The Clintonville Mystery House: New Life for the Curious Dwelling at Indianola and Tibet
After decades of renovation and recent code compliance woes, the “strange, mystical” home in this Columbus neighborhood finally has a brighter future.
Maybe it’s the turrets on the upper floors, or the raised walkway to the garage, or the seemingly constant state of construction, but Bob Erickson’s house has always inspired wonder. Hence, the feeling of melancholy when Columbus Monthly last talked with him in early 2018 and discovered his quirky curiosity in Clintonville had been declared a public nuisance by the city of Columbus. Its future seemed uncertain at best.
For nearly a year, he had struggled to make repairs so he could move back into the family home he’d been redesigning, adding to and renovating for almost 50 years. Erickson had been ousted from the house at the southwest corner of Indianola Avenue and Tibet Road in 2017 after failing to renew a building permit, triggering a visit from code inspectors. Among their complaints: exposed wiring, unsafe railings, a cupola accessible only by a ladder and a solarium that was under construction and wasn’t up to code.
After the story in the March 2018 issue of Columbus Monthly detailed how the home’s whimsical design had provided space for dozens of foster children, Clintonville residents offered to pitch in—but city rules prohibited them from entering the house to help. So Erickson, a retired lobbyist for the Hunger Network in Ohio, slogged on. Month after month, he thought he was close to completion. But each repair seemed to beget another.
“I felt like the old lady who swallowed the fly,” he jokes, referring to the nursery rhyme about a woman who swallows increasingly large animals to catch a fly she ingested.
To satisfy the inspectors, Erickson hired a structural engineer, who helped keep him on task as he expanded and finished the solarium, added a spiral staircase to the cupola and completed other necessary repairs. Finally, he brought the house into compliance last summer and moved back in.
“It was such a relief,” says Erickson, 79. “It took a big bite out of my life, but I’m glad about the finished product.”
Three years ago, he feared he might have to sell his home to survive on his retirement income. But his relatives—who include his own children, the kids he and his ex-wife, Dot, fostered over the years and 12 grandchildren—are pitching in to keep the unusual house in the family. Six months after Erickson moved back in, two of his college-age grandchildren and their friend joined him until they returned to school.
Grandson Meshach Malley, 20, wants to live in the house full time once he graduates from Denison University in 2022. “My goal these past couple of months has been to breathe some life back into the space,” Malley says. The temporary residents repainted walls, replaced furniture, added lighting and reduced clutter. For Malley, it was a chance to finally live in what he calls “this strange, mystical place” that had been a family meeting point for decades and is “the physical manifestation of my granddad’s personality.”
His hope is to turn the house into a place that is both a home and a community gathering spot. Erickson endorses that vision too.
“That’s been the spirit of the house since we got it in 1972,” Erickson says. “It’s always been used by the community in one way or another, and we look forward for that mission to continue.”