Olney Residence and Gallery

For decades, visitors to Tremont have wondered about the three magnificent, but sadly dilapidated, mansions they encounter when exiting Interstate 90 at Abbey Avenue and West 14th Street. What are (or were) these structures? Why have buildings in such a high-profile location been so neglected? What plans (if any) exist for their regeneration?

The answer to these questions reaches back to the late 19th century. At that time, Tremont (then known as Lincoln Heights) was home to scores of wealthy industrialists, and Jennings Avenue (renamed West 14th Street in 1906) was their street of choice—a sort of south-side Millionaire's Row, not unlike Euclid or Franklin Avenues.

Just north of Fairfield Avenue, two of Jennings Avenue’s most majestic homes belonged to Samuel Sessions and brothers Thomas and Isaac Lamson, founders of the Lamson & Sessions Company. In 1912, The Pan-Hellenic Union purchased and razed these houses, and subsequently erected Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, which stands to this day. However, most of the block to the south (across Fairfield Avenue) also was owned by Sessions and the Lamson brothers; and two of the structures in this area are among those noted at the beginning of this article: the Olney Residence (2255 West 14th Street) and the Olney Gallery (2241 West 14th Street).

Meant from the start to be an exhibition space, the Olney Gallery was built in 1892 for Charles Fayette Olney, an art collector and academic who came to Cleveland from New York City in the 1880s. This handsome Renaissance Revival building (with “Olney Art Gallery” etched in stone above the front portico) was created to display Olney’s extensive collection of oil and watercolor paintings, ivories, porcelains, statuary and bronzes. The building was designed by the firm of Forrest A. Coburn and Frank Seymour Barnum, which also created more than twenty houses along Euclid Avenue’s Millionaires’ Row, as well as several buildings for Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University. Physically adjoining the Gallery to the south is the giant 1870s Victorian mansion that Olney and his wife Abigail Bradley Lamson, the widow of Lamson & Sessions founder Thomas Lamson, occupied after they married in 1887. The Olneys became major benefactors of Pilgrim Church, which opened its doors at Starkweather Avenue and West 14th Street in 1894.

When the Olney Art Gallery opened in 1893, it became the city’s first publicly accessible art space, pre-dating the Cleveland Museum of Art by more than two decades. More than 200 objects from the Olney’s private collection populated the gallery. Other prominent Clevelanders, such as Windsor White and Charles Brush, also donated works. Charles and Abigail Olney died in 1903 and 1904, respectively. The Olney Gallery closed in 1907, and most of its inventory was donated to Oberlin College, where it became the foundation of the Dudley Allen Memorial Art Museum.

Soon after, the two structures were sold to the American-Ukrainian National Company for $45,000. Ukrainians had been coming to America since the 1870s, and by the 1880s many had settled in the Tremont area. So great was the surge that the need for worship and meeting space became acute. In fact, the city’s first Ukrainian Catholic parish, organized in Tremont in 1902, was headquartered in a former trolley garage. These critical needs weren’t met until the Olney Residence and Gallery were acquired in 1909 and a new house of worship—Saints Peter & Paul Church at 2280 West 7th Street—was built the following year.

A short walk from Saints Peter & Paul, the newly acquired Ukrainian National Home filled a variety of needs—organizing educational, social and recreational events; hosting union meetings; and serving as a temporary refuge for the Ukrainian political émigrés and displaced persons who came to Cleveland following World War II. By the 1960s, however, much of the Ukrainian community had moved to Parma and other western suburbs and the Ukrainian National Home closed in 1967. Still, the area continues to maintain a strong Ukrainian presence, primarily in the form of Saints Peter & Paul Church and the widely renowned Ukrainian Museum-Archives around the corner at 1202 Kenilworth Avenue. Reflecting the changing nature of Tremont’s community, the two Olney buildings later became a Puerto Rican social hall.

Since 1990, nearby Grace Hospital has owned the buildings and, aided by a large historic preservation grant in 2015, undertook their renovation, along with a third, somewhat smaller structure, the Higbee House, to the immediate south. (It does not appear that this home was ever occupied by Edwin Converse Higbee, the founder of Higbee’s Department Store, but the building may have housed a relative.) In September 2015, Tremont West Development Corporation obtained a $750,000 grant under a federal “food desert” program to help turn the former Olney Gallery into a Constantino’s grocery store. As of this writing, plans for the former Olney and Higbee residences remained unclear.

