Van Sweringen Demonstration Homes

The 1920s witnessed a time of explosive growth and expansion in Shaker Heights. With the opening of the rapid transit system between Cleveland and the suburb at the beginning of the decade, the population grew from less than 2,000 to over 15,000 by 1929. As the transit system expanded, leading further into the planned community, the Van Sweringen Co. promoted the sale of the newly accessible lands in part through the construction of demonstration homes. Employing renowned local architects to create designs and oversee development, the Van Sweringen Co. constructed a series of homes in areas that were to be opened for public sale. These homes not only acted as examples of the desired character and quality of structures required by the Vans, but offered those interested in purchasing land an image of the exclusive community's possibilities.

Both small and large groupings of demonstration homes were constructed on Parkland Drive, Moreland Boulevard (now Van Aken), Courtland Boulevard, and South Woodland in the early 1920s. Reflecting the guidelines presented to prospective clients by the Van Sweringen Co. in "Shaker Village Standards", the structures were to define the character of the residential neighborhoods and promote the sale of surrounding lots. As prescribed by the Van Sweringens for all Shaker residences, the demonstration homes were designed by prominent architects such as Phillip Small, Howell & Thomas, and Bloodgood Tuttle.

The architects' designs for these demonstration homes spoke to the qualities and character of residential construction desired by the Vans. Each home was architecturally distinct, but also built in harmony with both surrounding structures and the natural environment. Designs for the demonstration homes employed the three recommended architectural styles for Shaker residences: English, French, and Colonial. The sturdy yet picturesque homes offered visions of permanence within the highly landscaped rural setting. These demonstration homes were a symbol of the dignified, enduring community that the Van Sweringen Co. desired to create and market. Such homes provided the foundation from which the cosmopolitan residential neighborhood grew.

Images

Peaceful Shaker Village

Peaceful Shaker Village

Recurrent imagery in the Van Sweringen Co.'s ads for the Shaker Country Estates alluded to houses on hilltops. Similar themes and imagery were used in promotional material and ads for the demonstration homes in Shaker Heights; each home was to be its own unique domain, removed from the influences of the outside world. Image courtesy of Shaker Historical Society View File Details Page

Demonstration Home Ad, 1925

Demonstration Home Ad, 1925

Shaker Heights was, and remains, defined by its unique residential character. The standards imposed by the Van Sweringens, as displayed through the designs of their demonstration homes, has helped create a lasting identity for the Shaker Heights community. Image from Van Sweringen Co. Advertisement View File Details Page

All Roads Lead to Shaker, 1927

All Roads Lead to Shaker, 1927

This advertisement for the Shaker Country Estates portrays the romanticized environment marketed by the Van Sweringen Co. in its real estate endeavors. The demonstration homes, designed in French, Colonial, and English architectural styles, were constructed in part to be a physical extension of this vision for Shaker Heights. Image courtesy of Shaker Historical Society View File Details Page

Parkland Drive, 1923

Parkland Drive, 1923

Leaving behind the traditional grid pattern for their suburb's design, the Van Sweringen Co.'s system favored elliptical boulevards lined with tree lawns and medians. These highly landscaped boulevards lead through neighborhoods with spacious lots and set-back homes, defining the character of some of Shaker Heights' most beautiful neighborhoods. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Special Collections View File Details Page

Old World Charm, 1926

Old World Charm, 1926

While the demonstration homes called upon visions of historic European villages, the modern homes included two car garages and finished basements "for use as billiard or playrooms". Despite the Vans' attention to providing transportation routes and garages for automobiles, a major selling point of the homes was their proximity to the Rapid. Image from Van Sweringen Co. Advertisement View File Details Page

A Full and Complete Life

A Full and Complete Life

"There's too much of interest up here, too much happiness within easy reach, to let you grow old and dour or settled in your ways." The residential community of Shaker offered a riding academy, country clubs and golf courses to its residents for recreation. While not officially located within Shaker Heights, a tavern was included in designs for Shaker Square. Image from Van Sweringen Co. Advertisement View File Details Page

18524 Parkland Drive

18524 Parkland Drive

Designed by the prominent architectural firm Howell & Thomas for the Van Sweringen Co., the stone and stucco home was built in an English style. English revival was a popular design in suburbs following World War I; the practical structures conveyed a sense of comfortableness and safety. The residence on Parkland Drive was constructed at an estimated cost of $20,000, and was completed in 1924. The demonstration home was designated a landmark on June 27, 1983. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Center for Public History + Digital Humanities View File Details Page

18560 Parkland Drive

18560 Parkland Drive

The English style used in the design of 18560 Parkland Drive was characteristic of Howell & Thomas' work. Gables project outward from the stucco exterior, which employs half-timbering for decoration. The style calls back to early English homes, constructed of heavy logs and filled in with brick or stucco. The home was built in 1924 by W.W. Jepson, and designated a landmark on June 28, 1983. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Center for Public History + Digital Humanities View File Details Page

18580 Parkland Drive

18580 Parkland Drive

Designated a landmark in June of 1983, this residence was designed by Howell & Thomas as part of the grouping of demonstration homes constructed on Parkland and Maynard Drive. The structure was built in 1924 by W.W. Jepson, and was funded by the Van Sweringen Co. The design of the home mixed English and French revival styles. The influence of the latter can be seen in the steeply pitched roof, asymmetrical form, and recessed entrance. Image courtesy of Cleveland State University Center for Public History + Digital Humanities View File Details Page

20000 South Woodland Road

20000 South Woodland Road

Designed in an English Cottage style by architect Philip L. Small, the home at 20000 South Woodland Road was constructed in 1924 at an estimated cost of $50,000. This style was employed to provide a sense of old-world charm and comfort. The asymmetrical design and cross gabled roof calls back to the vernacular architecture of European rural homes, when additions were added onto structures over time in response to the needs of inhabitants. Other exterior features are characteristic of the English revival styles, including the stucco and brick exterior, half-timber ornamentation and steeply-pitched roof. The home was designated a landmark on June 28, 1983. Image courtesy of the City of Shaker Heights Planning Department View File Details Page

3125 Van Aken Boulevard

3125 Van Aken Boulevard

Designed by Bloodgood Tuttle in a French Eclectic style, the residence at 3125 Van Aken Boulevard was constructed in 1924. The distinguishing design feature of the French Eclectic style is a hipped roof (all sides sloped downward) running parallel to the front of the home. Other common French Eclectic elements found in Bloodgood's design of this home include the symmetrical and rectangular fronting, the stucco and brick exterior, and the rounded arched entry. The home was designated a landmark on June 27, 1983. Image courtesy of the City of Shaker Heights Planning Department View File Details Page

3149 Van Aken Boulevard

3149 Van Aken Boulevard

Bloodgood Tuttle's English revival demonstration home at 3149 Van Aken Boulevard was constructed in 1924. Set back from the street and accessed by a rustic pathway, the design reflects the influence of Britain's 18th century Picturesque landscape movement. This aesthetic trend emerged from the popularization of tourism and humanism, and was characterized by romanticized landscapes ornamented with naturalistic surrounds and revival architecture. The Picturesque movement, while broad in scope, reflected both a change in the perception of nature and a rejection of more formalized architectural styles associated with imperialism. The home on Van Aken Boulevard was designated a landmark on June 27, 1983 Image courtesy of the City of Shaker Heights Planning Department View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Richard Raponi, “Van Sweringen Demonstration Homes,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 27, 2017, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/406.
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