"So you may know my life has been a happy and busy one, if at times, architecturally lonesome." – Charles F. Schweinfurth
As you look around Cleveland – attuned to the city's built landscape – you may not know it, but you are looking at many structures designed by the renowned architect Charles Frederick Schweinfurth. He envisioned the most expensive private residence, Mather Mansion, built on the acclaimed Millionaires' Row and erected his masterpiece Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Schweinfurth's "sound mentality and intellectual discipline of a high order, supplemented by a thorough mastery of technical knowledge" sounded through in the design of the Union Club, and the stone bridges that accent the Cultural Gardens. Not only did Schweinfurth design these beautiful architectural works of art, he lived and thrived in the urban landscape that he was charged with making so aesthetically pleasing. During his successful tenure as one of Cleveland's master architects, Schweinfurth also conceived his own private residence on East 75th Street, formerly known as Ingleside Avenue.
What became the Schweinfurth residence was originally proposed for one of his clients W.K. Vanderbilt. In his book Cleveland Architecture 1876-1976, Eric Johannesen notes that "Vanderbilt was chairman of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad" and a member of the famed robber baron family. Nevertheless, these plans fell through for unknown reasons and Schweinfurth took control of the property and set forth to design a home that truly expressed his own stylistic flare. In 1894, Schweinfurth's Romanesque Revival unostentatious home was completed. Schweinfurth occupied the home from 1894 until his death in 1919. In 1915 he "enlarged the original house … to provide [for an] additional dining area and space for servants and guests, as well as [a]…small conservatory." Over time, the lots down E. 75th Street were procured and the wealth of Euclid Avenue flowed off of the main artery onto the side streets. But then the area took an unimagined turn.
White flight to the suburbs changed the character of the neighborhood. The mansions and other grand homes were either boarded up, torn down, or chopped up by slum landlords eager to make a quick buck at the expense of the new predominantly African American clientele. The Schweinfurth home, no longer a private residence, continued after 1930 as the William L. Wagner & Son Funeral Home. The City of Cleveland turned away from the Midtown Corridor, leaving the people and structures to splinter into vermin riddled streets. A resident of E. 75th recalled looking out his "'window at the neighbor's house and watch[ing] the ground under the garbage cans writhe with rats.'" The Hough Riots of 1966, which were in no small way a response to the lack of investment in the area, did not propel the City of Cleveland or private investors to revive the area that "when Cleveland was a boom town… was the neighborhood in which to live." Banks only perpetuated the problem. Local banks redlined the neighborhood because it was overwhelmingly "occupied by persons at the bottom of the economic heap." It was not until 1970—when R. Van Petten and his partner Dale H. Smith purchased the former Schweinfurth property after convincing an African American bank to sign a loan agreement—that a twinkling of resurgence gleamed on the horizon.
Van Petten and Smith labored away, restoring the residence to its original simple elegance, while the rest of the street continued to suffer from urban decay. The new owners hoped that their personal investment in the area would encourage others to follow, but the home for decades remained an "oasis-in-the-desert." In the 1970s, Van Petten and Smith started a preservation movement in the Midtown Corridor that never quite caught. Once investment and economic recovery acts were implemented in the Midtown Corridor, new construction became the answer. Today the winding roads of infrastructure and the expanding Cleveland Clinic campus has architecturally sterilized much of the neighborhood. The former Schweinfurth residence remains an "architecturally lonesome" part of the Ingleside Historic District.