Images

Olney Art Gallery, ca. 1896

Olney Art Gallery, ca. 1896

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Olney Gallery Entrance, 2009

Olney Gallery Entrance, 2009

Creator: Center for Public History + Digital Humanities View File Details Page

Charles F. Olney

Charles F. Olney

Before coming to Cleveland, Olney served as Supervisor of the New York City public schools. While in Cleveland, Olney served on the Chamber of Commerce, taught art at Tremont's Pilgrim Congregational Church, and was a vocal supporter of the Group Plan. View File Details Page

Olney Gallery, Exterior Detail, 2009

Olney Gallery, Exterior Detail, 2009

Creator: Center For Public History + Digital Humanities View File Details Page

Event at Ukr. Nat'l Home, 1947

Event at Ukr. Nat'l Home, 1947

Members of the Cleveland Ukrainian community attend an event at the Ukrainian National Home in 1947. | Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Ukrainian Heritage, 1927

Ukrainian Heritage, 1927

Cleveland youngsters dress up in traditional Ukrainian dress to give a dance performance, 1927. | Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Ukrainian Heritage, 1935

Ukrainian Heritage, 1935

Young women in traditional Ukrainian dress, 1935. | Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Ukrainian Labor Temple, 2009

Ukrainian Labor Temple, 2009

The Ukrainian Labor Temple, constructed in 1927, is located at West 11th Street and Auburn Avenue in Tremont. It served as both a Ukrainian cultural center and the meeting place of the Ukrainian Communist Party in Cleveland. It was also a speakeasy during Prohibition. In 1989, the building was converted into an art and design studio. | Creator: Center for Public History + Digital Humanities View File Details Page

Lawson & Sessions Houses, Ca. 1900

Lawson & Sessions Houses, Ca. 1900

The homes of brothers Thomas and Isaac Lamson (left) and Samuel Sessions (right)—founders of industrial products manufacturer Lamson & Sessions—stood on the current site of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church on West 14th Street at Fairfield Avenue, one block east of their factory at Scranton and Fairfield. | Source: Cuyahoga County Archives View File Details Page

Old Grace Hospital

Old Grace Hospital

In an undated photo, healthcare personnel pose outside the original Grace Hospital, a converted mansion at the corner of Jennings (West 14th Street) and Kenilworth Avenues. | Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections View File Details Page

Tremont (Then Lincoln Heights) Neighborhood, 1881

Tremont (Then Lincoln Heights) Neighborhood, 1881

This historical map illustrates how much of the area surrounding the intersection of Jennings (now West 14th Street) and Fairfield Avenues was owned or occupied by the Lamson and Sessions families. Note the original Lamson and Sessions mansions just north of Fairfield (razed in 1912 and replaced by the Greek Church of the Annunciation) and the numerous family-owned structures south of Fairfield. Lot 34 (empty in the illustration) became the Olney Gallery in 1893, with an enclosed walkway connecting the gallery with the home to the south. The space at the very bottom (south end) of the map is Lincoln Park (then known as Pelton Park). The upper right (northwest) segment of the map is now the Interstate 90 freeway interchange. | Source: Cleveland Historic Maps, http://peoplemaps.esri.com/cleveland/ View File Details Page

Olney Gallery and Residence During Renovation, 2016

Olney Gallery and Residence During Renovation, 2016

The former Olney Gallery (left) as it appeared during renovation to become a Constantino™s Market. Renovation of the former Olney residence (right) proceeded concurrently. | Creator: Chris Roy View File Details Page

Olney and Higbee Houses Under Renovation, 2016

Olney and Higbee Houses Under Renovation, 2016

Creator: Chris Roy View File Details Page

Street Address:

2255 W. 14th St., Cleveland, OH 44113 [map]

Cite this Page:

Chris Roy and Michael Rotman, “Olney Residence and Gallery,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 20, 2017, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/757.
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