The Gunning House Removed From Most Endangered Buildings List
The Gunning House, also known as Glenbrow, can finally be removed from the list of Ohio’s Most Endangered Historic Sites, assembled by Preservation Ohio. The home has been on the list since 2009. Last week, the new owners, Dorri Steinhoff and Joe Kuspan closed on the property at a purchase price of $185,000. Less than the 2008 asking price of $275,000. Most recently, as a commercial property, the listed price was $297,500.
“It’s virtually a ruin, but it is a ruin that has beautiful characteristics,” says Steinhoff. “We saw the site and we loved the house.”
In only one week, Steinhoff and her family cleared many weeds and poison ivy out of the yard, and they have begun assessing the work needing to be done. The plan is for the home to be the personal residence of Steinhoff and Kuspan. Their two children will have rooms there as well. The goal is to move in by Summer of 2016.
It is certainly an ambitious goal and a huge undertaking, but fitting for this couple, who enjoy taking properties that have become a shadow of their former selves and restoring them to luster.
The 2,144 square-foot home had not been inhabited since 2005 -if you do not account for the turkey vultures who had taken up roost in the tower- and had languished on the market. After the death of the home’s owner in 2012, the home was taken off the market and became ensnared in estate issues. Then it was being offered as a commercial sale of the property which would most certainly mean demolition and the loss of an historic piece of architecture.
“We have been consistently advocating for the preservation of that building since 2008, and possibly earlier than that,” says Ed Lentz, Executive Director of Columbus Landmarks Foundation. “We look with favor and gratification about the purchase of the property and look forward to its rehabilitation and renovation.”
The Columbus Landmarks Foundation released its first ever list of most endangered places in May of 2014 with the intent ‘to create awareness of our city’s architectural heritage at risk of demolition, destruction or irreparable damage.’ The Gunning House was placed at No. 4 of the thirteen properties listed.
“These buildings are an important piece of our past and need to be saved,” says Lentz.
Some critiqued the property’s failure to sell due to its location on a busy section of East Broad Street (although the property is set back from the road). It’s also directly under the flight path of a busy runway for the Port Columbus International Airport. The house has also suffered interior damage, and many things such as sinks, plumbing, and electrical wiring are missing.
“I don’t think anyone was trying to be malicious,” says Steinhoff about the thefts. “They probably just felt it was destined for demolition and wanted to have a piece of history.”
The home was built in 1940 by a trio of architects, who were also friends. Tony Smith, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, led the design of the home. Theodore van Fossen, who went on to design Rush Creek Village, partnered on it. Smith and van Fossen met at the New Bauhaus School in Chicago. Laurence Cuneo, also an apprentice of Wright and interior designer, assisted. Later on, a covered walkway designed by architect Noverre Musson (who also worked for Frank Lloyd Wright) was added along the side of the home.
The Gunning House is an early example of Organic-Modernist architecture using Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian house principles. This house was Smith’s first house in the field of architecture. He later went on to be an accomplished sculptor.
“The main house had the original carport converted into living space in the early 40s and was designed by Tony Smith,” says Steinhoff. “In the 1960s, another bedroom, designed by Ted van Fossen, was added to the main house.”
Built into a ravine, the home has floor-to-ceiling windows framing the views. The balconies along the edge of the home provide places to feel one with nature and hear pleasant sounds from the bubbling creek. When approaching the property, one can really sense the life and the history this house has experienced.
On the grounds, a tennis court -now overgrown, and a pool -now filled in, once provided recreation for the Gunning family. Initial planning by Steinhoff and Kuspan do not include the restoration of either. However, a picturesque pond remains from where the pool was filled in. The pond once had a waterfall feature and the plan is to clean it up and add a fountain to help screen some of the surrounding noise. Large evergreen and deciduous trees provide shade and also screen the development surrounding the 2.4 acre site. From the front door of the home, one would barely know of the commercial activity surrounding this property.
The home is largely built of stone quarried from the property. The stone is used throughout in fireplaces, walkways, retaining walls, and more. Interior stone remains in good condition. A few of the retaining walls have suffered from the elements and will need to be rebuilt. Wooden elements of swamp cypress have remained in good condition.
