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  • Writer's pictureSandvick Architects

Olney House & Gallery - The Original Cleveland Art Gallery

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

Lincoln Heights Millionaire’s Row

In the late 19th century, Tremont was known as Lincoln Heights and was home to many wealthy industrialists. Among the area’s own sort of Millionaire’s Row was the Olney residence and Olney Gallery on West 14th Street (previously Jennings Ave). These buildings were owned by Samuel Sessions and brothers Thomas and Isaac Lamson, the founders of the Lamson & Session Company.

Cleveland’s First Public Art Gallery

The Olney residence, a giant mansion built around 1870, was occupied by Charles Olney and his wife Abigail Bradley Lamson, the widow of Thomas Lamson. (Abigail had previously lived in the house with Thomas.) Then in 1892, the Olney Gallery was built for Charles Olney – an art collector – to display his various works of art. Opening in 1893 (nearly two decades prior to the Cleveland Museum of Art), this gallery became the city’s first art space accessible to the public and displayed more than 200 pieces from Olney’s private collection. Charles and Abigail died around 1903 and the gallery closed in 1907. Most of its inventory was donated to Oberlin College.

Tremont’s Changing Population

After their death, the two buildings were briefly used by the Polish National Church and was then sold to the Ukrainian National Home Company in 1920 for $45,000. At the time, Tremont was heavily populated with Ukrainians and the buildings were used as a place of worship and a meeting space for social gatherings. Although by the 1960s, many Ukrainians had moved to Parma and the Ukrainian National Home closed in 1967. Later, the two Olney buildings eventually became a Puerto Rican social hall before being purchased by the nearby Grace Hospital.

Before and After exterior of the Olney Residence restoration

Then... a Restoration Nightmare

There was significant structural and exterior renovation issues, including a monstrous skylight that had been roofed over about 20 years prior and would have been difficult to restore and maintain. The Sandvick team was able to isolate one remaining area of the crumbling ceiling and make plaster molds to recreate the significant amount of detail work that was missing. Despite the challenges, the Olney House & Gallery was able to be respectfully restored and is now once again considered an iconic gem of the Tremont area.

Now... an Award-Winning Building

Grace Hospital has owned the two buildings since 1990 and was able to fully renovate both structures thanks to a large historic preservation tax credit obtained in 2015. The former Olney residence is now home to a health and spa facility, and the former art gallery is now used for special events. In 2017, the Olney House & Gallery received the Community Impact Award from Cleveland Restoration Society/AIA Cleveland.

You can learn more about the details of the Olney House & Gallery by visiting its project page here.


The Sandvick Team

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