Dateline “Chagrin Falls” – It was heartening to see so many people turn out at a village council meeting, last week, to stand as one to save a historical house instead of standing by to witness a bulldozer make rubble of it.
It hasn’t always been thus. In a more conservative time, the preservation of private homes was viewed as sad, perhaps, but not anything that could or should involve village government even in a historical town like Chagrin Falls.
Fighting the good fight lost to the prevailing philosophy of the time that homeowners should have the right to do what they want with their property, even if what they planned to do removed their neighbors’ right to retain enjoyment of theirs.
And then there was the lack of will from leaders who saw preservation as a battle not worth fighting with taxpayer money when motivated developers or moneyed property owners had a bottomless pit of cash.
That’s why we say hooray for the Save Grove Hill gang, a citizens action committee that recognizes the value of keeping these old landmarks intact and useful and have the will to negotiate with developers and property owners and, if necessary, mount cash crowd fundraising campaigns should that tactic fail.
Case in point, and object of affection for the Save Grove Hill folks, is the Bancroft Home, a storied piece of architecture that sits overlooking Chagrin Falls from its perch at the peak of North Main Street hill, known as Grove Hill.
These folks are showing an honest devotion to the Bancroft house since rumors began to bubble up in August with its sale to a developer who wanted to demolish it, cut down trees and subdivide the acre plus lot into separate parcels for a townhome development.
“What a good idea,” said no one ever. But you have to admit it takes a special kind of chutzpah to propose such a thing in Chagrin Falls. But propose it, he did.
The message was finally received, the developer came up with a new idea. Keep the house, move it around on the lot and demo an outbuilding then add a townhome or two.
No part of this refitted plan resonated with the Grove Hill gang either or those who signed a petition against the proposal including taking down a stand of old growth trees (they don’t call it Grove Hill for nothing).
Besides, everything about the plan proposes are within the village historic guidelines not to mention difficult to do without a ton of variances. And, as it happens, the village planning and zoning commission are working on a tree ordinance to protect the tree population in the village.
But developers, being the optimists they are, have a way of ignoring the hurdles, not to mention the property in question is in a town revered for its 19th century architecture and townies who view them as its very heart and soul.
Considered a grand mansion in its day, the Bancroft house is bordered on its Main Street side by a handsome old stone wall built by the WPA during the Great Depression and, yes, it’s historical too as is the geography and geology of the hill itself.
Besides being located on the oldest street in the village, it is the site of an annual, decades-old tradition famously known as the pumpkin roll. Beloved by some and a pain in the neck to others, the smashing of pumpkins on Grove Hill then sledding on the goo is an unregulated, unsponsored and unsanctioned and nationally publicized Chagrin Falls High School senior class prank.
So far, the Grove Hill gang members have comported themselves with dignity and courtesy. They are also committed and armed with knowledge.
If we weren’t so skeptical (it is part of the job), we might wonder if their activism has more to do with their personal property values than their altruism. But we won’t go there.
Instead we suggest they stick together after the Bancroft House is resolved and use what they have learned through their experience and stand ready to come to the aid of the next historic house facing down a bulldozer.
Preservation is not just one house, a single grove of trees or one storied hill. Chagrin Falls is full of them and each one is worth saving. It never ends.