Interview with Signe Adams July 18, 2007 OH# 376

Interviewed by Emily Weaver  and Dr. Cameron McMillen

Transcribed by W. Ray


EW:    This is Emily Weaver with Dr. Cameron McMillen in the home of Signe Adams at 208 South Pearman Avenue on the 18th of July, 2007.  We are talking about the Historic Preservation Neighborhood Project.  Do you willingly participate in this oral history project?

SA:                  I do.

CM:    Can you tell us how long you have been living in this house?

SA:                  Since 1985 I believe.

CM:    It doesn’t have to be exact.

SA:                  Alright.  About twenty-two years.

CM:    About twenty-two years.  Have you lived somewhere else in Cleveland before that?

SA:                  We had.  We lived on Deering for eighteen months and before that we rented a house that the Koehler’s now live in on Bolivar.

CM:    Um hmm, I know where that is.  And then you moved into this house?

SA:                  Um hmm.

CM:    Do you know anything about the history of this house?

SA:                  I know that C.R. Smith built it, and he was one of the founders of Cleveland or one of the first prominent people in Cleveland.  The C.R. Smith Building is downtown.  And I believe, but I’m not sure, that his daughter, Mrs. Gooch, lived in it next, or at some time after he did.  And she as I understand it was the first female mayor of Cleveland.  I don’t know anything about either family.  And then at some point Corrine Cassonova, who is married to Travis Cassonova, inherited the house and lived in it for some time.  Then she sold it to Oscar and Sally Carradine.  They lived in it for a good while and did a lot of restoration.  And then after that Dr. Emily Pender and her family, I can’t remember her husband’s name, lived in it for a short time.  And then we bought the house at auction on the courthouse steps.

CM:    And why was it being auctioned?

SA:                  It had gone into foreclosure.

CM:    Were there lots of people bidding on it?

SA:                  No, there were only two, myself and another man in town who had not been in it.

CM:    But you had?

SA:                  I had been in it, yes.

CM:    And was it in pretty good shape at that time?

SA:                  It was very much like it is.  The only thing that was different other than décor was the screen porch had been glassed in and carpeted and curtained, and we objected to that and put it back to the screen porch.  That was the whole point of us wanting the house, was to have the screen porch that we knew should have been there.

CM:    Is it pretty much like it was originally, or have there been structural changes to the house?

SA:                  I don’t know.  I have often wondered if the screen porch wrapped around because there are columns and this music room off of the living room, sort of look like they could have been outside.  On the other hand, I’m not quite sure and no one has been able to answer that question for me.  We only have one picture of the house from earlier times and it only shows the front.  So we don’t know if this side room was a wrap around porch or not.

CM:    How did you obtain the one picture that you do have?

SA:                  I believe Corrinne Cassanova gave it to me.  Travis and Corrinne were very helpful when we moved in, because they had lived here and at the time had a business in town, an interior decorating business.  So they were helpful.  Travis taught me how to restring Venetian blinds which is invaluable in an old house.

CM:    Do you know anything about any of the neighbors, any of the houses in the neighborhood?

SA:                  I did at one time.  I really don’t remember.  LaValle House lived in Mimi and Bill Dossett’s house on the corner.  And when we moved in, his mother was still alive.  And she told me different things and it has just been so long that I don’t remember.  I didn’t know the people that she was talking about so it didn’t stick.

CM:    This house has a lot of property with it as I understand from the – do you have the side?

SA:                  That’s not mine.  I wish.

CM:    What about all this..

SA:                  The back is ours.  The back yard is ours, but the side over here belongs to Wally Ashley.

CM:    Was there ever a building on that side or do you know?

SA:                  I’m pretty sure that there were buildings that went along with this house and behind us, but I don’t know what they were.

CM:    Like carriage houses and (inaudible).

SA:                  There was a carriage house.  Our sidewalk goes into the middle of the yard and stops.  So I assume at some point it went somewhere.  Maybe there was a kitchen or ….

CM:    There may be some information in that book (inaudible) about that.  We can look and see.

SA:                  Alright, okay.  I’m thinking at one time this house was heated by coal.  There is a coal chute.  There’s a basement, which is unusual for Cleveland.  There are just a few basements in town.  Our house has one.  The Routman’s next door has a basement, and maybe a few more houses.  But being such a low area, it is unusual.  This is actually the higher end of Cleveland.

CM:    Do you have any problem with water in the basement?

SA:                  Only when the gutters are rotten.  And we learned that when we took some down.  We need gutters.  That was an interesting experience.

CM:    Do you see the architect’s sign on the rafters in your attic?

SA:                  Well, it’s not the rafters, it’s a medallion. And I was getting that when you came.  My son painted the upstairs room and it had these.  And he didn’t get around to painting and getting them back up.  And we discovered on the back that it has been signed.  I’ll let you look at it and I’ll get a magnifying glass.  Can you read any of that?

