Exterior

photo by: Aaron Conway

Preservation Magazine, Summer 2017

It's a Full House in This Restored Beaux-Arts Mansion

Entry hall

photo by: Aaron Conway

The couple restored the original hardwood floors and wainscoting in the entry hall.

Marion Hall | Cincinnati, 1897 | Owners: Ryan Messer (interviewed) and Jimmy Musuraca-Messer

SEASONED PROS: We’ve been really active in the rebirth of Over-the-Rhine [a historic neighborhood in Cincinnati]. We were renovating homes, including our own, and buying buildings that nobody wanted and bringing them back. We were there for a long time.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Our friends invited us to their house one day. I hadn’t spent much time in their neighborhood before, and the first thing [our 9-year-old son] Anderson said was, ‘Look at these yards!’ Because we had postage stamp–size yards down in Over-the-Rhine.

Our friends said they invited us over because they had an idea for us. They told us to go down their driveway, take a left, then another left, and look up. And there was Marion Hall. It definitely was in bad shape. But all you had to do was squint and see it was a historical and architectural masterpiece. It just needed a little TLC. And we had a history of redoing buildings, so it didn’t seem like a big deal to us.

Living room

photo by: Aaron Conway

The living room.

Library

photo by: Aaron Conway

Ryan Messer in the library.

HISTORY LESSON: The house was built for Frank Enger [founder of The Enger Motor Car Company]. Then another family moved in. When the patriarch of that family died, his wife gave the house to Xavier University. It became a dorm. All things considered, the students left it in pretty good shape. Then it was returned back to a private residence.

Foyer

photo by: Aaron Conway

Jimmy Musuraca-Messer and baby Lillian in the entry hall.

TEAM WORK: After we bought the house, we got a great [restoration] team together. Some days there were 25 or 30 guys there working. Everything was carefully orchestrated. We closed in April 2016 and moved in at the end of August 2016.

ORIGINAL FEATURES: A lot of the historical elements were intact, like the staircase, fireplaces, hardwood floors, wood trim. There are 107 windows in the house, but most of the glass had to be replaced. There are also a lot of stained-glass windows. They were in horrible shape, with more pieces out of the lead frame than in. Surprisingly, the majority of the pieces were stacked on the ledges by the windows and were able to be placed back in. The missing pieces were ordered from an antique glass supplier. You can hardly tell which are not original.

ELEVATED STYLE: According to the history passed on to us, this was one of the first houses [in the area] with an elevator. We turned the elevator space on the second floor into our laundry room, and on the third floor, we made it a wet bar.

LUCKY FIND: When we got the house, the front terrace was covered with tall yews and scraggly trees and vines. You couldn’t see the first floor. We cleared it back and found the balustrade with some of the balusters missing. One of our friends, who owns an architectural salvage shop, was taking down a house that had a terrace with a balustrade just like ours. I called him immediately. We had just enough balusters for the whole terrace. It wasn’t cheap, but it was worth it to keep the architectural integrity of the home.

Entry hall

photo by: Aaron Conway

There are eight fireplaces in the house, including the one in the entry hall.

Master bedroom

photo by: Aaron Conway

The master bedroom is one of 10 bedrooms in the house.

TOP SPOT: My favorite room is the library. I’ve always envisioned having a library with that old-world feel. When we bought the house, all the woodwork was covered with a black, tar-like substance from its original finish that had aged poorly over time. After six weeks of stripping the wood, the beautiful mahogany bookcases came to life, as did the fireplace.

POINT OF PRIDE: I think my favorite thing about the house is that it truly is a restoration. We brought the house back to what it was.

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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