In Cleveland Heights, atop a hill at 552 Montclair Avenue, looms a lovely c. 1897 (so saith Zillow) Victorian that—for lack of a more accurate designation—weʼll provisionally call the 552 Montclair House. The family of Judge Edward C. Robinson lived there from 1897 (when the address was 252 E. Oak St.) until at least 1940. (The Robinson family is apparently still in the area; should they ever get onto Oakwiki and clarify the provenance by sharing some stories and/or maybe adding old photos . . . we can certainly rename the page!)
With its prominent round turret and gratuitous decoration, the imposing Queen Anne-style structure, especially in its conspicuous corner location surrounded by many tall old palms, presents a noticeably more ornate and dramatic appearance than surrounding homes, and certainly seems to have been designed to impress.
A brief look at its fish-scale shingles or (especially) fireplace brickwork should suffice to create appreciation for how little money must have been an object to the builder. One wonders how much the house must have cost; it might have been as much as (gulp) $10,000. (Of course, that was gold-based currency!). Further research is needed to resolve this and many other interesting questions.
In keeping with this theme of Victorian ostentation, the sidewalk out front, heading to the corner, is not “regulation” city sidewalk, but custom work, curved and tailored to the house (more elegantly finished than usual, and still holding up admirably after well over a century). An unusual sidewalk stamp near the base of the steps identifies the work as that of the L. R. Wicker concrete firm.
While the house has been continuously inhabited, maintenance on the property was deferred for many years; the house went unpainted and the grounds became extensively overgrown. All local neighborhood kids from at least the 1960s through 1990s knew of the “haunted house” on the corner. A time-honored local badge of courage and one-upsmanship for especially fearless local delinquents was to sneak into, and climb to the top of, the rickety, bat-infested tankhouse out back, where—legend has it—a stash of old “french pictures” (possibly hidden there by Bestor Robinson himself) may yet lurk.
Time and neglect have taken their toll. Some years ago the house lost its “witchʼs hat” (the pointed roof on the corner tower), and the tankhouse lost its tank. The house also appears to have had at least one addition over the years.
On the morning of Feb. 13, 2016, one of the houseʼs residents observed a crowd of 100+ people congregating just outside her window. These folks were on an Oakland Urban Paths walking tour and had gathered there to appreciate the house and its history. She very generously threw open the front door and allowed visitors a peek into the dimly-lit foyer. Some of us had waited decades for that moment, and it did not disappoint: we could only gawk in slack-jawed awe at the veritable riot of dark wood, curved walls, brass fixtures, turned balusters, and wall-to-wall, never-painted Lincrusta wainscoting, still in excellent condition, found therein.
Mappy notes and deets
Montclair Avenue was still East Oak St. on the 1911–12 Sanborn map. Oak St. doesn’t go through that block yet on the 1877 map, but it does on the 1902–03 Sanborn map. Also note that Cleveland St. was originally called Peralta Street.