The cost of saving, restoring and maintaining a historic landmark


Submitted photo.

Rabab Al-Sharif

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Sparing an old building from a wrecking ball is equivalent to putting it on life support, but it’s only the first part of historic preservation. Just saving it is not enough, said Sandy Halem, president of the Kent Historical Society board of directors since 1975.

“What quality of life is that house going to have?” she said.

There are many buildings in Kent that are both old and significant, Halem said, but it takes more than that to make a building worthy of preservation. To make preservation worthwhile, the building in danger has to have a purpose.

“That purpose is both its use within the community and a financial support system for its future,” she said.

The community’s memory can be a problem for preservationists, Halem said.

“People remember the site as it was in their lifetime, they don’t remember it as it was a generation or two before,” she said. “They have an emotional attachment to a building based on their memories, not necessarily its historic importance.”

In Kent, she said, every building was once something else. When she looks at a photo of Kent from 1850, she sees that a lot of what’s around now is new and has gone through at least two lives.

“There isn’t a corner lot that wasn’t a lovely space with an old house,” she said.

With buildings like the Robin Hood, members of the community were upset that there was little to no warning or discussion about the demolition of an iconic place in the community, but the reality is there doesn’t have to be. It is completely in the owners’ hands, Halem said.

The town is now waking up and realizing that an owner has definitive power over the demolition of their building, she said. Whether it’s for fast food, housing or a new shop, the community is always changing she said.

“The history of a community is not in concrete,” Halem said. “It’s like a river, it flows.”

The most recent building to fall into danger was the Wells-Sherman house, which stands in the way of the university’s Esplanade expansion.

A group has gotten together to save and relocate the house, and Halem said these are some of the same people who wanted to save the Robin Hood eight months earlier and will likely be fighting to save another building in eight more months.

The Historical Society is very supportive of those who want to save a building, Halem said, but they’re not a preservation ATM machine. It’s their role as a historical society to be a resource and give people guidelines on what it takes to save, restore and preserve a building, she said.

“We really can’t become very involved in all of these because quite frankly, there is always going to be something to save,” she said.

She said she’s just glad the City of Kent still some has buildings left that are worth saving.

The Kent Historical Society has spent upward of $1 million on the Erie Depot and Clapp Woodward house, two buildings it has personally taken responsibility for preserving, just in the past four years.

In an effort to capture some of the lost history of Kent, the Kent Historical Society is working on an ongoing exhibit called “Lost Kent.”

The exhibit will focus on photographs, stories and artifacts from places that no longer exist, but were once important to the community.

“We want to become a museum where the stories about Kent and Kent places can be preserved,” said Tom Hatch, historical society director.

View Historic areas in Kent in a larger map

KentWired Video

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Video by Rabab Al-Sharif and Meghan Bogardus.

To find out more about these and other historical sites in Kent visit the Kent GeoHistorian YouTube channel or visit the sites and scan a QR code with your smartphone to instantly see an informational video created by a Kent school student.

Franklin Hotel — SAVED

The old, dilapidated hotel on the corner of Main and Depeyster Streets, which has lain vacant for decades, was once one of the most popular hotels in the county.

When it was officially dedicated in 1920, it had two fine restaurants, a stage for performances and a grand Wright Italian staircase. It was a place for famous faces visiting the area to stay, including Glenn Miller, Harry James and Guy Lombardo.

Only four years after its opening, the hotel was marked by tragedy when an elevator cable snapped, sending the car plummeting and killing its owner C.P. Patchin.

Throughout its time, the hotel has been called the Kent Hotel, the Hotel Kent-Ellis, the Franklin Hotel and the Townhouse. In the 1970s the building housed a smoky bar and student housing before the top floors were condemned.

Erie Depot — SAVED

In 1874 when the Kent community asked the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad to build a new station or depot in their city, the railroad said the citizens would have to foot $4,000 of the $10,000 it would cost.

For many years the depot bustled until highway systems were built, and the use of railroads declined. While railroads were going bankrupt, the depot was abandoned in 1970, and fell into danger of being demolished.

Instead the Kent Historical Society purchased it and took on the responsibility of rebuilding and preserving the depot. After seven years’ worth of ideas and searching for the right tenant, The Pufferbelly Restaurant moved into the building in 1981.

Jerry’s Diner — LOST

Jerry’s Diner served everyone from blue-collar workers to poets in the city of Kent for decades. The small diner in a railroad cart was badly damaged in a fire in the mid ‘90s and sat vacant for about ten years until the city auctioned it off for $50 in hopes its new owner could restore it.

Clapp Woodward House — SAVED

This house on Main Street was built for a member of the Kent family, Marvin Kent’s nephew, Charles Kent-Clapp who worked for his uncle Marvin at Kent National Bank.

It was later sold to the Woodward family, John and Jeanette Woodward and their daughter Josephine. Josephine was a part of the early modern dance movement and danced with the renowned Russian dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky.

She returned to Kent to care for her ailing parents and met her husband, with whom she opened a jewelry store. She was the first to specialize and sell jewelry to fraternities and sororities.

Woodward lived on the property for nearly 100 years before her death in 2007. The Kent Historical Society bought the house in 2010 and has turned it into a museum.

Robin Hood — LOST

When the Robin Hood was built in 1936, it was a fine dining restaurant. It was, for many people, the restaurant to go to for any special occasion. People got dressed up in their best to sit down at a table covered in linen and enjoy a gourmet meal.

It wasn’t until the early ‘70s that it transformed into the nightclub/bar that most people remember it as today.

Marvin Kent Home — SAVED

Marvin Kent built his mansion in 1880. The home, which sits on more than 1.5 acres, took about four years to complete and has 20 rooms including an elaborate ballroom. The architecture rivals Stan Hywet Hall, said Dan Smith, economic development director.

Many people stayed in the home’s guest room including four U.S. presidents; McKinley, Harding, Harrison and Taft.

Tragedy struck the home in 1886 when Kittie M. North, the first wife of William Kent, died of injuries sustained when her dress caught fire from an explosion in a stove she was lighting in the ballroom.

After this tragedy, the ballroom was only used for storage and William moved into a house with his father.

In 1923, the house was given to Masons who still use the building as the Kent Masonic temple and offer tours of the historic location.

Wells Sherman House — DANGER

The deed to the Wells Sherman house is signed by Zenas Kent making it one of five homes tied to the city’s namesake family.

For many years the house was occupied by Dr. A. M. Sherman, an important doctor and figure in the community. Sherman was said to have been a Civil War surgeon and may have been involved in founding of Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent.

Contact Rabab Al-Sharif at [email protected].