Midlife crisis mansion

Matt and Laura Mishler make a move to the Old West End

By Mary Helen Darah

Matt and Laura Mishler were living a quiet life in suburbia for the past 14 years. The couple, who have been married 25 years, had numerous friends and activities in their neighborhood. Over time, their friends moved away and new families with young children moved in. The couple began suffering from what they refer to as “suburban boredom.” Laura saw an article in the paper that a house in the Old West End was for sale. “I handed it to Matt and he said, ‘We are not moving,’” recalled Laura. Actually, I’m paraphrasing and can’t repeat what he really said but it was a definitive ‘no.’I told him to read the article anyway.” The next day at work Matt emailed his wife asking her to go look at the house. “That went on for two weeks,” said Laura. “He eventually sent me an email that said we had an appointment to see it.”

Owner Matt Mishler enters the home through the original glass doorway of his new home.
Owner Matt Mishler enters the
home through the original glass
doorway of his new home.
Matt Mishler has no regrets about the move to the Old West End.
Matt Mishler has no regrets about
the move to the Old West End.

Their youngest child accompanied them to look at the house. “Since she would be here the longest as a young teenager, we wanted her to be happy,” stated Laura. “She had only known one house and had never moved before. We were there 10 minutes when she looked over at me and mouthed ‘I love it’. It needed a lot of work but it was stunning.” Before making the decision to purchase, the couple spent time walking around the neighborhood. “I’m sure people thought we were stalkers,” joked Laura. “We found the neighborhood to be a lot of fun and extremely welcoming. Surprisingly, we know many people here and the house is also close to everywhere we want to be. Our girls are on crew team and what used to be a 40- minute drive for them is now a seven-minute one,” stated Matt. I went from a 21-mile work commute down to six miles.”

A stone (circa 1915) for ladies to exit carriages remains from third owner Arthur Bell who graduated from Yale University and founded A.T. Bell and Company.
A stone (circa 1915) for ladies to exit
carriages remains from third owner Arthur
Bell who graduated from Yale University and
founded A.T. Bell and Company.

Making history
Another appealing aspect of the house was its historical significance. “We find the history of it so fascinating,” said Laura. The Old West End contains one of the largest collections of Victorian and Edwardian homes in the U.S. and the “Mishler Midlife Crisis Mansion” is no exception. The construction of the home began in 1901 by Alvin B. Tillinghast who was a Toledo Museum of Art board member and founder of the Toledo Licorice Company that sold licorice flavoring to tobacco companies. Tillinghast was a wealthy guy, European traveler and a lover of the arts,” stated Matt. “A lot of his influence is infused in this house. He went bankrupt before the house was completed. It was supposed to be 30% larger. Tillinghast went backto the construction company and sold the house to John North Willys.” Reportedly, John North Willys purchased the home for 12 Toledo Pope Automobiles. Today that would be equivalent to $100,000 for each car. Willys died in the 1930s with an estate estimated to worth $10.8 million. “There was quite a fight over his estate especially with mistresses and cloak room girls,” said Mishler. “When he moved from this house, he relocated to a 1,200 acre property in what is now Ottawa Hills.” The third owner of the home was Arthur T. Bell. A graduate of Yale University, Bell founded A.T. Bell and Company. Arthur and his bride, Ruby, lived in the home until 1938. The house then passed to the Society of Oblate Fathers of St. Mary. Priests lived in the house from 1938-1978. The room on the third floor was converted to a chapel and you can still see the confessional they used in a sitting area on the first floor. A real estate agent and previous owner, Michael Murray, sold the house at auction in 1998. Since that time, it has suffered damage from neglect.

One of the original fixtures lights up the grand staircase.
One of the original fixtures lights up
the grand staircase.

A Real Fixer Upper
Laura and Matt have big plans for their new home. Initially, the couple spent money on heating and fixing water damage and on new plumbing. “We would like to build a new garage and build a pool,” stated Matt. “We would also like to redesign the yard. It’s a whole city block. A previous owner didn’t realize that he owned part of the property and neglected taking care of it. We would like it to look unified.”

OWE 008

I should have let him get a Corvette
Laura jokingly says that there are days that she thinks the purchase of a sports car would have been a better choice for dealing with a midlife crisis. “A lot of people think we are crazy, but we don’t care,” stated Matt. “Laura and I have one friend that couldn’t understand what we were thinking. She informed us that most people our age—and she is only slightly younger—would be sensibly downsizing. Who wants to downsize? We have our college-age kids and their friends, family and our friends over. There are always people here. Yes, it was a decision not totally based on logic but the house has been a great spot for entertaining and enjoying family.

Matt Mishler sits in front of a confessional used when the home was occupied by priests.
Matt Mishler sits in front of a
confessional used when the home
was occupied by priests.

The couple encourages others to make a move and not be afraid to try something new. “I don’t know why anyone working downtown wouldn’t want to live here,” said Matt. “People have the misconception that it isn’t safe,” explained Laura. “Our girls walk to the Art Museum. The neighbors look out for each other. There was a parade of people welcoming us when we moved here. We carefully considered this option and it’s a good fit for us. Our old neighborhood was getting boring. We frankly didn’t fit in there like we do here. The Mud Hens, Walleye games, the Docks, the Old West End Festival (June 4 through June 5) and tons of community events are all here.” Whether it be a “mansion” or a new vehicle, the couple highly recommends getting out of your comfort zone, letting go of what others think and finding new adventures.

Numerous architectural treasures can be found in and around every corner of the home.
Numerous architectural treasures can be found in and
around every corner of the home.

You can follow the Mishler family and their adventures on Laura’s blog, midlifecrisismansion.net. The blog is a way of showing friends and family their latest home projects and to reassure them that they haven’t completely lost their minds.