Filed Under Architecture

The Coburn Mansion

"Sweet Home. Nothing without Divine Guidance."

As you drive west on Franklin Boulevard, between West 58th and West 65th Streets, it is surprisingly easy to miss the house at 6016 Franklin, despite its high pitched roof, its multiplicity of windows, dormers and entrances, its towers and other interesting architectural details, and despite the fact that it is one of the largest houses in the neighborhood. Situated on the north side of the street between two more noticeable brick apartment buildings, you might just unknowingly pass by it. But you shouldn't. It was once the home of one of Cleveland's most prominent nineteenth century architects, and it is worth the time to stop and admire. And, see if you can discern the Latin inscription on the house's gable. It seems to sum up the architect's beliefs about family and religion.

Forrest A. Coburn, the designer and original owner of the house at 6016 Franklin Boulevard, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1848. When he was 14 years old, his family moved to the Cleveland area, initially settling on Coe Ridge (Lorain) Road in Rockport Township, but later moving to the west side of Cleveland. In 1866, at age 18, Coburn entered the work force as a bookkeeper, but soon found his life work when in 1868 he was hired to be a draftsman in the downtown offices of Joseph Ireland, one of Cleveland's great early architects. Coburn worked for Ireland, and later Walter Blythe--another important early Cleveland architect, until 1873, when he left town to study architecture in New York. In 1875, he returned here an architect, working at first in Blythe's office, but in 1878, leaving that employment to form a partnership with Frank Seymour Barnum, who later became the architect for the Cleveland School Board, designing many of the districts early twentieth century school buildings.

Coburn and Barnum, which initially had offices in the Hardy Block on Euclid Avenue--just a stone's throw from Public Square, quickly became one of the city's best and most prolific architectural firms. Perhaps most telling of how quickly the firm rose to prominence was its selection, in 1881, to design the catafalque for President James Garfield, when his body lay in state at Monumental (Public) Square from September 24-26, before being transported to and buried at Lake View Cemetery.

During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, according to the records of the Cleveland Landmarks Commission, Coburn and Barnum designed at least 143 buildings in the Cleveland area, a number of them considered to be among the best designed in the city during this era. One--the Blackstone Building, on the southwest corner of Seneca (West 3rd) Street and Frankfort Avenue, which was built in 1881 by Jacob Perkins and demolished in the early 1960s, has been cited by one architectural historian as a leading example of the work of the new class of post-Civil War architects in Cleveland who, in the last several decades of the nineteenth century, produced some of the city's grandest downtown buildings.

The firm was also known for its residential designs. It designed 20 of the mansions on Millionaires' Row, including the Howe Mansion, which today is located on the campus of Cleveland State University and known as Parker Hannifin Hall. The firm also designed a number of houses and churches on the west side of Cleveland that are still standing, including the Spitzer-Dempsey House at 2830 Franklin Boulevard, the Sarah Bousfield ("Stone Gables") House at 3806 Franklin Boulevard, the George Warmington Duplex at 4906-08 Franklin Boulevard, the John Pankhurst House at 3206-08 Clinton Avenue, the Thomas Axworthy Houses at 3802 and 3804 Clinton Avenue, and Olivet Baptist Church at 5022 Bridge Avenue. The firm also designed a number of cultural institution buildings in University Circle and elsewhere, including the still-standing Olney Art Gallery on West 14th Street in Tremont.

The influence of Forrest Coburn extended, however, far beyond the nineteenth century Cleveland area buildings that he designed. Two of the architects in his office, Walter Hubbell and Czech immigrant W. Dominick Benes, after Coburn's death, started their own firm--Hubbell and Benes, which designed a number of Cleveland's best known early twentieth century buildings, among them the West Side Market (1907-1910) and the Cleveland Museum of Art (1917). Another architect in the office, John H. Edelman, later moved to Chicago and became the mentor of a young Louis Sulllivan, the architect who would eventually become known to the world as the father of the American skyscraper.

