When Brady Helminiak opened a couple of paper-stuffed boxes in the attic of an old home up for auction in the Eagle Point Colony, he expected tax records. Or maybe some old newspapers.
Instead, he found more than 200 sketches and blueprints of some of the most iconic buildings in the Toledo area.
“I just wanted to check to make sure that there wasn’t anything interesting,” said the apprentice auctioneer at Pamela Rose Auction Co. “We come across unique things all the time, but that was something I didn’t really expect.”
Mr. Helminiak and his colleague, Jordan Rose, discovered the collection while taking inventory at the Eagle Point home, built in 1924. On Tuesday, the sketches will go up for auction, along with the house and its contents.
The 215 sketches are the work of George B. Rheinfrank, one of Toledo’s most prolific architects during the first half of the 20th century. Dating back to as early as 1907, they feature plans for the Plaza Hotel, the Jay K. Secor House, and Swayne Field, home of the Mud Hens from 1909-1955.
Mr. Rheinfrank also designed dozens of houses and mansions in the Old West End, Eagle Point Colony, and Perrysburg, including the one where the papers were found.
The seller, Suzanne Riehl, said her family acquired the Rheinfrank collection in the 1980s when her father, Roger Riehl, learned that his co-worker, George B. Rheinfrank, Jr., was the son of the architect who designed his house in the Eagle Point Colony.
Mr. Riehl requested the blueprints. Mr. Rheinfrank handed over the entire collection.
For historians like Becky Visser, the former president of Historic Perrysburg and a Toledo History Museum board member, the sketches offer a glimpse into the lifestyles of jazz-age Toledo’s industrial tycoons.
“As a historian and a preservationist, finding records like that of homes that have been maybe destroyed or are no longer around gives me an opportunity to see what they were like,” she said. “Seeing a blueprint of how it was laid out really gives me the idea of the grandeur of some of these homes.”
Imagining what the mansions were like in their heydays, Mrs. Visser revels in the details.
“Was it a sweeping staircase? Was it a marble foyer?” she wondered. “That’s what gets me excited.”
The Rheinfrank sketches hold the answers to these questions.
Mr. Rheinfrank earned a degree in architectural engineering from the University of Pennsylvania before moving to the Midwest. In Toledo, he worked out of the Gardner building in partnership with his brother Eugene.
But it was not for his architectural eminence that Mr. Rheinfrank made headlines; it was for his involvement in a long legal battle that rose all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court.
The controversy began in March, 1937, when he rear-ended a car just outside Detroit, injuring a backseat passenger, George Goutras. Mr. Goutras sued Mr. Rheinfrank for $25,000 in damages.
Five years and several appeals later, Mr. Rheinfrank paid up after a local judge ruled that President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 executive order freezing the assets of Greek citizens did not apply to Mr. Goutras, a Greek citizen who had settled in Toledo 30 years earlier.
Mr. Rheinfrank died in 1960 from injuries he suffered as a backseat passenger in a car wreck.
Since Mr. Helminiak and Mr. Rose found the Rheinfrank sketches, fellow apprentice auctioneer Michelle Nau has been organizing, photographing, and researching them in preparation for next week’s auction.
The company plans to sell the sketches individually rather than as a collection. Ms. Nau said she expects the cheapest to go for $10 apiece, while the most valuable could sell for as much as $100.
Just two days after the auction company issued a news release about the Rheinfrank collection, a number of regular auction-goers and local history buffs had already expressed interest in purchasing sketches.
For the sake of both history and business, Mr. Helminiak said, what’s most important is that they find an owner who appreciates them.
“They looked regular to me, but then you get the right person who’s an expert in the field, they have high values, and then they spend a lot of money,” he said. “So you get somebody that’s very interested in history or very interested in old architecture, and then maybe they’ll spend a lot more money than, say, me, average Joe on the street.”
For Mrs. Visser, though, appreciation and preservation alone are not enough.
“I believe whoever buys them will preserve them,” she said. “But are they going somewhere where the public would not be able to see them? Gosh, I’d hate to see that because for people like me and other historians, it’s our documentation, and it’s our window into what those homes were like.”
Ms. Nau said she has already received comments from people suggesting that she donate the collection.
But, ultimately, the choice is up to the seller. Ms. Riehl said she wants the sketches to be appreciated but is not considering donating them for preservation.
Mrs. Visser, meanwhile, believes they belong in a museum or library, where the public can access them. She won’t be buying any sketches.
“It’s not for me to own those things,” she said. “That’s the way I feel.”
Tuesday’s auctions begin with the preview at 1 p.m. The contents auction will be at 2 p.m., and the property auction at 5 p.m. All three will be held at the house, 384 Colony Rd. in Rossford.
Contact Jacob Stern at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.
SOURCE: The Toledo Blade