Filed Under Architecture

The Belden Seymour House

From nineteenth-century mansion . . . to twentieth-century tenenment house . . . to twenty-first-century restoration

The CWA census-taker couldn't believe his ears when, in 1934, he knocked on the door of the old mansion at 3805 Franklin Avenue (today, Franklin Boulevard) and was told by the person who answered the door that there were 80 people living at this address.

In 1934, during the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt commissioned the Civil Works Administration (CWA) to conduct a special census of American cities in the hope of gathering information that would be helpful in aiding the ongoing national economic recovery. According to an article that appeared in the Cleveland Press on August 22, 1934, when one of Roosevelt's census-takers arrived at the grand old mansion at 3805 Franklin Avenue here in Cleveland, he was stunned to learn that, not only were there 80 people living in the mansion, but there were another 30 living in a converted carriage house in the backyard and yet another 30 living in the house next door which was also part of the tenement complex. The owner of all three of those houses on that day when the CWA census-taker arrived was none other than 75-year-old Belden Seymour, head of a Cleveland real estate company and the son of the man with the same name who had built the mansion for his family, including his then teenage son Belden, 60 years earlier in 1874.

The first Belden Seymour was a native of Vermont who had migrated to northeast Ohio in 1848. At that time, Cleveland, and its municipal neighbor across the Cuyahoga River, Ohio City, were boom towns as a result of the completion of the Ohio-Erie Canal a decade earlier, connecting Lake Erie to the Ohio River, followed by the beginning of the grand railroad era. Seymour shrewdly invested in real estate here, particularly in Ohio City, which, after annexation to Cleveland in 1854, became the latter city's west side. Soon, Belden Seymour was one of the west side's wealthy elites.

Seymour and his family were living on Pearl Street (today, West 25th Street) in 1865, when his good friend and the former mayor of Cleveland, Irvine U. Masters, died, leaving a will that named Seymour as one of his executors. Included in Masters' estate was his Greek Revival-style house which had been built on the southwest corner of Franklin Avenue and Kentucky (West 38th) Street in 1853. Seymour purchased this house from the estate along with an adjacent vacant lot. In 1871, he moved the former mayor's house some 80 feet west to that adjacent vacant lot, and then began construction of a large Italianate-style house on the former site of the Masters house. Completed in 1874, the mansion, with more than 7500 square feet of living space, a three-story tower (visible in the 1877 Bird's Eye View of Cleveland map), ornate window work, a skylight--rare for this period, balconies and bay windows, an elegant double front door and a beautiful front porch and portico, became one of the grand homes on the west side's version of Millionaires' Row.

Belden Seymour lived in this grand house until his death in 1889. In the decade that followed, pursuant to an 1896 design by architect John N. Richardson, Seymour's widow Eleanor and son Belden converted the mansion into a four-family luxury dwelling and also converted the carriage house into a single family dwelling, moving the latter building easterly to its present day location on the lot. After Eleanor died in 1910, ownership of the mansion and converted carriage house, and the former Masters House next door, passed to her two married adult children, Belden and Mary Eleanor, and then eventually to Belden alone. Under his ownership, the mansion (3805 Franklin), the converted carriage house (3801 Franklin), and the old Masters house (3811 Franklin) gradually began to house more and more tenants, even in attic and basement areas, until by 1934, as President Roosevelt's census-taker found out, the three structures together constituted one of the largest tenement complexes in Cleveland.

Sometime in the 1920s, and no later than by 1926, Belden Seymour hired Elizabeth "Pearl" Hayne, one of his tenants at 3805 Franklin Avenue, to be his property manager. It was a hiring decision which would have consequences for the future of the Belden Seymour house and the other two associated houses. Hayne managed the properties for Seymour until shortly before his death in 1937, when he sold the houses to the A. M. McGregor House. Within two years of the transfer, the City of Cleveland, possibly following up on information gleaned from the 1934 CWA census, began citing all of the houses for multiple violations of the city's tenement code. It was in that same year--probably not coincidentally, that the A. M. McGregor House transferred ownership of the houses to another corporation, Cleveland Rentals, Inc, formed by property manager Hayne.

For the next fifty years, the Belden Seymour House and the other two associated houses, were owned and managed by the Hayne family. At one point in time, the Belden Seymour House was even called "Pearl Hayne's Family Hotel." As had been the case since at least as early as 1939, the City of Cleveland continued to find multiple code violations at the Haynes' properties, and, on at least three occasions, the Belden Seymour house was substantially damaged by fire, possibly as a result of some of these code violations. Continued code enforcement activity by city building and fire officials, however, eventually resulted in a reduction of the number of tenants living at the houses and the establishment of safer, healthier, and more sanitary living conditions.

In 1989, Alberta Therrien, the daughter of Pearl Haynes who with her husband had been managing the Belden Seymour house and the two other properties since her mother's death in 1961, transferred the properties to Franklin Estates, Inc., a corporation formed by Dr. James L.. Hauer and his partner Richard Turnbull. Little work was done to the exteriors of either house during their ownership. In 2016, Franklin Estates, Inc. transferred the properties to 3801 Franklin LLC, a corporation formed by Adam Hayoun. Since acquiring the properties, Hayoun has undertaken efforts to renovate both the historic Seymour and Masters houses. In 2017, renovation of the Masters House at 3811 Franklin, and its conversion to a two-family dwelling, was completed. In that same year, Hayoun turned his attention to the Belden Seymour mansion at 3805 Franklin, tearing off layers of insulbrick and vinyl siding and revealing for the first time in decades the original wood siding and other wood architectural features of the house. In late 2017, the Cleveland Landmarks Commission issued a certificate of appropriateness for Hayoun's proposed Belden Seymour house renovation. As of August 2018, that proposal remained pending before other city boards. It appears likely that, in the near future, the Belden Seymour House will join the Irvine U. Masters House as the two of the most recently renovated, houses on historic Franklin Boulevard.

