Filed Under Architecture

Alexander Kimberley House

Located on the south end of the Stockyards neighborhood of mostly working-class homes, the two story brick Italianate-style house at 7403 Denison Avenue stands out, especially because of its cupola and intricate balustrade craftsmanship. Built in 1866 for Alexander Kimberley, the house is not only one of the oldest in the neighborhood, but it is also one of the neighborhood's few remaining houses of this type of architectural design.

Who was Alexander Kimberley, you might ask? He was not an early Cleveland industrialist like James Farnan who with his family's brass factory wealth built a similarly beautiful Italianate home in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood (see Cleveland Historical story: "The House that Brass Built"). Nor was he a large-scale real estate developer like Benjamin Tyler who could easily afford his elegant Italianate summer home on the north end of the Stockyards neighborhood (see Cleveland Historical story: "B. F. Tyler House"). While neither a James Farnan nor a Benjamin Tyler, Alexander Kimberley still found a path to moderate wealth in mid-nineteenth-century Cleveland, one that enabled him to build the beautiful house that is the subject of this story. It's a house which has now stood on the top of the ridge at Denison Avenue and West 73rd Street for more than 150 years.

So how did he do it? Alexander Kimberley was an immigrant from Birmingham, England. When he arrived in Cleveland in 1846 as a nineteen year old boy, the city was just beginning its transition from commercial hub to industrial powerhouse. In the 15-year period from 1845-1860, the urban population exploded from 14,000 to 44,000, a more than 300% increase. Alexander Kimberley decided to make his money by serving that growing population. He began by operating saloons. By 1852, he had opened his first, near the docks at the foot of Superior Street. Three years later, partnering with his younger brother Frederick, he opened a second, this one on Public Square, across from where the County Court House sat at the time. Perhaps he intended this saloon to serve a more genteel clientele than the first. The brothers advertised that their "Arcade Dining Saloon" would feature an "Eating House on the European Plan." In 1857, Kimberley, now thirty years old, capped off his saloon entrepreneurship by opening a third saloon--this one he called a restaurant--on Merwin Street, near West Street, not far from where the Flat Iron cafe sits today on the east bank of the Flats.

There are no records extant to tell us exactly how much money Kimberley made from these three saloons, but it must have been substantial. And, like many of the lower socio-economic classes who began to make money in Cleveland's growing mid-nineteenth-century economy, Kimberley decided to invest in real estate in Ohio City, which soon merged with Cleveland to become the latter city's west side. He purchased a house on Detroit Street just east of Kentucky (W. 38th) Street in 1853, living there and operating a millinery store out of the first floor. In 1859, he made his second investment, a commercial lot on Detroit near Hanover (W. 28th) Street. By the time the 1860 census arrived, Alexander Kimberley was no longer a saloon keeper. It is likely that when the census-taker asked what his profession or trade was, Kimberley responded with some pride, "I am a merchant."

In 1864, Alexander Kimberley purchased eighteen acres of land on the south side of Ridge Road (now Denison Avenue) in what was then Brooklyn Township from Rufus K. Winslow, one of the founders of the Academy of Natural Sciences, later known as the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The land lay about two and one-half miles southwest of Kimberley's home on Detroit Street. By this time, he was married and the father of two children. Within two years' time, construction of the ornate house in the country which is the subject of this story was completed and the family moved in. When the 1870 census was taken four years later, Kimberley stated that he was now a farmer--most likely a gentleman farmer, because he continued to operate his millinery store in town and invest in real estate in the Detroit Street area of the near west side. Among his most significant projects was the development in 1873 of a commercial building complex on the south side of Detroit Avenue between Hanover (W. 28th) and State (W. 29th) Streets, which he built in partnership with his brother David. The complex featured a number of retail store fronts, two meeting halls, and one building known as the Kimberley Block.

Alexander Kimberley died in 1885 after suffering a stroke. The Italianate house at 7403 Denison was sold a few years later to immigrants from Germany, the Ernst Stern family. The Sterns lived in the house until 1916, when it was sold to a building supply company that used the home as an office. Ever since, the property has been used for commercial purposes, although as late as 1940, the second floor of the house was leased to renters. Most recently, the grand old house served as the home of a waffle house and ice cream store.