For much of his early career, Forrest Coburn had lived in a simple house at 86 Root (1901 West 47th) Street, but in 1887 he purchased several lots on Franklin Boulevard and began drawing up plans for the large house at 6016 Franklin Boulevard. Completed in 1890, the house was designed as a duplex, with the Coburn family living in the larger "half" of the house, and the smaller "half" rented out. Forrest Coburn lived in this house for only seven years, dying--it was said-- from overwork in 1897 at the age of 49. After his death, his widow and children continued to reside in the house until 1912 when it was sold out of the family. In 1942, the house was converted into a seven-suite apartment building, which it remained as until 2002, when, after an extensive renovation, it was converted into a four unit luxury condominium. It is now, once again, one of the jewels of the Franklin-West Clinton Historic District.

Images

The Coburn Mansion Designed by Architect Forrest Coburn for his own family, the house at 6016 Franklin Boulevard was built as a duplex. The Coburn family lived in the house from 1890-1912. In 1942, decades after it had been conveyed out of the Coburn family, it was converted into a seven-suite apartment building, which it remained as for the rest of the twentieth century. In 2002, the building was extensively renovated and converted into a four-unit luxury condominium. This photo was taken in 1968. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photograph Collection
Forrest A. Coburn (1848-1897) Born Amos Coburn (like his father), he changed his first name to Forrest when he became an adult--perhaps to differentiate himself from his father. He formed an architectural firm with Frank Seymour Barnum in 1878 that soon became one of the prominent architectural firms in Cleveland. The firm designed twenty of the houses on Euclid's Millionaires' Row, including the Howe Mansion, which today is located on the campus of Cleveland State University and known as the Parker-Hannifin Building. The firm also designed notable houses still standing in Ohio City; churches on the east and west sides of the city; several downtown commercial buildings; and a number of cultural institution buildings, including the Olney Art Gallery in Tremont. Coburn headed the firm until his death--it was said to be from overwork, in 1897. He is buried at Riverside Cemetery. The above portrait sketch is from his obituary which appeared in the December 2, 1897 edition of the Cleveland Leader. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
President Garfield's Catafalque This monument was designed by the architectural firm of Coburn and Barnum as a resting place for the body of President James Garfield while it lay in state at the center of Public Square from September 24-26, 1881. The photo was taken on Superior Avenue, facing east. The selection of Forrest Coburn's firm to design this important, if temporary, memorial to President Garfield is evidence that, just three years after its founding, the firm of Coburn and Barnum was among the most prestigious architectural firms in Cleveland. Source: Cleveland Public Libary, Digital Photo Collection
Blackstone Building When the ornate five story building named for the famous eighteenth century English jurist went up in 1881, on the southwest corner of Seneca (West 3rd) and Frankfort Streets--just a block away from the Cuyahoga County courthouse, it seemed a natural location for law offices. And it was. The building was known mostly as a lawyers' building, but other professions--including architects, also chose it for their offices. Coburn and Barnum, the architects who designed the building for owner Jacob Perkins, moved their offices to the building in 1883, and stayed there until 1896. The Blackstone Building was said by one architectural historian to be a leading example of the work product of the new generation of Cleveland architects in the post Civil War era who produced some of downtown Cleveland's grandest late nineteenth century buildings. This photo was taken in circa 1897. The building was razed in the early 1960s. Source: Western Reserve Historical Society
Entrance to the Blackstone All entering the Blackstone Building at its main entrance on Seneca (West 3rd) Street, walked under this bust of William Blackstone, the famous eighteenth century English jurist. The stone bust and entrance way was designed by John H. Edelman, a young architect in the offices of Coburn and Barnum. Edelman later moved to Chicago, and there mentored Louis Sullivan, who became known as the father of the American Skyscraper. This photo was taken in 1960 shortly before the building was razed. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photograph Collection
