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Photo by Kimberly Potterf

Tales From The Manor

It’s becoming harder to discover unassuming, fully redeveloped houses in Columbus’ Olde Towne East, as the area’s urban redevelopment boom is in full swing. Even so, some of the most breathtaking homes are still hidden away amongst the existence of vacant properties and unkempt land—that’s the case with the Garden Manor.

Located at 108 N 20th St., the 121-year-old estate looks like your typical restored victorian home, but once inside, tales of the surrounding neighborhood begin to unfold. As you enter, the Queen Anne Victorian home’s layout simply makes your jaw drop. The mesh of French-mantled fireplaces, wood-paneled walls and freestanding early 20th century-style furnishings represent to a T how well-kept the home is in 2016.Interior designer Allen Baker, and Real Estate agent Al Waddell purchased the home in 2003, and have since worked tirelessly to restore the historic estate as close to its original form as possible.

The Garden Manor was originally built in 1895 by Dr. Lewis M. Early, who made his fortune by patenting a process allowing X-Ray images to be saved on photographic film. He later sold the patent to Eastman Kodak for between $1.6 and $2.4 million in 1909, which funded his home’s 1910 redesign. It would take assistance from an unlikely source to really recapture the feel of the early 1900s whilst Baker and Waddell were attempting the property’s restorations. Two years ago, an antique book dealer from Oregon contacted Baker and Waddell and claimed to have a book with old photos of the Manor. Intrigued, the two agreed to purchase the antique book for $1,600 and upon getting it, they discovered pictures of the Early family and the Manor from around 1910.

“If you were a wealthy person and you built a significant home, you would hire a photographer to come in and document your success,” Waddell explained while providing a personal tour of the home. “They wanted to show that off because the Astors, and the Vanderbilts, and the Rockefellers, and all the big names in New York were doing the same thing.” Interestingly, after going through their new book—the contents of which now decorate the walls of an upstairs study—Baker and Waddell discovered just how much their own, unassisted design matched the layout of the home from over 100 years ago.

“[Allen] went about setting out a design and then, when we got those photos from 1910, we realized we had been channeling Lulu Early with his design.” In 1912, Lewis Early died from radiation poisoning. At the time, the effects of radiation exposure weren’t widely known as harmful. Lulu would then sell the house in 1920 and retire to an upscale hotel—common nursing homes didn’t exist back then. Over 20 years later, under new ownership, the Garden Manor lent its uniqueness and hospitality to a different kind of people. Over 40 jazz clubs consumed the nearby historic rows of Long St. and Mt Vernon Ave. by the mid-1940s. It became such a hub that some of jazz’s biggest names would travel through and play in the area. Not accepted by the big downtown hotels because of the color of their skin, the likes of Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald were all storied guests at the Manor. “The jazz greats were coming from all over the country, and they were rich but not welcome to stay at any of the prime downtown hotels,” says Waddell.

“This was the place that was often times offered to them. Columbus Monthly [in 1978] said that this was the ‘hub of the black social elite in Columbus.’” By the early 1970s, the Garden Manor was in disrepair. Luckily, a new soul purchased the Manor and laid a lot of the groundwork for what the property’s interior skeleton looks like today.

In 1974, Marie Madry purchased the Garden Manor and turned it outward—inviting the public into her home. Madry, of African American descent, was big into music and it was one of the major ways she kept the home open to the community. Robert Parish of the Parish Musical Arts Conservatory used to reside in the home and give music lessons to kids for nearly 20 years as a way to pay his rent. It provided them both with a spiritual solace while serving their neighborhood.

“Marie had a philosophy that music was a universal language,” Waddell explained. “If people could learn to speak in that language, they would learn one of two things: how to be at peace with themselves and, once they learned how to be at peace with themselves, they could then learn how to be at peace with the world.” The Garden Manor, like other homes purchased and restored over the past 15-20 years, is an example of what Waddell describes as “urban redevelopment.” Olde Towne East has seen a lot of its homes change in condition, however a lot of the cultural fabric holding it together still remains. An appreciation for the neighborhood’s history and location is attracting younger people to the area. Baker and Waddell are not of the youtful set, but embody the proud ownership that flows between Parsons and Nelson.

The future of the area simply takes a cue from its past.

“The thing that I am most overjoyed to observe is that, in 25 years, the difference between then and now is the new residents that are coming into the community value the diversity our neighborhood has,” Waddell concludes. “We don’t want to lose our economic diversity, our racial diversity, our diversity of people of different sexual orientations. We value that, and what I’m most overjoyed at is that the people we attract value it, too.”

The Garden Manor was on the Olde Towne East Tour of Historic Homes in July and will continue to be a crowning example of historical restoration. The inspiration from Dr. Early and later, Marie Madry show the diversity the home has represented since its construction. Baker and Waddell’s interpretation of the home is nothing less than breathtaking, but its accurate interpretation of the past is pinnacle. It’s what Olde Towne East is all about.

For more information about the Garden Manor, visit gardenmanor.net.

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