The 8,300-square-foot home on Robinwood and Bancroft has been on the market for two weeks, with an asking price of $299,900.
The Tudor-style home at the corner of Robinwood and Bancroft in Toledo’s Old West End has the kind of intricate detail that can drive a man to bankruptcy.
And it did, or so the story goes.
The early history of the house, known today as the Tillinghast Willys Bell home, is as alluring as it is cloudy.
Built in 1901 for a licorice tycoon who ultimately went broke, or maybe just downsized, the house was traded for a dozen cars, or maybe just sold.
It was lived in by the great John North Willys before he bought 1,200 acres to develop Ottawa Hills. Then the mansion was sold again to an investment banker. Later an order of Catholic priests lived there.
Through it all, the home has remained remarkably intact and a prominent example of Gothic-inspired Tudor architecture.
“This is one of the keystone houses in the Old West End,” said Jon Modene, owner of Re/Max Masters in Perrysburg.
Mr. Modene is working to find the home’s next owner.
So far, so good. After about two weeks on the market, Mr. Modene said he’s had calls from several potential out-of-state buyers who were taken by the home’s character and condition.
“It’s a historical look at a bygone age that’s fascinating,” Mr. Modene said. “It’s like a time vault.”
The 8,300-square-foot home was built in a somewhat transitional period for American architecture. Over-the-top Victorian design was on its way out, while the arts-and-crafts movement was nearing its peak.
In the Tillinghast Willys Bell home, that’s represented by a Gothic-inspired Tudor design that has a number of arts-and-crafts elements, including simple leaded glass built-in cabinets, liberal use of quarter-sawn oak, and a hearth around the living room fireplace made of tile from the iconic Rookwood ceramics factory now in Cincinnati.
The home also borrows elements of the French mansard-style roof. That eclectic combination is representative of the Old West End itself.
“In this neighborhood you won’t see any pure styles of architecture,” said Geralyn Brock, a realtor with Re/Max Masters and a longtime Old West End resident.
“A lot of things are combined, and that’s very American. Take the best of everything and combine it together,” she said.
Back to that history.
The hearth surrounding the fireplace in the living room is made of tiles from Rookwood Ceramics. The house, built in 1901 for businessman Alvin B. Tillinghast, is regarded as the best home in the Old West End for its commanding presence and historical accuracy.
The home was designed for Alvin B. Tillinghast, a businessman who had apparently become quite wealthy through the success of his powdered licorice business. He made his fortune selling licorice powder to tobacco companies that used it as a flavoring.
An oft-repeated story holds that Mr. Tillinghast went broke building the home, and the property was traded to Mr. Willys for a dozen Pope-Toledo automobiles, with Mr. Tillinghast never living in the mansion that bears his name.
It appears, however, that the home remained in Mr. Tillinghast’s hands until 1909, when it was sold to Mr. Willys, who had just arrived in town as the new owner of the old Pope Motors factory.
A city directory shows members of the Tillinghast family living in the home in 1909. Additionally, the home’s application for the National Register of Historic places notes the home was sold to Mr. Willys in 1909.
Furthermore, a 1948 Toledo Times article reports that Mr. Tillinghast, a prominent arts patron, had been known to entertain touring musicians at the Robinwood home.
Mr. Willys is listed in city directories as living there starting in 1910. He appears to have sold the home in 1921 to Arthur T. Bell, and Mr. Willys built an 8,000-square-foot home in Ottawa Hills in 1925.
Mr. Bell, who was an investment banker, lived at the Robinwood mansion until 1938.
One of a kind
Today, it’s regarded by many as one of the best homes in the Old West End, both for its commanding presence and its historical accuracy.
“People have respected this house,” said Ms. Brock, of Re/Max Masters. “Sometimes you’ll see people who try to update and modernize things, and they’re really doing more damage to the house than they’re helping. And you see that a lot in the Old West End, unfortunately.”
The Tillinghast Willys Bell home still has the original bathroom fixtures, including a large pedestal sink and a marble-walled shower. And though there are a few additions and subtractions, Ms. Brock said it is probably the most intact home in the neighborhood.
