Nearly 100 years ago, a large group of notable homes were built in the Cleveland suburbs.
Clarence Mac, ca 1950Designed by Clarence Mack, they are noteworthy for two main reasons. With a total of 32, each of the houses still exists. This 100% survival rate is a distinction none of Mack’s contemporaries can claim.
They are excellent examples of Georgian Revival and French eclectic styles. Mack showed great dexterity in working in a sophisticated genre of architecture and design. This is a remarkable achievement, as he never had a single day of formal training as an architect.
Mack showed great agility due to his imagination and flair for design, especially as he was self-taught. By the late 1920s, his colleagues were products of formal academic training delivered through university architecture programs, often followed by extensive training in Europe. It was an extraordinary achievement for an experienced amateur to excel in the field without this background.
The distinguishing feature of Mack’s houses is their nimble execution and substantial appearance. The materials and design were of the highest possible quality, unsurpassed by a contemporary architect working in Cleveland. These houses are largely built of brick and have an impressive presence to this day. The best proof of this is their extraordinary survival rate.
Kingwood: The Residence of Charles K. King, Esq. , Mansfield, OH: Clarence Mack, architect Other architects have had the harrowing experience of seeing some of the finest works demolished as fashions changed and property values soared. The fact that all the houses in the Mack’s Cleveland area still exist after almost a century is a powerful message.
Born in April 1888, Mack grew up on Cleveland’s West Side and in Lakewood. He was descended from three generations of skilled builders. Largely self-taught, he spent a decade studying architecture on his own — both in Europe and Cleveland.
Mack was mentored by Theodor Kundtz, a highly successful Cleveland businessman who saw value in Mack’s ideas. Kundtz helped finance a development on Lake Avenue in Lakewood between 1922 and 1927, as the local real estate market was booming.
Mack came to the attention of the Van Sweringen brothers and then worked with them on a development in Shaker Heights.
Mack’s houses were designed in a refined style and he handled every important aspect of the process: he worked as a designer, contractor and interior decorator. The interiors of his houses were the subject of much attention and were known for their elegance and brilliance.
Mack is also said to have lived in each of the houses briefly before they were sold to new owners.
These large houses were not particularly risk averse and were built on speculation with Mack having little doubt about their quick sale.
Despite the passage of 10 decades and multiple taste changes, Mack’s confidence in his work was well-founded. When his homes come on the market today, they are trading prices approaching $1 million. They seem to have been valued every day of their lives, without falling into disrepair.
13825 Edgewater Drive in Lakewood, built circa 1925 and designed in the French Eclectic style for Capt. Charles Hutchinson.All this was made possible by the booming economy of the 1920s. This boom ended abruptly with the stock market crash in October 1929, and Mack found that the market for the types of homes he specialized in had evaporated practically overnight.
Undeterred, Mack spent the next five years traveling the world before settling in Palm Beach, Florida, where he continued to design and build until retiring in 1962 at the age of 74. Enjoying 20 years of retirement, he died in Palm Beach in 1982 at age 94, more than half a century after his brief Cleveland heyday.
In addition to his notable homes, Mack’s plans and drawings are preserved in the collections of the Cleveland Public Library, where they are on display today—an extraordinary architectural legacy for someone who was not officially an architect.
Author’s Note: This article is dedicated to the memory of my friend Frank Kouba, a longtime Cleveland architect who passed away this week at age 93. He was my friend for fifty years, encouraging what turned out to be a lifelong interest in architecture.