ABOVE: The Arms Family Museum of Local History in Youngstown
During a recent meeting of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, board members learned how two Youngstown sisters – Laurabelle Arms Robinson and Olive Arms – each built distinctive houses that would become important landmarks in their respective communities – and beyond.
The story begins at the turn of the century when Robinson and Arms built high-style arts and crafts homes in Pasadena and Youngstown, respectively. After relocating to California, Laurabelle and her husband, Henry, commissioned the renowned architectural firm of Greene & Greene to design their 1905 home, overlooking the magnificent Arroyo Seco.
In the book “Greene & Greene Masterworks,” authors Bruce Smith and Alexander Vertikoff noted that the Robinson commission resulted from earlier renovation work on the house of Tod Ford, onetime president of the Youngstown Steel Co. and another former Youngstowner who had settled in Pasadena.
According to historians, the house was an important commission for brothers Henry and Charles Greene, allowing them to fully express the style they had carefully developed. The Robinson house also led them to more commissions from other Pasadena millionaires. Arguably, the most important – both artistically and historically – was the Gamble House, built for Ohioans David and Mary Gamble of Cincinnati’s Procter & Gamble.
Olive Arms, meanwhile, remained in Youngstown. And although her home, too, became a landmark, Olive, unlike her sister, was key to its actual design. In fact, many of the distinctive elements of “Grey-stone,” the building she bequeathed to the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, had originated from her ideas and sketches.
Over time, the Robinson house rose in prominence, earning recognition as one of the creative pinnacles of Greene & Greene. The Arms home – although appreciated locally – has only recently begun to attract national attention for its architecture and collections.
According to MVHS directors, a recent restoration project, which restored the library room of Greystone, has helped to increase national awareness of this important Youngstown home. MVHS credits much of this increased notoriety to Sara Chase, the Boston-based preservation consultant who traveled to Youngstown to research the library room’s paint history.
According to MVHS, Chase has been instrumental in increasing awareness of the Arms home.
MVHS representatives said Chase was captivated by the quality of the design and craftsmanship of Greystone’s fireplaces, particularly the one in the reception room. As a result of this fascination, she delivered a lecture on that fireplace, among others, at the National Arts and Crafts Conference at Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C. From there, she was invited to make an address in a lecture series at the Gamble House of the University of Southern California in Pasadena, one of the great national centers for the study of the arts and crafts movement. On Feb. 8, she delivered a slide lecture titled, “A Greene and Greene Ohio Connection: Greystone, the Arms Mansion in Youngstown, Ohio.”
H. William Lawson, MVHS director, and Joan Reedy, assistant director, attended Chase’s presentation. Both said members of the audience were clearly impressed with Greystone and its collections, collectively gasping several times at images on the screen.
Reedy and Lawson added that the Youngstown-Pasadena connection opens up exciting avenues for research and understanding. As the Arms Family Museum of Local History reaches further into the national arena of the arts and crafts, it benefits from increased exposure and enthusiasm, they concluded.
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