Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Big Old Houses: Outside Stan Hywet

Big Old Houses: Outside Stan Hywet
by John Foreman

I've landed another "whopper," in a manner of speaking. Stan Hywet, as the place is called, is so big I'm dividing my report into two parts — "Outside" and "Inside" respectively. If you speak Old English, and no doubt some of my readers do, you'll know that Stan Hywet is pronounced "stan-HEW-it" and it means "stone quarry."

Equally grand as the main gate is the stable entrance. Stan Hywet was completed in 1915 and given the date I suspect the "stable" was always a garage. The property hasn't been private since 1957, but the great majority of it remains in remarkably private-looking condition.
Beyond the gated entrances, landscaped drives wind through park-like ground to the eastern facade of a very grand English looking house. Where are we, you may ask? Answer: Akron, Ohio.
Stan Hywet's Frank A. Seiberling.
Here is Stan Hywet's builder, Frank A. Seiberling (1859-1955), called the "little Napoleon" of rubber partly because he was 5'4" tall. In 1898, Seiberling and his brother Charles founded the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.

They named it after Charles Goodyear (1800-1860), a starry-eyed inventor who perfected the process of vulcanizing rubber. Vulcanization transforms naturally goopy rubber into a substance hard enough to make everything from poker chips to automobile tires. Charles Goodyear died penniless; Frank Seiberling almost did the same. According to a 1939 Time Magazine, Seiberling had "as many ups and downs as an old inner tube."

Why such a big house? People ask me the same question, although Daheim is hardly in the same league as Stan Hywet. Seiberling did have a lot of kids. He and his wife Gertrude Penfield, whom he married in 1887, had 7 of them, 6 of whom survived (the tallest being 5'6"). The mysterious 7th in the image below is presumably a grandchild.
Charles S. Schneider.
Goodyear Tire and Rubber was a cash cow from the beginning. By 1912, fourteen years after starting in the rubber business, Seiberling had become sufficiently rich to hire Charles S. Schneider (1874-1932), a Beaux Arts trained architect with a practice in Cleveland. Schneider, whose opus includes collegiate halls, churches and office buildings, gave Seiberling an instant ancestral seat, suitable for generations to come. His "two most beloved clients" and his best remembered project, were the Seiberlings and Stan Hywet Hall.

The glories of Stan Hywet were born of an audacious gamble on an abandoned factory in East Akron. In 1896, Seiberling was a prosperous 37-year-old family man working for his father, a rich Akron manufacturer of farm machinery. The Panic of 1897 wiped the father out and left the son scrambling for a job. On a trip to Chicago, Seiberling heard of the empty factory, knew the owner would never get the $40,000 he was asking and, sensing an opportunity most of us would miss, agreed to buy it for $13,500 which, as it happened, he didn't actuially have.
Wives leave husbands for stunts like this, but if Mrs. S. contemplated such a move, she was wise to delay. Seiberling hustled back to Akron, borrowed $3500 from his brother-in-law so he could close, convinced his brother Charles to go partners, and then BEGAN to decide what he'd do next. Peculiar as this story sounds, according to all accounts the sequence of events is true. The brothers finally decided to go into the rubber business, for what exact reason I do not know, and by the end of 1898 Goodyear Tire and Rubber was producing horseshoe pads, carriage tires, poker chips and especially bicycle tires. The latter product set cash registers ajingle across America, which, at that moment, was just wild about bikes.
"Non Nobis Solum," the not-so-easy-to-read motto over the front door, means "Not For Us Alone." Which is true, although perhaps not quite the way Seiberling intended it.
Let's circle to the south, admiring Schneider's admirably composed 65-room English manor. Could the Brits have done any better themselves? I think not!
The leaded glass doors in the image above lead from a vast drawing room, or music room as they call it, onto a south facing terrace. The view from that terrace is one of many formal vistas on the property, vistas which, I might add, are much to my own taste. The famous Boston landscape architect Warren Manning (1860-1938) is credited with the original landscape, the hallmark of his work being a conscientious naturalism, part Olmsted, part Capability Brown. The plantings and gardens that immediately adjoin the house, however, are overwhelmingly formal.
The west facade overlooks a lawn terrace with ornamental pool and a trio of jets.
In the middle of the terrace, on axis with the pool and a ducal looking interior hall, a classical causeway leads to a sort of roofless circular belvedere. This must have once provided soul stirring views of Stan Hywet's 3000 original acres. Forest obscures the view today, a lucky thing since hidden behind these trees is a neighborhood of modest split level houses. If you had a good arm you could hit 'em with a rock.
Let's return to the south end of the terrace for a look at the English Garden.
Here's the English Garden looking south ...
... and looking north ...
... and looking northeast towards the house. Ellen Biddle Shipman (1869-1950), a woman who created lot of beauty in her life, did the design work in 1929. Reporter's note: Am I the only person annoyed by droning ventilation systems that intrude on otherwise tranquil spaces? There's a big fan under a gable on the house and you can hear it all too clearly from the English Garden. Hasn't anybody ever complained? OK, I didn't either, but I was a guest. Now I'm not, and I'm complaining.
There's more garden — indeed, a lot more garden — to the north of the house. Let's cross the terrace on the eastern walkway and have a look.
Before we go flower picking, more on Goodyear Tire and Rubber is now in order. If bike tires were foreplay, auto tires were consummation. Between 1900 and 1920, individual automobile registrations in the U.S. rocketed from 8000 to 7-and-a-half MILLION. Seiberling, who bacame company president in 1906, found himself able not only to pay good wages with generous benefits, but to also become what in modern dollars would amount to a billionaire. He didn't just build Stan Hywet, his company transformed little Akron into the "rubber capital of the world." When America entered the First World War, Goodyear was poised and able to provide invaluable recon balloons and dirigibles. Profits were huge.
A screened arcade bypasses the service wing en route to the northern gardens.
Kitchen deliveries passed through a tunnel under the arcade.
The view from the roof hasn't really changed in a century, despite the fact the surrounding woods are now full of ranch houses. The conservatory is a 2005 replica of the Schneider-designed original. I doubt the gardens were ever more lovingly maintained than they are today.
Brothers Charles (l) and Frank (r) Seiberling were photographed below for a 1943 Akron Beacon Journal Sunday Roto magazine feature titled Past 80 ... Going Strong. "I have seen life from the mountaintops and the valleys," observed Frank Seiberling 2 years before his death, adding that his "happiest of days were those former times (of building Goodyear) ... my baby — my giant!"
Seiberling's "baby" was unceremoniously ripped from his hands in 1921, leaving him with little more than this house, about which more next week.
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