“This hasn’t been changed, it hasn’t been split up into apartments. It’s been well-maintained,” she said.
Empty of furniture, the home feels enormous. And really, it is. The house has nine bedrooms, a huge formal dining room finished in chestnut, a large butler’s pantry, and a third-story ballroom. But one of the most striking features is the entryway off Bancroft Street.
The foyer has beautiful, tiger-striped quarter-sawn oak from floor to ceiling. Intricate hand-carved details top large columns and decorate the beams overhead. Light filters in through three large stained glass windows above the landing on the wide stairway.
Realtors Geralyn Brock and Jon Modene, on the entry porch of the Tillinghast Willys Bell mansion, say the home has attracted several queries from out-of-state potential buyers.
“It’s almost churchlike,” Ms. Brock said of the windows. “It’s really, really beautiful. We have a lot of stained glass in the neighborhood, but this, I think, is a prime example.”
The house has been sold three times during the last 10 years. In 2004, it sold for $315,000. Three years later, it sold for $338,000. Like everything else, the property took a hit during the recession. It last sold in 2011 for $289,777.
It’s now listed at $299,900. Real estate agents say determining the value for homes of that sort is difficult, because they are each so different from other comparable homes. Still, they say the Old West End seems to be rebounding along with the rest of Toledo after the long slump.
Inventory levels have fallen across the region, and the Old West End is no exception. Judy Stone, a real estate agent with Danberry Realtors who lives in the neighborhood, said the number of quality homes on the market is decreasing and prices are recovering.
“You see the prices inching up little by little,” she said. “The houses that are historically correct, and I’m talking about gleaming hardwood floors, natural woodwork, light fixtures that are appropriate for the house; the more the seller has abided by those rules of the house, the higher the value is.”
Another of the Old West End’s gems, the Mansion View Inn at 2035 Collingwood Blvd., is also for sale. The asking price for that home, which has been used as a bed-and-breakfast and a site for wedding receptions and other gatherings in recent years, is $284,777.
Ms. Stone agrees that the Tillinghast Willys Bell house is one of the key homes in the neighborhood, both for its size and condition and for its connection to one of Toledo’s most important industrialists.
Mr. Modene said finding a buyer for a house like the Robinwood mansion is not any different than any other home.
“I market all houses the same,” Mr. Modene said. “We’re trying to get the right buyer into the house, we’re trying to get you to fall in love with a house. We’re trying to attract as many people in the front door as possible. If I get people in this house, it’s going to tug on their heart.”
Still, there are challenges to selling in the Old West End.
“You have to find a special person. It’s always difficult to sell houses in the Old West End,” Ms. Brock admits, though she said those who come often never leave.
One of the biggest issues is the perception the area isn’t safe. Ms. Brock notes there’s private security, and said she’s never had an issue in all her years of living there. Realtors say those concerns seem to be less pronounced by buyers from outside the region, especially those from larger metropolitan areas who can’t believe the type of home they can buy in Toledo for the price.
“The bang for the buck is outrageous here,” Mr. Modene said. “Look at the square footage for the price, and the history and the quality. It’s unbeatable.”
One of the nine bedrooms in the Tillinghast Willys Bell house. The home still has the original bathroom fixtures, a butler’s pantry, a third-floor ballroom, several stained-glass windows, and a huge formal dining room finished in chestnut.
Ms. Stone also gets those safety questions. She tells concerned potential buyers to talk to the neighbors and look at crime reports. Any inner-city neighborhood is going to have some issues, but she said the Old West End is generally safe, and it helps that it’s such a tight-knit community where people look out for their neighbors.
Though Mr. Tillinghast didn’t live at the home long, he certainly made his impression on Toledo, the town he came to as an eager 19-year-old. He was one of the original trustees of the Toledo Museum of Art and the last remaining member of that group when he died in 1951 at age 98.
He was well-known and quite active right up to the end. Newspapers gleefully covered Mr. Tillinghast’s birthday tradition of four decades, playing billiards with an old friend.
Whether cars were really traded for the home more than 100 years ago seems likely lost to history.
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