Forest Hill was once the country estate of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. and his family. It is now part of the Rockefeller legacy in Cleveland. In 1870, Mr. Rockefeller founded The Standard Oil Company in Cleveland, and by 1890 controlled 90% of the oil refining industry in the United States.
In the mid-1870s Mr. Rockefeller purchased approximately 70 acres of land fronting on Euclid Avenue in what is now the city of East Cleveland. He eventually acquired over 600 acres of woodlands and farmland spanning the cities of East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights. The family divided their time between a townhouse on Cleveland’s Millionaires’ Row on Euclid Avenue and at Forest Hill until their move to New York City in the mid-1880s. By all accounts, the family cherished the time spent at Forest Hill and they returned there each year from May to October. The Rockefellers’ huge Victorian home located on the Forest Hill estate was destroyed by fire in 1917 and the barns and stables no longer exist; but the lush natural features and remnants of carriage roads, trails, and bridges remain to be enjoyed by the public in ForestHillPark.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased Forest Hill from his father in 1923. With New York architect Andrew J. Thomas, Rockefeller planned an upscale residential and commercial development for the acreage east of Lee Road “that would stand as the finest example of community planning in America.” The subdivision was designed with distinctive French Norman style architecture. All the infrastructure of winding streets, miles of drainage, underground electric and phone service were installed. Lampposts and street signs, each crowned with a cast iron dove were placed throughout the development. A club and golf course were planned. By 1930, only the Heights Rockefeller Building business block at Mayfield and Lee Road, and 81 of the planned 600 homes were built. The Depression forced Mr. Rockefeller to suspend operations.
The homes were sold completely landscaped with flowering crabapple trees, Native American rhododendrons, hemlocks, hydrangea, poplars, azaleas and lilacs. All the homes were enclosed with privet hedges. A thirty-six acre nursery was established to allow the architect “to build a charming village in its entirety…even to the placing of trees and shrubbery around each house.” Today remnants of that landscaping still exist in the Historic District.
Even though Rockefeller’s dream was not completed, in the 1940s and 1950s other were inspired to build beautiful center hall colonials, ranch style and “California Contemporary” homes on the remaining open land in the development. Design principles of the Rockefeller/Thomas plan were carried over to the new homes and today Forest Hill is a rich tapestry of people, homes and gardens; a testimony to the quality upon which Rockefeller insisted.
Over 265 acres of land that comprised the family home (between Lee, Mayfield, Superior and Terrace Roads) were not included in the subdivision. That portion of the estate became, in 1938, ForestHillPark. The parcels of land in Cleveland Heights and in East Cleveland given to the respective cities by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to serve Metropolitan Cleveland were “intended, for the future, to constitute one public park unit.”
Four parts of Forest Hill have the distinction of being listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior. In 1986, both the Heights Rockefeller Building and the 81 “Rockefeller Homes,” constituting the Forest Hill Historic District were listed. Through the efforts of the Forest Hill Historic Preservation Society, Forest Hill Park was placed on the National Register in 1998 as an historic landscape, the work of renowned Cleveland landscape architect, A.D. Taylor. Taylor’s design for Forest Hill Park is considered by many to be his most significant work. Finally, the development sales office originally located at Brewster Road and Lee Boulevard and now relocated to the corner of Lee and Monticello was listed in 2007.