Major Renovations Are in Time for the Upcoming Holidays at Akron's Largest Historic Landmark
Akron’s Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens is more spruced-up than ever for the upcoming holiday season. In today’s State of the Arts, WKSU’s Vivian Goodman takes us along on a curated tour.
“We are entering the front door of the Manor House,” says Julie Frey, “So this is where all of the guests and friends of the Seiberlings would have been invited to come in.”
As curator of Stan Hywet, Frey oversees the furnishings and historic artifacts of one of the last remaining residences of the barons of America’s Industrial Age.
The 90-room English Tudor-style mansion on North Portage Path in Northwest Akron is in the midst of its first cohesive, large-scale restoration.
Franklin Augustus Seiberling had it built back in 1915, and the family lived here for 40 years. F.A., as he was known, was the co-founder of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.
He was devoted to his wife, and she was a patron of the arts. A contralto who sang at the White House for President Taft, Gertrude Seiberling had many musician friends.
“Friends who were composers played instruments or were singers,” says Frey, “so she wanted a place where they could be entertained.”
Her husband gladly granted her wish with an elegant and fully-equipped music room.
“The room has a stage at one end,” Frey points out. “We still have the original Steinway piano which belonged to the Seiberling family and a harpsichord that they purchased in England which is over 400 years old.”
The Seiberlings also loved their Aeolian organ. Installed in 1915, the instrument had been silent since the late 1950s, when the family moved out. It was restored five years ago thanks to donors who contributed almost a half-million dollars for the project.
Preserving the legacy
Last year, Stan Hywet turned 100, and currently, a $6 million dollar renovation is underway thanks to the successful Second Century Campaign.
“So all the projects that people contributed to will be completed,” says Frey, “which is very exciting.”
Since 1957 when the Seiberling family donated Stan Hywet to a non-profit organization, the house museum and country estate has never been neglected. “Restoration is ongoing here at Stan Hywet,” says Frey.
The current campaign will eventually restore 15 spaces in the Manor House. This year $1 million will be spent on the library, the Tower Staircase, and the Great Hall, which was the Seiberling’s family room.
Thanks to meticulous attention to historic detail, the Great Hall looks much as it did from 1915 until the family left in 1955. But over that time drapery would shred, lampshades would fray, and carpets and upholstery would fade.
“If you think about living in a home for 40 years,” says Frey, “things do tend to fall into disrepair. And as the couple got older they just weren’t able to keep up with the grounds at the time or even kind of some of the interior problems that they faced.”
Also, after F.A. Seiberling stepped down as president of Goodyear in 1921, they weren’t quite as rich.
“That just tremendous wealth that the family was accustomed to in the 19-teens, those days were over,” says Frey, “and the Seiberlings experienced financial difficulties during the Great Depression just like many other American families.”
That’s why the Great Hall’s cranberry-red sofa fabric had to be re-created. “It had become very light-damaged, bleached-out, worn-out.” Frey says no one is allowed to sit on the sofa.
“It’s still an artifact. The sofa itself still dates to 1915 even if the fabric itself doesn’t. So we have to preserve the structure of the sofa as well.”
Fabric restoration has been aided by digital technology matching color, pattern, and weave.
"You can actually have designs scanned by a computer off a fabric, find a linen that matches the quality of the historic linen, and then you can reprint them,” says Frey.
Callahan's of Hudson helped find a pattern that resembles the Tower Staircase and Landing’s historic
carpet. It’s ready now for “Deck the Halls” in December.
“We’re getting 35 to 40,000 visitors,” says Frey. “We needed something really sturdy.”
Next on our tour is the Breakfast Room Fountain. “This fountain has always been part of the house, says Frey. “It was put in in 1915 when the Seiberlings moved in.”
Preserving the fountain has long been problematic. In the 1940s, rough-housing by the Seiberling’s grandkids toppled it. The fountain was restored in 2002, only to fall down again.
But now the fragile spindle supporting the bowl with its bronze cherub holding a dolphin has been strengthened. “It’s reinforced with a steel rod just to provide some extra stability,” says Frey, “since it is very top heavy.”
Restoring the fountain in the mansion’s solarium required running rubber hoses through the original copper tubing.
“It’s a way that we’re not coming into contact with any of the original historic materials,” says Frey, “and it’s preventing any leaks if any of those pipes are corroded.”
Frey says the plan is to do the same with the now-silent West Porch Fountain, and to use distilled water after a thorough cleaning of the opaque stain at its base.
“That is kind of a lime scale mineral deposit staining from running Akron city water through the fountain for about 100 years or about 80 years, because the fountain was turned off in the 1990s.”
Ongoing restoration shows how warmly Akron has embraced its largest National Historic Landmark. The community’s preservation effort is in keeping with the motto the Seiberlings hung above Stan Hywet’s front door:
"Non Nobis Solum” or "Not for Us Alone.”