North Presbyterian Church While not known as church architects, the firm of Coburn and Barnum did design a number of houses of worship in Cleveland in the late nineteenth century. North Presbyterian Church, which is still standing on the northeast corner of East 40th Street and Superior Avenue, was designed in the Gothic style by the firm in 1886-1887. Other churches designed by the firm which are still standing today in Cleveland are the Third Evangelical Reformed Church (1882) at 1567 East 36th Street and the Olivet Baptist church (1894) at 5022 Bridge Avenue. The above photo was taken in circa 1960. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
The W. J. Morgan Residence The architectural firm of Coburn and Barnum designed twenty of the mansions on Euclid Avenue's Millionaires' Row in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. The photo above is of the W. J. Morgan House designed by the firm in 1889. Morgan was a Cleveland industrialist. The house, which is no longer standing, was located at 8915 Euclid Avenue on the grounds of what is today the Cleveland Clinic. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photograph Collection
The George Howe Mansion Now an Administration building on the campus of Cleveland State University known as Parker Hannifin Hall, it is the only one of the twenty mansions on Euclid Avenue's Millionaires' Row designed by the architectural firm of Coburn and Barnum to have survived the wrecking ball. The mansion was designed by the firm in 1892 for George Howe, a Cleveland businessman and one time Police Commissioner. Howe lived in the house until his death in 1901. Afterwards, it became an art gallery, remaining so until 1982 when the building was purchased, and saved, by the University. This photo was taken in circa 1897. Source: Western Reserve Historical Society
Olney Art Gallery Coburn and Barnum designed a number of buildings for cultural institutions in Cleveland, most of them in the University Circle neighborhood, including the original Western Reserve Historical Society building located at East 107th Street and Euclid Avenue. None of those buildings from that neighborhood have survived to this day. However, the Olney Art Gallery, designed by the firm in 1892 and located on West 14th Street in Tremont, has. When Professor Charles Olney opened it to the public in 1894, it became Cleveland's first public art museum, predating the opening of the Cleveland Museum of Art by more than two decades. This photo was taken circa 1897. Source: Western Reserve Historical Society
Ohio City Architecture Forrest Coburn was a long-time resident of Cleveland's west side. His firm designed a number of houses, churches and commercial buildings that are still standing in Ohio City and the Franklin-West Clinton Historic District. Among them are the four here which were photographed in 2016. The two houses to the left are (top) the Spitzer House at 2830 Franklin Boulevard, designed in 1879, and (bottom) the Sara Bousfield House at 3806 Franklin Boulevard, designed in 1873--today Stone Gables Bed & Breakfast. The two commercial buildings to the right are (top) the Hermann Block at 2526 Market Avenue, designed in 1889--today part of the Great Lakes Brewing Company complex, and the Merrill Block at 1900 West 25th Street, designed in 1893--today occupied by Third Federal Savings and Loan Association. Creator: Jim Dubelko
Worked to Death In the year 1896, the firm of Coburn and Barnum expanded, taking on two new partners, long-time employee, W. Dominick Benes, and Walter Hubbell. The new firm moved that year from the Blackstone Building in what today is the Warehouse District to the recently-built New England Building on the north side of Euclid Avenue, just east of Bond (East 6th) Street. In the same year, Forrest Coburn's elderly mother was involved in a serious trolley car accident, which led to acrimonious litigation. Also that year, the firm undertook a number of new projects, including designing a new building for the Western Reserve Historical Society. And, according to his obituary, Coburn was visibly upset over delays in completion of renovations he designed for the First Congregational Church on Franklin Avenue--his own church. Perhaps it was all to much for Coburn, who never even reached his 50th birthday. He died in December 1897, according to the newspapers of the time, from "overwork." (The article above appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer edition of April 23, 1896.) Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
The Coburn Mansion Today After Forrest Coburn's sudden death in 1897, his family continued to reside in the house at 6016 Franklin Boulevard until 1912 when they sold it. It continued as a duplex until 1942 when it was converted into a seven-suite apartment building. In 2002, the house was extensively renovated and converted into a four-unit luxury condominium. The photo above shows the house as it appeared in early 2016. Creator: Jim Dubelko

Location

6016 Franklin Blvd, Cleveland, OH 44102

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “The Coburn Mansion,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 10, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/755.