful, positive element," said CPA Preservation Director Margo Warminski. "Removing four rooms to the barn totally squanders this value."

By Greenacres' invitation, CPA in April submitted a proposal for saving the building, including the establishment of an endowment for its future operation and maintenance and the identification of an end user.

But Greenacres has projected the cost of restoring the building at more than $2 million, twice the cost estimated by CPA and substantially higher than the cost estimated by the City of Cincinnati's consulting architect. The foundation since has denied further CPA requests for walk-throughs by architects, engineers, and restoration specialists.

Important on many levels

An architect by trade and principal at Muller Architects, Muller believes the house should be saved on both its historic and aesthetic merits.

According to Muller, the house represents a specific point in American architectural history where people began searching for ways to connect buildings to nature.

"Everything about the design is a record of the connection of a house to its natural setting," he said. "The bays, porches, towers, shutters, and entries are elements that respond to nature. Some of them bring the outside in, some keep it out and others adjust as the seasons and breezes change. This is a story that Greenacres, with its commitment to nature education should be happy to tell."

Arguably one of the most significant figures in Cincinnati history, Gamble was the son of Procter & Gamble co-founder James Gamble. An industrialist and philanthropist, he served as mayor of the Village of Westwood before its annexation into the City of Cincinnati.

In 1961, the home was passed to family members Louis and Louise Nippert, and, in 1991, the couple was presented with a CPA award for its stewardship of the property.

The Nipperts established the Greenacres Foundation in 1988.

'We remain committed'

Demolition will not be so easy – the house was declared a local historic landmark in May, making approval of permits more difficult, but not impossible.

"The historical value and importance of the house is demonstrated by the fact that the three public entities that had to approve the designation did so unanimously," Muller said.

The community of Westwood has rallied around the house, writing hundreds of letters, attending numerous meetings, and crowding the sidewalk in front of the house to show their support. A "Save the Historic Gamble Estate NOW!" Facebook page has attracted nearly 3,000 members, and more than 1,600 people have signed a petition.

CPA hopes to meet with the Greenacres board to find a solution that doesn't require demolition and can be accomplished without any cost to the foundation.

"We remain committed to the preservation of the James N. Gamble House, and believe it will yet be saved," Muller said.

Images courtesy of Save the Historic Gamble Estate NOW!. Protest photo by Sherman Cahal. Rendering by Graeme Daley.