Akron’s hidden gem

By Rebecca Sloan

The house is fashioned like an English castle

The mansion includes an indoor pool, bowling alley and extensive gardens.

AKRON — Mention Akron, and most people think of LeBron James or the Goodyear Blimp.

They don’t think of mansions fit for “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

But blue-collar Akron really does have a mansion swanky enough to make Robin Leach raise a glass and declare, “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams!”

It’s a place called Stan Hywet Hall, and if you’ve never been there, plan your trip today.

With 25 bathrooms, 23 fireplaces, an indoor pool and even a bowling alley in the basement, Stan Hywet’s glamour will leave your jaw agape.

Robin Leach truly would go gaga for this place.

In fact, the British celebrity would be right at home here since Stan Hywet is a Tudor-style abode designed to mimic the grandeur of an English castle.

Secret passageways, paintings inspired by “Canterbury Tales,” indoor fountains and stained-glass windows — Stan Hywet’s interior feels like the country estate of Prince Charles.

Many of the home’s magnificent medieval-style furnishings are the real thing — antiques purchased in Europe by the wealthy family who once lived here.

Other furnishings came from fashionable New York City.

By now you’re probably wondering who exactly dwelt in this decadent mansion on the outskirts of Akron.

Well, first let me clarify that it wasn’t a chap by the name of Stan.

Stan Hywet actually means “stone quarry” in Old English. It’s a name derived from a sandstone quarry once located on the property — a quarry that’s now a lagoon.

So now that you know nobody named Stan ever dwelt here, let me tell you about the home’s rightful former owners: F.A. and Gertrude Seiberling and their six children, who lived here from 1915 until 1955.

F.A. Seiberling was co-founer of Goodyear Tire and Rubber — a company that, by 1916, had become the world’s largest tire manufacturer with offices and facilities scattered around the world.

As you can probably guess, the Seiberlings had oodles of money and oodles of ideas for the kind of home they wanted.

Their goal with Stan Hywet Hall was to create a getaway for family and guests that would also be a haven from the gritty, industrial atmosphere of the city.

They also wanted something reminiscent of chivalrous knights and damsels in distress.

For inspiration, the Seiberlings traveled to merry old England and visited legendary estates, including Ockwell’s Manor in Berkshire (built in the 1500s), Compton Wynyates in Warwickshire (built in the 1400s) and Haddon Hall in Derbyshire (construction began in the 1100s).

They brought their ideas back with them to Akron, and in 1912, ground was broken for Stan Hywet Hall.

Architect Charles S. Schneider designed the 64,500-square-foot, three-story mansion and relied upon a whopping 3,000 separate blueprints and architectural drawings to complete the job.

The home was constructed of red brick, steel, sandstone, Vermont slate, copper, oak and plaster, and interior woods included oak, chestnut, black walnut, sandalwood, teak and rosewood.

A railroad spur was even built onto the property to transport the enormous amount of incoming building supplies.

The amazing craftsmanship and detail that went into Stan Hywet Hall is evident during a tour.

Intricately carved fireplace mantels, hand-painted borders and murals, colorful tile mosaics, opulent crystal chandeliers — every room is a wonder, and the rooms stretch on and on until visitors feel pleasantly disoriented by the maze of wealth and splendor.

Yes, you really could get lost in this place, but at least you’d have plenty of things to marvel at until someone pointed you in the right direction.

Wood paneling from a 17th-century English manor house graces the master bedroom, an Aeolian organ with more than 2,700 pipes adorns the music room and a fountain inspired by the British poem “Well of St. Keyne” trickles tranquilly in the mansion’s west porch.

The mansion’s great hall boasts a massive stone fireplace crowned by a stuffed elk head with antlers 6 feet wide, and the solarium has an electric card-shuffling table.

Go ahead. Let your jaw drop.

Both self-guided and guided mansion tours are available, but regardless of the type of tour you choose, staff members are always on hand to answer questions and provide information.

One twinkling-eyed gentleman told my 6-year-old daughter to watch out for the “Plunge” during her mansion tour.

The “Plunge” happens to be Stan Hywet Hall’s indoor swimming pool.

It truly is a plunge, long and deep and adorned with tiny cream- and black-colored tiles that scream 1920s Art Deco style.

A black and white movie of the Seiberling grandchildren — clad in bathing caps and old-fashioned suits — plays on a nearby television so visitors can see how the Seiberling kids took “the plunge” many years ago.

The Seiberlings believed in a physically active lifestyle and also had an indoor gymnasium (which includes the basement bowling alley mentioned earlier) as well as indoor tennis and basketball courts and gymnastic equipment.

Outdoors, there were horseback riding trails and a four-hole golf course.

Speaking of the outdoors, I haven’t mentioned yet that Stan Hywet Hall’s 70-acre estate features some of the most breathtaking gardens in Northeast Ohio.

The sprawling Great Garden, located near the mansion, boasts tulips and wildflowers during spring, as well as flowering fruit trees and shrubs.

During summer, the Great Garden brims with daylilies, roses, peonies, irises and various annuals.

Stan Hywet’s tranquil Japanese Garden, which was designed in 1916, features shady paths with ornamental plants and mossy, oriental sculptures.

It is a whispery, sacred place that begs for silence and meditation.

Nearby, the walled English Garden offers a reflecting pool and elegant statuary. The English Garden was designed by famed female landscape artist Ellen Biddle Shipman, and was Gertrude Seiberling’s favorite refuge.

The Seiberling grandchildren also had a favorite refuge (besides the Plunge). The little ones loved to play under the sheltering symmetry of Stan Hywet Hall’s impressive Grape Arbor.

This lengthy wooden arbor stretches on for what seems like a mile and is covered with shrub roses and (in season) dangling clusters of Concord, Niagara and Delaware grapes.

The Grape Arbor is situated near one of the ground’s most delightfully surprising jewels — the Corbin Conservatory.

The Corbin Conservatory is home to more than 400 free-flying exotic butterflies from Asia, Africa, Australia and South and Central America.

Built of more than 4,000 curved panes of laminated glass, the conservatory has an enchanted, Gothic appearance and looks like a glass house straight from a fairy tale.

Inside the conservatory a real fairy tale unfolds as fluttering, brilliantly-colored butterflies alight on the arms and shoulders of awed guests.

One curious butterfly even landed on my daughter’s nose!

The conservatory originally served as a greenhouse where produce was grown for the Seiberling family.

The Seiberlings also relaxed here and cultivated various houseplants.

Besides the conservatory, the grounds also include a carriage house that now serves as a museum store and cafe, a tea house and a cottage known as the Gate Lodge.

After F.A. Seiberling’s death in 1955, the Seiberling family donated Stan Hywet Hall to a nonprofit organization so the public could enjoy its splendor.

This generous move was in keeping with the Latin motto carved above the mansion’s grand front entry: “Non nobus solim” — “not for us alone.”

This sentiment also rang true back when the Seiberlings lived here.

Stan Hywet Hall was the gathering place for Akron’s community leaders as well as some of the nation’s most distinguished political, industrial and cultural figures.

Thomas Edison and presidents Taft, Coolidge and Harding all visited here, and Will Rogers and Shirley Temple once entertained in the Music Room.

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