EW:    How neat.

CM:    His last name is King.

SA:                  It shows the date and that’s how we knew the date.  We probably could have found the date at the courthouse but I had not done that yet.  In 22 years I have not done that.

EW:    Is that Molding King?  Is that what that says?

SA:                  I don’t know.  I don’t remember.  A few years ago when he painted and we found that and I’ve hesitated to get it painted and put it back up.  And the room gets along fine without these.

EW:    February 20, 1914.  Or I guess 1914.

SA:                  That’s what – that’s the date I assumed.  It looks like it.

EW:    That is very cool.  Could we borrow it for the exhibit you think?

SA:                  I don’t see why not.

EW:    That’s great.

CM:    You want to look at it with the magnifying glass?

EW:    How many of those medallions were up there?

SA:                  We can go look.  We can tell where they were.  Probably six.  But they are in the corners.

EW:    Have you seen that movie, or that show “If Walls Could Talk?”  Have ya’ll found anything, or any other little clues as to who lived in your house?  Like the signature there?

SA:                  Not really.  There are two windows in the attic that I hope someday to put into a small house, you know a shed in the backyard, that I assume came from outbuildings.  Kitchens or carriage houses or sheds.  Otherwise we haven’t found much.  No.

EW:    But ya’ll really haven’t taken any walls down or changed anything?

SA:                  No.  Well, the only thing we have done and I’ll show you in the kitchen, someone previously had covered up the brick in the kitchen.  And I’m thinking it did not have an opening for a fireplace, or even a stove.  So I’m assuming that was where the coal was vented from the basement.  There is only one hole, where we put a clock, so it is up high.  And that had been covered up completely with plaster or whatever.  So we went back to that, and of course we put the screen porch back.  We hope someday to put the lead windows around the door and around these doors but I’ve got a long list of things to do.

EW:    Oh, absolutely.

SA:                  I can’t think of anything else.

CM:    What are the windows around there now, they’ve got…

SA:                  They are plexiglass.  And it works, most people don’t know it’s plexiglass.  But I would love to put the original look back.  And the Cassanova’s have the originals so I can copy them.

CM:    So they took them out when they moved?

SA:                  They did.  And the chandelier.  I believe that’s all.

EW:    (Inaudible).

SA:                  I don’t know if it would have been an entrance or a dining room and I don’t remember if I ever asked.  And once again, when I get to that point I might go see what they have to see what would be good to put in here.

EW:    Have you had any specific challenges with a historic home that you can (inaudible)?

SA:                  Oh yes.  Well, I’ve always lived in an older home.  So there were not surprises, but the plumbing just totally broke down.  You know a pipe burst not long after we lived here and once you repair one, it’s a domino effect.  The next breaks, the next one breaks, the next one.  So, with an older home you do a lot of repairing before you get to do anything decorative.  So that’s frustrating.  The roof needs major work and it’s needed it for twenty years.  Number one it is very costly, and number two, no one is willing to do it.  Unless you go miles away, a hundred miles away to get someone, which makes it even harder.

EW:    Is it the type of roof?

SA:                  It’s tall and all it needs, which is major, it needs to all come up and new felt be put down, and then tile put back down, and it’s another fifty to a hundred years, but…

EW:    Major investment.

SA:                  It’s a major investment.  We did the – just the wraparound part on the first floor but we haven’t gotten the top roof.

EW:    Yeah, that is quite a task.

SA:                  It does fine you know.  It’s going to make it a number of years.

EW:    No worries yet.

SA:                  Not yet.

EW:    Have ya’ll held lots of events in the home?

SA:                  Not a lot, no.  We’ve been busy raising four children and working.  We had the Crosstie Patrons Party here the Spring of 2006, so I was excited to do that.  Of course it poured down rain.

EW:    Well your floors look great for that much traffic.

CM:    Have you had to refinish the floors?

SA:                  We have and it’s time to do it again.

CM:    Chores never end.

SA:                  They don’t.  They don’t.  You know I’ve wondered about next time trying to do the wax route rather than the polyurethane.  But I don’t know if I’m up to that or not.

EW:    Would you have ever, you know having been here in this home for twenty years, looking back on it, would you have rather have had a brand new from the ground up, you designed it, home, or are you happy with the decision to be in it?

SA:                  Since I’ve never lived in a new house, I don’t think I would want to.  So I’ve just always lived in an old house, and liked it.  I like the personality of an older house.

CM:    Talking about personality, did you like the personality of the historic district or what will be called the Historic District?

SA:                  Oh absolutely.  We love our neighborhood.

CM:    Can you tell us a little bit about what’s special about the neighborhood?  What makes it special?

