La bella casa
This new construction fits into its site beautifully, bringing the neighborhood's
energy up the hill
"Little Italy is a special place," says Paul Volpe. "It
has an intimate pedestrian scale that is rare in this region where people
can live, shop and work." Volpe, the principal at City Architecture,
should know. He lives in the neighborhood, right around the corner from
one of his newest creations, Villa Carabelli.
The Villa Carabelli Townhomes are unusual in that they are a project
of neighboring Alta House, a settlement house built to serve the earlier
generations of Italian immigrants to Little Italy and named for one of John
D. Rockefeller's daughters. They were built to create an endowment for the
social services work, done on a $400,000 yearly budget by the settlement,
on land owned by it. The homes themselves are named after famous sculptor
Joseph Carabelli and the company of stonemasons responsible for much of
the masonry and sculpture seen in Lake View Cemetery across Mayfield from
"Alta House owned this two acres of land, and was an important asset,"
says Volpe. "We looked at a multitude of ways to develop it."
The criteria: the new project should be in scale with and contextually appropriate
to the neighborhood, with upscale, for-sale housing, "dense enough
to provide substance but not overcrowded, with self-sufficient parking."
High-end residents will bring new energy to the area.
Small lot, large hill
The luxury high-end townhouse project was designed to take best advantage
of its small site, a former parking lot set into a steep hillside that represents
the Portage Escarpment, reputed to be the first foothills of the Appalachian
Mountains. According to Volpe, the grade that became a retaining wall for
the old parking lot was naturally restored, with the site developed gently
and subtly, with each house stepped down from its neighbor. One house behind
Alta House had to be removed to make room for parking.
The four-story homes, with rooftop decks, each have stunning views of
the University Circle area, downtown and the lake. The amenities of Alta
House, including its bocce ball court, are only a step away"a
little community unto itself," says Jimmy Teresi, president of the
Alta House board, who has a background in construction. So are the restaurants
and galleries of Little Italy. "The people who live here don't have
to cook," says Teresi. However, a trip back up the hill after a trip
to Presti's for pastries is a lot harder than the downward walk.
The lot allowed for the construction of four separate buildings, clustered
around a central courtyard, with sufficient parking, but hidden to put the
emphasis on the people who live there and not their cars. Their classic
vertical form is unusual for Cleveland, and each floor ushers residents
onto the next, with views and open spaces. Two terraces await each visitor
on the topmost floor. For those who can bear no more climbing after walking
uphill, optional elevators are available.
Building the site
The hills and confines of the built-up Little Italy neighborhood may
offer beautiful views and a sense of community, but they did make the construction
process a challenge, say Volpe.
The site was a tight one, says Chip Marous, president of Marous Brothers,
which meant extra coordination and logistics on the part of the general
contractor. Communication with subs kept deliveries on target, and the development
was built on a rotation system, working from one side to the other.
Even harder than the smallness of the site was its pitch. Design was
not easy along the hilltop, and each of the buildings in which the residences
is located is an entity unto itself. "We created this as separate buildings,
with separate foundations," says Marous. "You couldn't pour one
big, long trench. It was more like doing 20 individual condos." And
with the hillside behind the complex butting up so closely against it, Marous
had to build a retaining wall and then build atop it.
The buildings were constructed largely over the winter, and not just
any winter but one of the hardest in recent history. "Winter construction
is costly" says Marous, what with the need for tarps, heating and added
stone to keep mud and ice at bay. Working on clay soil did not help with
the drainage, either. It was worth it, though, because the work stayed on
Another challenge, says Volpe, was doing all of that stucco work in such
miserable weather. "It is time-consuming, but the workmanship was outstanding.
We had a wonderful partnership with Marousthey did an outstanding job."
The 20 units have nine separate floor plans. "Each unit gave us
a chance to do something different, to make a change, so it was fun and
interesting," says Volpe. However, each unit has its own unique features,
be they a cornice line or window, so each comes with its own personality
and sense of identity.
The units are done in stone and stucco, in soft earth tones of salmon,
olive, limestone gray and Tuscan yellow, with special care taken to match
stucco hues to the stone beneath, so that the progression of color moves
one uphill. "Very traditional, very Mediterranean," says Volpe.
"It extends the neighborhood without overpowering it." The look
of a small Italian town is further enhanced by the small gardens surrounding
the front doors for each unit, which bring life to the street. "It's
what urban living is all abouta sense of community," says Volpe.
The classic lines, modern details and quality materials bespeak a unique
quality for each unit.
Alta House is being refaced with stucco by Marous as an in-kind service
to bring its aesthetic more in line with the Italian village look of Villa
Carabelli. A new roof was also added to the settlement, but the Wall of
Honor and familiar statue of the Virgin Mary will be kept to maintain the
sense of place that Little Italy is all about.
A goodly portion of the units are sold, says Teresi, with residents attracted
by tax abatements from Cleveland and Cleveland Hts., the two cities in which
the development is located. (One city did all of the building inspection.)
The units are fee-simple, with common ground taken care of via a homeowners
association. According to Teresi, another draw is the generous allowance
for buyers. And each unit has a two-car underground garage and extra guest
parking in a gated lot.
"This is a unique project," says Marous. "For sale living
like this is just starting to take off in the city, and this is a beautiful
way to showcase Little Italy."
Adds Volpe, "Projects like this will bring people back into the
city and reestablish the core city as a home base. It's good for the neighborhood,"
concludes this Little Italy neighbor. BXM
Developer: Alta House
Architect: City Architecture
General contractor: Marous Brothers
Cost: $7 million
Timeline: began April 2002, completed January 2004.
Scope: two acres, 20 townhomes
- Painting, Dentz Painting
- Window treatments, Designer Accents
- Electrical contractor, Doan/Pyramid
- Wood, Dougherty Lumber
- Environmental consultants, EDP Consultants
- Finishes, Flooring Specialties
- Plumbing, Northern Ohio Plumbing
- HVAC, R&D Heating & Sheet Metal
- Roofing, Warren Roofing and Insulation