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Foreclosed Mansion has Deep Kent Roots

Estate in Sugar Bush Knolls going to sheriff's sale has ties to Kent State

The former lakeside home of a predominant Kent family is going up for auction on the foreclosure block.

This month the Portage County Sheriff's Office will auction off the 13-acre Porthouse estate in Sugar Bush Knolls just north of Kent.

Cyril and Roberta Porthouse, both deceased, lived in the house throughout the latter half of the last century and most notably helped in 1971 to establish the Porthouse Theatre, a performing arts venue at Blossom Music Center where students at Kent State University hone their skills to this day.

The mansion has been appraised at $425,000 for auction, where the minimum bid will be $283,334. The Porthouses sold the house for $1.2 million in 1995.

Dream house

Robin Porthouse remembers her parents' dream house as one filled with lots of laughter.

"It was a very happy house," she said. "We had a lot of good times there."

The 69-year-old South Carolina resident was a college student when her parents broke ground on the stately 5,000-square-foot brick house in 1960.

Her father, an engineer, and her grandfather, a brick contractor, teamed up to design and build a house filled with amenities that, for its time, were cutting edge.

When the house opened in 1961 it featured multiple wet bars, pocket doors, wall-hung bathroom fixtures, an indoor barbecue grill, an in-ground pool and a commercial boiler system that even heated the front stoop to ward off winter ice.

"What’s not to like," Robin said. "You could swim. We could play shuffle board. My parents were really generous people and very generous to our friends. And they were very good about having people over and didn’t mind at all. As a college student it was great."

The Porthouses were both approaching 50 when they finished their dream house, but they intended to get plenty of use out of it.

Robin said her parents, by all accounts some of the wealthiest industrialists and socialites at the time in Portage County, had a strong group of friends who enjoyed spending time together.

"They had a lot of friends, some of whom were life-long friends," she said. “And they loved to party. Oh my god did that group like to party."

Portage industrialists

Robin's brother, Dave Porthouse, also was in college at Ohio State University when his parents finished the house and moved from a much smaller home in Kent's University Heights neighborhood out to Sugar Bush Knolls.

Dave said the house cost $300,000 to build at the time.

"Not including the property, which was significant property," he said.

Cyril Porthouse had earned prominence and wealth in Portage County as owner of Pyramid Rubber Company, a successful Ravenna firm he had bought in the 1940s with some substantial investment help from his wife.

Roberta Porthouse hadn't just married a successful businessman. She was the daughter of one.

Born in Lakewood, OH, Roberta Porthouse's father became the owner of the Portage Tire Company in Kent and moved his family to the tree city in the 1920s. She would later graduate from Roosevelt High School (now Davey Elementary School) and from Ohio State University with a degree in fine arts.

Roberta Porthouse's friendship with Evangeline Davey, whose father Martin L. Davey had served as governor of Ohio and whose family founded The Davey Tree Expert Co., is how the Porthouses eventually sited their dream home.

Robin said her parents bought the acreage in Sugar Bush Knolls from the Daveys, who had been using the land as a tree farm for Davey Tree.

Dave recalls that his parents loved the fact the property had shoreline on both Lake Martin and Lake Roger, and they were looking forward to retiring in the house.

"That was their terminal residence, that’s for sure," he said. "There were many aspects to enjoy. It was a finely engineered house, built to commercial standards. Part of the problem now in the marketing of it is the heating and electrical systems were so complex, because of the commercial standards, there aren’t many people that can work on them."

Porthouse Theatre

The Porthouses had strong ties in Kent and also to Kent State University.

In the late 1960s administrators at Kent State approached the family and pitched to them a proposal to build a theater on the grounds of the Blossom Music Center that would serve as a performance space for students and the greater Northeast Ohio community.

Cyril and Roberta Porthouse gave a $60,000 challenge grant to the university that helped open the Porthouse Theatre in 1971. The donation allowed Kent State to buy the large tract of land next to Blossom where the theater was built, according to William Hildebrand's book A Most Noble Enterprise, the Story of Kent State University 1910-2010.