Steinhoff and Kuspan are not the first to admire the home and the property.
In 2009, Dan Shellenbarger was contacted about the home going onto the market.
“Dave Vottero had asked me to take some pictures of the building in case it could not be saved,” says Shellenbarger. “I had worked with Dave when his firm, Schooley Caldwell was restoring the [Ohio] Statehouse and I was doing the documentary on that. I showed up and immediately fell in love with the space and wanted to buy it.”
Even five years ago, the home was in need of costly repairs.
“After some long talks with my wife and some napkin estimates, we figured we did not have the time nor the stamina needed for a full restoration,” he says. “So, I spent another afternoon shooting photos of the space. I told the realtor that I wanted to help market the house to architectural magazines so somebody might find out about the plight of the house and try to save it. Only Atomic Ranch expressed an interest but nothing came of it.”
Shellenberger lamented that yet another piece of important architecture in Columbus was going to have a fate identical to the Kahiki, Union Station, the Ohio Penitentiary, and others. So, imagine his excitement when he found out the house had new owners and they were planning a full restoration. And, not only that, but that he had a connection to them!
“A few weeks ago, my mom phoned me and told me that her friends had bought the house and that they found my pictures on the web,” he says. “I was so happy that the house was purchased and the plans were to restore it!”
Shellenberger and Steinhoff connected and Shellenberger has been back to the home to do more photography. He will also be working on a documentary which will hopefully air statewide on PBS in 2016.
“After walking through the house again, I felt the pull of a story, and thought this would make a wonderful documentary,” he says. “The house is an artwork. To live with -and in- an artwork would be wonderful, but to visit the artwork one is still being able to experience it.”
The first order of business for the new owners is to shore up the roof and replace it. Ceiling panels have been meticulously labeled so they can be replaced exactly. An arborist is being brought in to cut back some of the tree canopy and remove dead limbs. Vines and encroaching greenery need to be pulled away from the roof and skylights. The window frames will be kept, but the windows themselves will be replaced with Thermopane. The concrete floor will be cut out and a new hydronic heating system and plumbing will be added before the floor is repoured in the existing grid pattern.
“We have found several local tradespeople who share our enthusiasm and respect for the property to help us return this house to its former glory,” says Steinhoff. “Brian Chalfant of Benchmark Concrete will be doing the concrete work. He views concrete as art and is thrilled about being involved with this project.”
Photographs from the Gunnings showing the home from years ago are being used to assist with the restoration to the home’s original state.
“We will attempt to recreate the butcher block counters in the kitchen,” says Steinhoff.
The couple is exploring a geo-thermal solution for the heating system to replace the failed gravity heating system. They also plan to install a high efficiency soapstone wood stove from Denmark in the main bedroom for extra heat, a feature they had and loved in the Noverre Musson house.
“We’d love to make this a really green house,” says Steinhoff. “Joe would like it to have a living roof.”
If the tower proves to be in good shape, the couple would like to transform it into a Bed & Breakfast/Artist Retreat. It was built in 1964 and has suffered much more in damage than the main house. In its first life, the tower had a kiln on the first floor, an office on the second, a bedroom and bathroom on the third, and a closet with a Murphy bed on the top floor.
“Mold remediation must be completed on the tower before the structural engineer can fully assess the building,” says Steinhoff.
Steinhoff and Kuspan really happened upon this property by chance, and Steinhoff is pleased it has worked out the way it did. After selling the Noverre Musson house in Bexley, they had rented a home while they planned to build a new home and their children finished school. That house proved to be too small, so they purchased a home in South Bexley, which was also in need of renovation. They do love projects!
“While renovating our house, we were traveling up to the Lowes past the outer belt when we happened upon Gunning,” she says. “We had heard about it years ago, but never knew exactly where it was located. We drove inside hoping to find a site our daughter, Maren, could use for a photo shoot. She was taking AP Studio Art and the theme for the portfolio was “Urban Ruins”. It was love at first sight. Having sold our former house, we decided to switch gears and instead of building new, we would purchase and restore Gunning.”
“It’s such a beautiful house, and we thought, who else is going to do this; it has been on the market since 2006,” says Steinhoff. “We will love to live here.”