Home to be fixed up for vets


Tribune Chronicle

WARREN – This old house on North Park Avenue will find new life as transitional housing for veterans returning from combat, just as a popular magazine has brought hundreds of calls to the Trumbull County Land Bank about the free, abandoned mansion.

Colloquially known as the Hughes Mansion, 634 North Park Ave., it appeared in this month’s edition of ”This Old House” magazine in its “Prime for Renovation” spread.

“There have been roughly 200 calls since it has been published for, like, two weeks,” Shawn Carvin, Land Bank project manager, said Tuesday.

“And we’ve had about 200 today since an online link went live,” Matt Martin, Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership executive director, said.

On Tuesday, the two men were dwarfed by the abandoned 1887 Queen Anne-style house, thick chunks of paint flaking from its dilapidated veranda. The 5,561-square-foot home contains four bedrooms, five bathrooms, a decommissioned elevator, the remnants of a built-in refrigerator, and a sweeping staircase complete with carved wooden composite columns.

Originally built by lumber merchant William Kernohan, the mansion’s best-known owner was Alfred Hughes, the owner of Warren City Tank and Boiler Company, who lived with his family there until the 1950s. After being passed around between owners, the house became vacant in 2006.

“We know it’s worth someone’s renovation money, but we didn’t know who,” Martin said.

So when the building came under the land bank’s control through a tax foreclosure at the end of last year, they began submitting it to several online websites that focus on historical preservation and abandoned buildings, including ”This Old House.”

“It was finalized in April and then put in the May edition to promote the revitalization of the house – to try to bring outside investors into Warren,” Carvin said.

In the meantime, while the article was being laid out with ”This Old House,” Anna Gasser, 39, of Youngstown, came across the mansion through a link on Facebook.

“I looked up the number for the land bank, gave Shawn a call, and it went from there” Gasser said.

She had been scoping out locations on the North Side of the Youngstown to provide boarding style transitional housing to veterans returning from overseas.

“I wanted somewhere significant to the area. It helps them feel a part of something in the community,” she said.

Gasser said she has had the idea brewing in her mind for the past four or five years. She first became involved in with veterans after writing letters to soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. From there, she saw a need for transitional housing that would provide a community feel.

“This will be five or six guys who have lived through similar experiences. It will still give some sense of ‘I’ve got your back,'” she said.

The renovation will cost about $464,000 and take between nine months to a year to complete. Gasser said she is waiting for her nonprofit status to be approved by the government, since the rehab will be privately funded. She is also processing through applications for a part time position to help run the transitional housing.

“It’s hard. I’ve got a husband, three kids and a full-time job,” she said.

Opportunely, her job is with ms consultants in Youngstown, so she has good connections for making the renovation happen. On Saturday, excavators will begin work on the property, clearing debris even while the transfer is pending.

The transfer will remain that way until Gasser has completed the renovation. The land bank requires that the property’s owner is able to provide a plan and a source of funding for the renovation.

The land bank has been responsible for boarding up the building after several break-ins and burglaries left the home stripped of anything metal – including bathtubs, radiators and wires.

The property will also have to be rezoned for multiple families to live in the location.

“We’ll need the city to remain a strong partner in helping her complete the zoning changes” Martin said.

Fixing up the mansion is part of the Warren City Council’s Resident Advisory Committee’s 10-point plan introduced in 2012. Both Martin and Gasser say they have received positive feedback on the project from the city.

So while Martin is redirecting phone calls about the mansion to other vacant buildings in the city’s historic district available through the land bank, Gasser is dreaming up how future veterans at the location will be able to attend Eastern Gateway Community College or take the bus to Youngstown to study at Youngstown State University.

“Every scenario, I’ve got worked out,” she said.