Images

Alexander Kimberley House Built in 1866, the house at 7403 Denison, just on the fringe of Cleveland's Stockyards Neighborhood, is a notable example of Italianate architectural design, featuring a cupola and intricate balustrade work. This photograph was taken circa 1910. Source: Raymond L. Pianka
A Path to Wealth This 1858 Cuyahoga County Map illustrates a section of downtown Cleveland in that year. The green circles denote the locations of Alexander Kimberley's three saloons that produced enough income to enable him to achieve middle class status and build the house at 7403 Denison in 1866. (A) marks the location of his first saloon in 1852; (B) his second one on the Square in 1855; and (C) his third one on Merwin Street in Gravity Place. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Maps Collection
Entrepreneurial Brothers The Kimberley brothers--Alexander, Frederick and David, serve as an example of immigrants who arrived in Cleveland in the mid-nineteenth century as the city was transitioning from a commercial hub into an industrial powerhouse, and became successful, not by becoming industrialists, but instead by becoming merchants. The above page from the 1866-1867 Cleveland City Directory reveals the business interests of the three brothers in that year. Source: Cuyahoga County Archives
Investing in the West Side The above 1874 Atlas of Cuyahoga County shows a slice of the near west side of Cleveland in that year. The green circles represent the locations of Alexander Kimberley's real estate investments during the period 1853-1873. Like many immigrants who couldn't afford to invest in the pricey east side of Cleveland, Kimberley grew the money that he had earned as a saloon keeper by investing in the relatively cheaper land on the west side. His most significant investment was in three parcels of land on Detroit Street, identified as "BFH," upon which, in partnership with his brother David, he developed a complex of commercial buildings, one of which known as the Kimberley Block. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Maps Collection
Commercial Development on Detroit Street This section of the 1877 Birds Eye View of Cleveland reveals the map artist's depiction of the complex of commercial buildings, located on the south side of Detroit Street between Hanover (W. 28th) and State (W. 29th) Streets, that Alexander Kimberley, in partnership with his brother David, built in 1873. Also shown on this map (small red circled area) is Alexander Kimberley's first home and millinery store on Detroit Street just east of Kentucky (W. 38th) Street.
Farmland and Working Class Subdivisions In this section of the 1881 Atlas Map of Cleveland, the Alexander Kimberley house at 7403 Denison is circled in red. This year would have marked Kimberley's fifteenth year as a gentleman farmer out in the countryside. However, as the map clearly reveals, the city was beginning to intrude upon Kimberley's retreat. Working-class residential subdivisions were being built to serve German and Czech immigrants settling in the area, the eastern part of which would soon become known as the "Isle of Cuba". Many of these immigrants worked at west side industries and businesses, including the nearby Union Stockyards on Gordon (W. 65th) Street south of Clark, which was established in the same year that this map was created. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Maps Collection
The Last of the Kimberleys The above obituary which appeared in the October 30, 1905 Cleveland Plain Dealer, described the rags to riches story of David Kimberley, Alexander's youngest brother. A Civil War hero, David went from laborer, to feed store owner, to banker, and also served two terms as Cuyahoga County Treasurer. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
The Ernst Stern Family After Alexander Kimberley's death in 1885, the house at 7403 Denison was sold to Ernst and Elizabeth Stern, immigrants from Germany. In this photo taken circa 1910, members of the Stern family, and their dog, are shown relaxing in front of the house. Source: Raymond L. Pianka
At Play Members of the Ernst Stern family share a laugh in the yard of the house at 7403 Denison as an unidentified man plays the accordion. By the time this photo was taken circa 1910, the area was no longer the countryside, but a working class neighborhood located close to the Union Stockyards. Source: Raymond L. Pianka
Maintaining the Farm Tradition This circa 1910 photograph reveals that, while the neighborhood had become decidedly urban by this time, members of the Ernst Stern family still engaged, at least to some degree, in the agricultural dream which had drawn Alexander Kimberley to the area in 1864. Source: Raymond L. Pianka
A House Turned Commercial In 1916, the Ernst Stern family sold the property at 7403 Denison, which still included five of the 18 acres that Alexander Kimberley had purchased in 1864, to the Cleveland Building Supply Co. Since that time, for almost one hundred years now, the property has served primarily commercial purposes. In the 1980s, during the Disco craze, the house served as home to the "Century Discotheque," as the above advertisement from the Cleveland Plain Dealer edition of February 15, 1980 reveals. Source: Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections
Today The above 2013 photo shows the Alexander Kimberley house at 7403 Denison as site of a waffle house and ice cream store. Source: Jim Dubelko

Location

7403 Denison Ave, Cleveland, OH 44102

Metadata

Jim Dubelko, “Alexander Kimberley House,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 30, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/692.