March 1, 2012

Pulitzer Prize

A letter from a stranger prompted philanthropist Emily Rauh Pulitzer to bring her childhood home back to life

  • By: Gwendolyn Purdom

With its striking cinderblock profile and second-story terrace, the Rauh House was a familiar sight for Gina Anaple. The Cincinnati resident passed the dilapidated building on her daily commute.

"I would drive by every day and just think, ‘That’s so sad, there’s no reason for that,’ " Anaple says.

As she began trying to learn about the property, she grew more distressed. Not only had the Cincinnati Preservation Association appealed for help saving the building using the National Trust’s Preservation 911 web tool, in 2006—without result—the 1938 International Style house was also slated for demolition. The owner planned to tear it down and divide the lot for new construction.

Anaple and her husband, Gary, decided to act: They sneaked in and photographed the house’s mold-infested interior, reached out to the Cincinnati Preservation Association for guidance, and learned all they could about Rauh family history.

Gina Anaple discovered that one of Cincinnati’s pioneering Modernist architects,

John Becker (husband of Joy of Cooking editor Marion Rombauer Becker), had built the residence for the prominent insurance agent Frederick Rauh and his family. One of his children, the Anaples learned, was Emily Rauh Pulitzer, widow of former St. Louis Post-Dispatcheditor Joseph Pulitzer Jr., and the cofounder of the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts. In January 2010, the Anaples mailed her photographs of the house and a description of its condition. Pulitzer responded with a phone call a few days later. “You could hear the emotion in her voice because she had believed that the house her parents had built was gone,” Gina Anaple says. “We didn’t necessarily expect anybody to take [us] seriously, but she definitely did.”

Working with the Anaples and real estate attorney Charles Schroer (coincidentally the president of the Cincinnati Preservation Association), Pulitzer bought the house and all 8.9 acres of the property where she had lived from 1938 to 1964. Then she paid to stabilize the historic structure before donating the house and property to the Cincinnati Preservation Association, along with the necessary funds to complete a thorough restoration.

Pulitzer says it wasn’t just nostalgia that drove her efforts; she wanted to preserve the building’s unique architecture. “It wasn’t like any of the houses we knew,” says Pulitzer, now 78, of the building’s flat roof and long, low-lying frame. When she was a child, she recalls, “a woman came through and said to my mother, ‘Why, it doesn’t look the least bit like a gasoline station!’ which was clearly the word going around.”

Restoration, which is slated for completion in October, will include ridding the building of mold and asbestos, replacing wood windows with historically-accurate steel frames, reinstalling original light fixtures, re-creating the elaborate landscaping by landscape architect A. D. Taylor, and removing an exterior insulation system applied by a later owner.

“We all have concepts of Modern houses and International Style in our minds from popular culture, from seeing them, from art history,” says the Cincinnati Preservation Association’s executive director, Paul Muller. “But at that time there were no points of reference for that type of building.”

Once rehabilitation is completed, the Cincinnati Preservation Association plans to host tours and architecture conferences at the house before selling it to a preservation-minded buyer. Covenants recorded by Pulitzer protect the exterior and interior and stipulate that the residence occasionally be opened to the public.

Two years after contacting Pulitzer, Gina Anaple now counts the philanthropist as a friend. And Gary, a television editor and producer, is documenting the restoration on video every step of the way.

“As a preservationist, you do not win every battle,” says Charles Schroer. “So it was one of my happiest days to have this phoenix rising from the ashes—to see this house turned around and put on the proper course.”

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