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12407 Lake Shore Boulevard "Gwinn"

Plat No. 631-08-003
Sublots 36 and 37 in the Golbert, Coe and Shipherd Subdivision

Gwinn is listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Willam Mather wanted to live near his half-brother, Samuel Mather. During 1905 and 1906 he considered buying three separate parcels west of Doan Street. But Mather and his widely-admired landscape architect, Warren Manning, favored the Gilbert, Coe and Shipherd Subdivision subplots 36 and 37. The sites had many unique attributes. The land sat on a bluff with a shoreline forming a natural amphitheater that could be made part of asymmetrical, well-balanced house and grounds plan. An uninterrupted lake view and a dominant bluff-top house site flanked by a great group of trees gave dignity and aspect to a home that none of the other lots offered.

David and Ellen Howley sold subplot 36 to Charles and Portia Heer on May 9, 1909. Jeremiah and Mary Hogan sold subplot 37 to Charles and Portia Heer on May 9, 1909. The Heers sold both lots to William Mather on May 9, 1909. Title transfers also show Minerva Shipherd selling subplot 37 directly to William Mather. Charles Bingham sold a small tract of land between subplots 37 and 38 to William Mather on July 14, 1908.

Mr. Mather would only consider the purchase if Shipherd and Beach Avenues on either side could be abandoned. Council voted to vacate both streets on June 8, 1908, in an unusual agreement between owners of the land abutting the streets and Bratenahl Village Council. Mather began work on Gwinn in 1908 following the vacating of the streets.

In order to protect the outlook from his home, Mather acquired subplot 30 from Clarence and Julia Leavenworth on June 4, 1907, subplot 32 from Mary Wain on June 3, 1909, and subplot 28 from Cleveland Trust on November 28, 1910, all on the south side of Lake Shore Boulevard to be used for fields, gardens, and utilitarian use.

Gwinn from Lake Erie
Gwinn from Lake Erie

William Mather, a fifty-year-old bachelor, undertook the building of a lakefront estate for himself and his half-sister, Katherine. He consulted with Warren Manning as to a suitable architect. Manning suggested Charles A. Platt, a New York architect who had spent many years studying in Europe with special emphasis on the buildings and gardens of the Italian Renaissance.  He had been called the “best country-house designer of the post-1900 period.” To Manning’s surprise, Platt took the project on the condition that he would have control over landscaping the grounds, which he considered an integral part of his architecture. Mather agreed and consoled the disappointed Manning with the limited role as advisor on plantings. Mather and Platt formed a solid friendship, in which Mather proved to be as discerning as his architect in finding exquisite design solutions to architectural and landscaping issues while avoiding unnecessary extravagance.

Gwinn, named for William Mather’s mother, Elizabeth Gwinn, was a sixteen-room Italian Renaissance villa. The exterior design of the mansion was restrained. Charles Platt subscribed to the classical aesthetic concept, which he expressed in Gwinn’s north porch modeled after the White House with the most prominent architectural feature being the majestic semicircular portico facing Lake Erie, with its paired curving stairs and fountain court.

The main entrance was on the west end of the home was unusual in that the main entrance on other homes was on the south end of the home facing the street. The rooftop balustrade effectively hid the shallow roof. Ornamental detail was concentrated in a few spots such as the Tuscan doorway.

Gardens north of Lake Shore Boulevard
Gardens north of Lake Shore Boulevard

Gwinn was perhaps more significant for the planning of the five-acre site, with its lake frontage on the north and garden to the south. Much thought was given to gracious outdoor living when planning the estate. A Renaissance balcony overlooked Lake Erie and the geometric Italian gardens by the lake. Its formal gardens laid out in the west section of the property.

A rugged water’s edge was made into a formal setting by the construction of the asymmetrical concrete breakwater. A terraced series of stairs descended to the beach from the house twenty-eight feet above the level of the lake. On the terrace landing, there was a fountain with a sculpture in the Italian Mannerist style. The majesty and size of the lake façade were counterbalanced by the more human scale of the garden, although even this was formal and symmetrical.

South of the house, the formal gardens on the west were flanked on the north by a pergola, a reflecting pool and fountain in the center and on the south by a teahouse with colorful hand-painted ceilings and walls. Off the library, there was a terrace facing the wide expanse of lawn to the south. East of the lawn was a wild garden to the north and a bowling green to the south. The wild garden on the east portion of the estate was Manning’s expression of aesthetics.

A high wall enclosed the five-acre retreat. The entrance drive ran along the western edge of the property, leaving the garden frontage open to Lake Shore Boulevard. The design and layout of this house and grounds, both in ornamental detail and in the overall plan, reflected an attempt to approximate the effect of a sixteenth-century Italian palace.

Gardens south of Lake Shore Boulevard
Gardens south of Lake Shore Boulevard

The servant quarters and stables were located on additional property south of Lake Shore Boulevard, which Warren Manning was given to landscape in his naturalistic style as a setting for horseback rides and quiet contemplation.

Remarkably, each man was stimulated by the opposing views of the other to masterfully express both concepts in a combined harmony overseen by their astute client. Mather’s appreciation for natural and man-made beauty was recognizable by the world-side search for plantings, statuary and architectural inspiration.

James D. Ireland II inherited the estate on September 9, 1959, following the death of his mother, Elizabeth. It was Elizabeth’s hope that James and his family would live there. She had also contemplated the idea of using the estate as a conference center.

James and Cornelia Ireland decided to turn the property into a civic center and succeeded in accomplishing by selling the property to the Elizabeth Ring Mather and William Gwinn Mather Fund, a non-profit corporation. With the cooperation of University Circle Inc., an organization that Mrs. Mather helped to inspire, Gwinn was made available for civic groups and out of town dignitaries to use for meetings, luncheons, and dinners. The house was maintained with its original art treasures and English antique furniture.

In a separate report to the council, Carl Feiss passionately defended Gwinn’s use as a conference center. He viewed the zoning non-compliance as the only way to preserve, “one of the few great houses on the shore of Bratenahl, which has served the village as an anchor against the heavy tides of deterioration and obsolescence.”

The Cleveland Orchestra expressed an interest in Gwinn property on the south side of Lake Shore Boulevard as a possible summer home. Orchestra officials walked the site and discovered that the noise from the freeway was too much and withdrew consideration.

Terwyn Properties LLC acquired the estate on October 12, 2007.