In the early 1990s Roberta Porthouse also became the first president's club donor with a $25,000 gift to the Robinson Memorial Foundation. She also helped found the Women's Association at the hospital.

Fine arts degree in hand, she became a dedicated supporter and volunteer at the Kent State Museum.

Cyril Porthouse had also served as a member of the Kent State Board of Trustees and was on the presidential search committee that brought Glenn Olds to the university presidency in 1971, according to A Most Noble Enterprise.

But it was the Porthouse Theatre the couple was most proud of, and Roberta Porthouse made regular trips from her home in St. Louis, where she moved in 1995 to be closer to her children, to Cuyahoga Falls for the annual spring opening of the theater. Her last trip was in 1999, just before her death in 2000.

Robin said her parents never missed a performance.

"They were extremely proud of it," she said. "I think they were very proud of what it became."

Today, the venue hosts multiple shows throughout the summer months.

Financial undoing

Three years ago I had the good fortune of strolling through the former Porthouse grounds thanks to owner Daryl Yane, who was in the midst of a campaign to sell the house.

Yane had created a website dedicated solely to selling the house and was advertising it to drivers heading into Kent via roadside billboards.

He told me then that he loved the design of the house and its history, but it was just too much house for one person.

He bought the property for $1.2 million in 1995 from Roberta Porthouse. In 2010 he had hoped to get the asking price of $1.3 million for the 13-acre complex.

Yane could not be reached for comment for this story. No one answered the door at the house on Monday.

Aside from grounds and building maintenance the property mandates a hefty financial obligation.

Annual property taxes on the house and grounds are more than $8,700, according to the Portage County Auditor's Office.

Robin said the family feared they would have to donate the house and grounds to Kent State if they couldn't find a buyer when they moved her mother out 18 years ago.

"We were astounded to find a buyer," she said. "We felt fortunate actually to find anybody who could afford it."

Portage County court records show Yane obtained an adjustable rate mortgage on a $450,000 loan for the property with PNC Bank, then National City Bank, in 1998. The adjustable rate had a ceiling of 13.12 percent and an initial monthly payment of $3,000, according to court records.

PNC Bank filed foreclosure proceedings in August 2012. A judge declared the property in foreclosure in January.

The house will be sold at sheriff's auction on March 18.

Dave said his family sold the house in 1995 for much the same reason Yane put it on the market in 2010.

"It was more house than anybody in our family needed," he said. "Nobody in our family lived in Northeastern Ohio. We knew a diminishing number of people around Sugar Bush at that time."

Robin is hopeful that another family will buy the house and enjoy the sort of experiences her family found within its walls.

"My parents just dreamed of having a big home out there where they could relax and entertain," she said. "And they loved being out there.

"I miss it when I think about all the wonderful times I had there and all the entertaining we did," Robin said. "It was just a marvelous house to live in."

Janet McSherry Morton March 17, 2013 at 12:40 AM
My family was very close to the Porthouses, and we spent lots of time at that wonderful home with the loving family. Daughter Jeani was in my class at KSUHS, and a good friend. Robin was a great influence on us! I hope all the best for that house! Janet McSherry Morton
Chris (Kit) Myers March 19, 2013 at 10:05 AM
It's a beautiful serene setting and I think it would make a wonderful shelter for youthful drug abusers to stay for rehabilitation.
Anna Onomatopoiea March 21, 2013 at 07:19 PM
Sold at auction for $310,100. Bank owns it now. Not sure if all the adjacent lots (including lot with driveway) is included??
Matt Fredmonsky March 21, 2013 at 08:31 PM
Thanks for the update. I'm not sure either. The 13 acres should include the majority of it, such as the driveway.
Anna Onomatopoiea March 21, 2013 at 08:46 PM
The Portage County Sherriff's Sale site has updated info with what looks to be parcel numbers?

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