Images

The Belden Seymour House Located at 3805 Franklin Boulevard, the house was built in 1874 by Belden Seymour, a wealthy west side Cleveland businessman. After his death in 1889, his widow and son made renovations to the house and converted it into a luxury four-family dwelling. After his widow's death, the house was further remodeled and eventually converted into a tenement house. This 1931 photo shows the house when, according to the 1930 federal census, it was home to 52 tenants. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photograph Collection
An Ohio City Businessman This ad for the real estate and insurance businesses of Belden Seymour ran in the Cleveland Herald on February 3, 1852, two years before Ohio City was annexed to Cleveland, thereby becoming the latter city's west side. Seymour became one of the west side's wealthiest businessmen. According to one local Cleveland historian, when the Superior Viaduct, the first high level bridge to cross the Cuyahoga River, was completed in 1878, Belden Seymour was selected as the west side business man to walk to the middle of the bridge on December 27th of that year and shake hands with a prominent east side businessman, a gesture symbolizing the new bridge's role in uniting Cleveland's east and west side business communities. Shortly before the Superior Viaduct was completed, Seymour constructed a new commercial building on Detroit Avenue near Pearl (West 25th) Street, not far from the Viaduct. That building, initially called the Seymour Block, is still standing today, adjacent to the Forest City Bank Building. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Newspaper Collection
1881 map This section of that map shows (circled in red) sublots 88 and 89 of the Charles Taylor Farm allotment upon which were built Cleveland Mayor Irvine U. Masters' Greek Revival-style house in 1853 and Belden Seymour's grand Italianate house in 1874. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Map Collection
Belden Seymour II This is a 1930 photograph of the son of Belden Seymour. The younger Belden inherited his father's real estate and insurance business following his father's death in 1889, and for years operated it out of the Cuyahoga Building on Public Square. He lived on Cleveland's east side and, in 1926, hired Pearl Hayne to manage his tenenment houses at 3801, 3805 and 3811 Franklin Boulevard. In 1939, Hayne purchased the properties, and she and other family members managed them, first, as tenement houses and later as the "Pearl Hayne Family Hotel," for the next 50 years. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photograph Collection
Evicting the poor to make a point In 1934 during the Great Depression, Pearl Hayne, unhappy with the County relief payments she was receiving for her low-income tenants at 3805 and 3811 Franklin Boulevard, evicted 13 of them, who moved into tents at nearby Fairview Park on the southeast corner of Franklin Boulevard and West 38th Street. Eventually she relented and allowed them to return to their suites. County officials said that Hayne, at this time, was housing the most relief tenants in the city of Cleveland. This article appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on June 18 of that year. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Newspaper Collection
Insulbrick covering At one point in the past--probably in the late 1930s or 1940s, the original wood siding on the Belden Seymour House was covered by insulbrick, an asphalt siding designed to look like brick. This photo of the house was taken in 1987, two years before the insulbrick covering was in turn covered by vinyl siding. Source: Craig Bobby
The Irvine U. Masters House This Greek Revival-styled house at 3811 Franklin Boulevard, immediately to the west of the Belden Seymour House, was built for Irvine U. Masters in 1853. Masters served as mayor of Cleveland for just a little over a year--from January 1863 to May 1864, when illness compelled him to resign from office. He died the following year. Belden Seymour purchased the Masters house in 1868, moved it one lot to the west, and lived in it, while his grand Italianate house at 3805 Franklin was being built. Years later, this house, along with the Belden Seymour mansion and carriage house, were operated, first, as multi-family dwellings by the Seymour family, and then later, for decades, as tenement housing. This photo of the Masters House, showing it covered by insulbrick, was taken by a county tax inspector in 1957. Source: Cuyahoga County Archives.
Vinyl-sided In 1989, the year this photo was taken, the Therrien family, then owners of the Belden Seymour house, covered the insulbrick siding with vinyl siding, possibly in order to improve its appearance for sale. The house was sold three years later to Franklin Estates, Inc., an Ohio corporation formed by Dr. James Hauer and Richard Turnbull. Note that the third story of the tower, which can be seen in the 1931 photograph in this digital array, is gone, possibly removed as the result of a 1948 fire which substantially damaged that side of the house. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Photograph Collection
Original Wood Siding Revealed In 2017, the owner of the Belden Seymour house began efforts to renovate the exterior of the house. The layers of insulbrick and vinyl siding were removed revealing the original wood siding of the historic house. Source: Craig Bobby
A very special house According to local architectural historian, Craig Bobby, the Belden Seymour house is special because of its Italianate grandeur, which includes window surrounds, ornate doors, grand front porch and portico, and other elaborate architectural features. This photo, which was taken in 2018, shows much of the detailed craftmanship of the front porch. Source: Jim Dubelko
The restored Masters House In 2017, the renovation of the Irvine U. Masters House at 3811 Franklin Boulevard was completed. The Greek Revival-style house was erected in 1853. Source: 2017 Google Photo
The future for the Belden Seymour House An architect's drawing of how the Belden Seymour house will look when renovated by its current owners. The drawing was presented to the Cleveland Landmarks Commission at a meeting held on December 7, 2017. Source: Cleveland Landmarks Commission
Belden Seymour House Today By the summer of 2021, when this photo was taken, the historic Belden Seymour House on the southwest corner of Franklin Boulevard and West 38th Street had been restored Creator: Jim Dubelko

Location

3805 Franklin Blvd, Cleveland, OH 44113

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “The Belden Seymour House,” Cleveland Historical, accessed September 30, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/847.