SA:                  Well, this street and the street behind us I would call our immediate neighborhood, is just such an eclectic mix of professions and personalities and characters.

CM:    What changes have you seen in the twenty years that you’ve been here?

SA:                  Across the street the Hubbell’s built a new home and then the new condo’s and to me, in character with the neighborhood.  I think there is a style here, but it is older, but for years that was an empty lot and an older smallish house, not necessarily run-down but in need of tender loving care I should say.  So it’s – that’s an improvement and then people have moved and then come back.

CM:    Do you think the man who owns the lot has any plans to do anything different with that lot?

SA:                  Ten or fifteen years ago, I really can’t remember, he had plans for building condominiums and had the plans for view publicly.  So we thought he was going to and he didn’t.  So I don’t know.  I have not talked with him about that.  We love having an empty lot next door.  But I would love the condo’s too because they looked like they would be nice.  So I don’t know; haven’t asked him lately what his plans are.  The neighborhood children play baseball.  We used to play volleyball.  Speaking of the functions, we used to have volleyball games a lot with tons of people on a Sunday afternoon.  And Wally was gracious enough to let us use his lot.

CM:    That was nice.

SA:                  It was.

CM:    I think we have gotten too old for volleyball.

EW:    Well you have a very interesting fence of sorts on the front of your property.

SA:                  We have to do something before it is sinks this winter.

EW:    So you do have a mind when you replace or repair things that they are very historically accurate and period to the house?

SA:                  Yes.

EW:    Do you do specific research on homes of this style or anything when you get ready to do any changes or any renovations?  Or do you just kind of go with your feelings?

SA:                  Not really.  I grew up in a house that was built in 1921 and this is a few years before that, so I think I’ve always had a sense of the history of this age house. It is not ancient so it’s you know, late Victorian, so no, I haven’t done too much research.

EW:    You’ve got a natural feel for it.

SA:                  Well, once again, we haven’t done too much to the house because we were busy with those four children.  You know, I knew that there should be a screen porch, but otherwise, we haven’t done anything major.  We changed – when we did paint the outside which we are about to do again, we’ve been waiting for months for the contractors, we did try to put it back to the way it’s been.  There’s an ornate piece over the front and then at each of the northeast, south and west – it’s a triangle with some scroll work, and that one picture we had, the background is painted the color of the brick.  And when we moved in it was just all whitewashed, so we came in and made it show up a little bit.

CM:    To go back a little bit, how did you find out that this house was going to be auctioned?

SA:                  We had been looking at this house for several years and wanted to buy it before the last people bought it and so we were just aware – we were aware when it came up for sale again and then we heard it was coming up.

CM:    So when you are at the courthouse bidding against this guy, were you all openly bidding or did you put in a silent bid?

SA:                  Oh no, it was open.  I took my brother in law with me because my husband wouldn’t go and I told him – you know – we talked about it before we went my limit that I would pay for it and I opened the bid with that, or close to it, and maybe he went to my limit.  I asked for a recess.  I don’t remember who the auctioneer was but he said, “You can’t have a recess at an auction.”  (inaudible)

EW:    Just a moment to let me think.

SA:                  So I talked to Bill and we ended up going up $2,500 and got it.

EW:    Wow.  Great.

CM:    It is a much more interesting story that you just hadn’t bought the house.

EW:    Yeah.


EW:    How do you fill a house like this with furniture?  Were these things already here?

SA:                  No.  I just gradually – my mother calls my furniture “early attic.”  And a lot of it is just hand-me-downs.  We had nothing in the dining room for years and then we had our very large pool table that Santa Claus had bought the boys.  And we had a drop cord light over it, just a single light bulb that my husband, to be funny had wired with one of those old-timey green cords.  You know that used to be on the toasters, do you remember when it was green cords?

EW:    Um hmm.

SA:                  So it hung down over the pool table.  So we had that for years which was fine.  If we entertained we put up a table and cloth in the foyer and had dinner there or outside on the picnic table or whatever.  Then there is the breakfast room for us.  And then we sold the pool table so we could go to the James Beard dinner a few years ago.  A number of years ago.

EW:    It was a good dinner.

SA:                  Yes it was.  Then I ended up buying the dining room table and chairs at an estate sale, so we are slowly getting there.  Very slowly.

EW:    It’s fun when everything in your house has a history.

SA:                  Right.  Right.

EW:    You’ll remember it all instead of just going to the Beard’s.

SA:                  Exactly.  Exactly.

EW:    Well great, do you know of any stories that involved this house or any of the families that lived here?

SA:                  No, except for what I told you. I wish I did.

EW:    That’s okay.  Cam, were there other things that come to mind?

CM:    I don’t think so but maybe if she’d show us around we’ll think of some questions to ask.

EW:    Would that be alright?

SA:                  That’s great.

EW:    Okay good.

Tape cuts off.