Herbert C. Van Sweringen Home

Constructed in 1913, the Georgian Revival residence at 2931 Sedgewick Road was built as the home of the often-forgotten Van Sweringen brother, Herbert. Born in 1869, Herbert was the eldest son of James and Jennie Sweringen. James, an oil field engineer from Pennsylvania, was unable to perform strenuous labor due to an injury received during the Civil War, and often changed jobs. The Sweringen family moved to northern Ohio shortly after Herbert's birth, and eventually settled in East Cleveland following the death of Jennie in 1886. As James became increasingly troubled with alcoholism, the responsibility of financially providing for the family fell on Herbert. He worked at the Cleveland Storage Company, while his sisters Edith and Carrie Van Sweringen tended to his two younger brothers.

Throughout much of their lives, the careers of Herbert and his younger brothers, Oris and Mantis, were intertwined. When employed as a bookkeeper at the Bradley Fertilizer Company around 1897, Herbert persuaded his younger brothers to take work at the firm. O.P. and Herbert would leave the company to open their own business, the Pioneer Stone Company. With the early efforts of O.P. and M.J. in developing land in the Shaker Heights area, Herbert was invited to take part in the business. He worked with his brothers in purchasing land and building smaller homes in Shaker, but was eventually relegated to supervising routine office functions. In what appears to have been a rather unhappy and sporadic working relationship with his brothers, Herbert was regularly passed over for better positions. He eventually parted ways with his famous siblings. Working as a director for various real estate businesses in Cleveland, Herbert would never become publicly associated with the real estate or railroad empires of O.P. and M.J.

Unlike his brothers and sisters, Herbert married and had a family. He helped found Plymouth Church, and was a member of its board of trustees. Despite his own modest successes in the real estate business, Herbert could never match the achievements of his brothers. In 1924, the unknown Van Sweringen left his family in Cleveland to capitalize on Florida's booming real estate market and finally make a name for himself. With money purportedly received from his brothers, Herbert joined forces with Miami realtor J.H. Meyer and purchased 500 acres of land. The partners formed the Sun City Holding Company. Their plan was to create a new Hollywood in Florida. Taking cues from the successful development in Shaker Heights, Van Sweringen and Meyer set aside land for a church, school, entertainment, and government offices. Streets were laid out and named for famous film stars, directors, and studios. The centerpiece of the city was a movie studio constructed by the holding company for the price of $300,000.

In October of 1925, the movie studio was dedicated. Initially, the entrepreneurs achieved measurable success. Spurred by the land boom in Florida, over $2 million of land sales were earned. The emerging cosmopolitan city soon had a handful of residences as well as a school, hotel, theater, church, city hall, and power plant. Two short movies were filmed in the state-of-the-art studio. Just as quickly as the town emerged, the real estate speculation bubble burst in 1926. Land prices rose and the market was flooded with property. Compounding the situation, a hurricane hit South Florida. Seasonal visitors and tourism all but disappeared due to high price of land and the general wreckage brought on by the storm. Sales dried up, and Sun City Holding Co. fell into debt and was dissolved. Herbert filed for bankruptcy and returned to his family in Cleveland. O.P. and M.J. helped pay for the losses, set up a trust fund for their brother, and persuaded him to retire from business.

Suffering a stroke in 1938, Herbert Van Sweringen eventually left Cleveland in order to live with his son in Buffalo, N.Y. He died on January 5, 1942. The home of the eldest Van Sweringen brother was designated a Shaker Heights Landmark on September 26, 1988.

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