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Published: Wednesday, 1/9/2013

Auction notice says Kennedy may have slept at Saxon House, but is it fact or fiction?

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The Saxon House Apartments on South Cove Boulevard, set for auction on Jan. 16, were built by Toledo developer Harvey Jones. The Saxon House Apartments on South Cove Boulevard, set for auction on Jan. 16, were built by Toledo developer Harvey Jones.
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A financially troubled 49-year-old concrete-and-steel Toledo apartment building will be sold at auction next week, and the winning bidder may get an extra piece of Toledo history with the purchase.

The Saxon House Apartments, a 19-unit four-story building at 1647 S. Cove Blvd. just off Monroe Street, is in receivership and is to be sold at auction at noon Jan. 16.

It’s a nondescript building with no outstanding features. But it has a story attached to it — the late President John F. Kennedy is rumored to have spent the night there sometime in 1963, just months before he was assassinated.

Why the president might have been there is unknown; his only recorded public visit to Toledo was Nov. 4, 1960.

But the tale of JFK’s brief stay at the Saxon House has persisted, and is noted in an advertisement for the auction to be conducted by Wilson Auction & Realty Co., Ltd., of Bryan, Ohio.

Brent Wilson of Wilson Auction said he could not verify the account. He did say it was relayed to him by Dennis Noneman, the building’s court-appointed receiver. Mr. Noneman could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Steve Serchuk, a commercial Realtor with the Toledo office of Signature Associates Inc., said that when a real estate agent markets a building, anything that could make it stand out from other properties can be useful. “To me, I think this is just a footnote in history to give it some sex appeal. But it would obviously appeal to people of that era,” he said.

The timing of the apartments’ construction casts some doubt on whether JFK stayed there.

The Saxon House Apartments, built by famed Toledo developer Harvey Jones, who built the 149-unit Executive Towers in the Old West End and helped pioneer the golf-course-community concept concept in Florida, were completed in June, 1964, newspaper accounts indicate. That places their completion seven months after President Kennedy was assassinated in November, 1963, in Dallas.

However, Jim Zaleski and Eric Hillenbrand, who bought the building in 1993 from the former Resolution Trust Corp. and owned it through 2007, said they both heard the story about JFK’s visit to Saxon House and believe it may have a grain of truth.

“I had heard that ... and really didn’t care about it one way or another. I never researched it, but I did hear it from a broker back then [1993],” Mr. Zaleski said.

But Mr. Hillenbrand said he heard the story from some execs of The Collaborative Inc., which formerly had its headquarters in the building, and believes the overnight visit occurred.

Mr. Hillenbrand said the apartments were not finished until June, 1964, but the four-story shell was built in 1963 by Mr. Jones’ company.

“Yes, the building was not completed, but there were several model units that were finished and already furnished on the lowest floor, and they were already showing those off so prospective customers could get an idea as to what they were going to look like,” Mr. Hillenbrand said.

“My understanding is this would have been sometime in August, 1963,” he added. Additionally, Mr. Jones, who built luxury apartments that rented for more than $500 a month and homes that cost $50,000 each — a high price in the early 1960s — had envisioned Saxon House to be a nine-story apartment tower but could not get zoning approval for a building that tall, Mr. Hillenbrand said.

Saxon House “was upscale at the time and a real showpiece building for Harvey Jones,” Mr. Hillenbrand said.

The story, Mr. Hillenbrand said, is that the president slipped into Toledo quietly for unknown reasons to stay the night, and rather than stay in a hotel, used one of Mr. Jones’ model apartments.

“This ... has floated around ever since the building has been around,” Mr. Hillenbrand said.

Mr. Jones died in 1992.

However, two retired executives of The Collaborative said they had never heard that President Kennedy used their former headquarters.

Richard J. Meyers, a retired co-founder of the architectural firm, said the JFK story never crossed his path. “Unfortunately, the [executives] that were older than I am have all passed away. But I never heard that story,” he said.

“I do remember when Harvey built that building and we did a lot of work for him over the years, but I never, ever heard that rumor,” Mr. Meyers said.

Robert Fessler, who joined The Collaborative as part of Schauder & Martin Architects, one of three architectural firms that combined to form the company in 1973, worked with Mr. Jones and helped design the Saxon House, but also doesn’t remember a stopover there by the late president.

“I remember that building well,” he said. “It was originally designed for the corner of Indian Road and Central Avenue. But it was denied by the plan commission, so Harvey Jones put it [on South Cove]. He wanted to build it somewhere.”

But a visit by JFK? “It’s all news to me,” Mr. Fessler said.

Contact Jon Chavez at: chavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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