words by Mark Schweitzer, photos by Charlotte Gintert
Perched above Rhodes Avenue just south of Market Street, at the east end of Highland Square, the Westmont apartment building projects some much-welcome Tudor whimsy into the surrounding neighborhood. While the surrounding streets have changed over the years, this vintage apartment building still stands as an attractive and refined example of early-20th century city living.
The Westmont was designed by architect Lyman Walker, who was born in Zanesville and came to reside in Cleveland in 1921. He specialized in the design of apartment buildings and wrote a number of articles for trade journals.
The Westmont was built as a speculative investment by local Dr. Fred M. Capron. Its application to the National Register of Historic Places — the Westmont was admitted in 1984 — says it was constructed in 1930. Summit County tax records say it was 1923.
Either way, the Westmont was designed in the popular Tudor-revival style, characterized by Stan Hywet and so many other Akron-area mansions of the era. Revival styles were popular for many of the neighborhood’s better apartments, like the nearby Hispano-Moresque Alcazar and the Neo-Gothic Ambassador over on Market.
At the time the Westmont was built, Akron was a burgeoning industrial city. There was a demand for high-quality apartment buildings for successful businessmen and professionals, and the then-quiet neighborhood was in a prime spot on a main streetcar line, just minutes from downtown. As the National Register application notes:
“With their appeal of refined, elegant living, atmospheric settings placed against a background of almost suburban tranquility, these apartments afforded freedom from the cares of maintenance and security; they were considered distinguished, respected addresses by many business, professional and civic leaders who chose not to maintain private homes.”
The architectural half-timber work so common to the Tudor style can be found in the Westmont’s impressive three-story oriel window, which features finely carved panels. The window is topped by an elaborate pitched roof and completed with fancy bargeboards and a finial. The final touch is a trim made from copper, which has acquired a rich green verdigris patina over the years.
The rest of the building, which is red brick and trimmed with beige stone, is of a more formal Tudor style. In addition to featuring a large and impressive stone door surround with barley-twist columns, the north side of the façade is topped with a Tudor hood moulding on the fourth story, featuring some delicate gothic detail.
Typical of so many Tudor-style structures, the façade is asymmetrical — and to highlight this, one of the four bays has just a bit of slate pent-roofing supported by sturdy brackets, to lend a home-like air of comfort.
The interior of the building is impressive as well, though modest in scale. The apartment’s entryway is warm and inviting, with just a bit of a Moorish feel, accented by arched doors and beautiful vintage art tiling on the walls. The period style continues inside the foyer with a vaulted plaster ceiling, plaster walls incised to look like carved stone, and elaborate door surrounds that echo the Moorish feel.
Dr. Norman F. Rodenbaugh acquired the Westmont from its original builder in 1934 and retained ownership of the building for 50 years, which helped ensure that it was well-maintained and allowed it to escape any major alterations or poorly-conceived “improvements” over the years.
In 1983, local architect Harold Rasmussen Jr. purchased the Westmont and sensitively restored the apartment building in ways that preserved its historic character and style. He also completed and submitted a successful application to the National Register of Historic Places.
Thanks to the speculative ambition of Dr. Capron and the good stewardship of Dr. Rodenbaugh, Harold Rasmussen and the current owner, it’s still possible to live elegantly and historically in an urban Akron setting.
Mark Schweitzer is a lifelong Akron resident and proud of it. Speak ill of his hometown and he will fight you. Or at least sic one of his fat, lazy cats on you.