The Charm of Sessions Village
A French-inspired enclave just off East Broad Street is a precious spot for those who appreciate its history.
Bexley native Liz Taylor still recalls playing with a childhood friend in the early 1960s in the attic of a house in Sessions Village, an East Broad Street community that has felt like her home for her entire life.
“I always loved Sessions Village growing up,” says Taylor of the quaint collection of 29 homes built between the late 1920s and early 1960s across East Broad Street from Wolfe Park and just a short walk from St. Charles Preparatory School.
“We always knew people in Sessions Village,” she adds. Taylor’s memories of the 65-year-old home were rekindled a little more than 20 years ago when the 2,500-square-foot residence was a stop on a home and garden tour.
Then in 2012, she and her husband, Jamie, purchased that property in Sessions. “I always had my eye on that house,” she says.
The quaint, cobblestone drive that winds under an arch that houses the family room of 2110 E. Broad St. into Sessions Village begins a journey back into time. Unique in Central Ohio, the gated community is reminiscent of a Norman-style village done in what an early promotional brochure called “minor domestic architecture of France.”
The manors, chateaus, farmhouses and cottages that are built close together reinforce the architectural theme. Stucco, brick and stone structures are all capped with slate roofs in accordance with the Old World charm envisioned by architect and planner Robert “Roy” Reeves nearly a century ago.
This part of Bexley’s gateway traveling east from Downtown was still under development at that time. The idea for Sessions began about six years after Columbus Dispatch owner Robert F. Wolfe and wife Della, for $1, gifted land to the city of Columbus, immediately west of their Park Street mansion. The donated land became known as Wolfe Park, and now features a bike path along Alum Creek, baseball diamonds and other athletic fields, and access to Franklin Park on the west side of the Nelson Road rail embankment.
“In consideration of the goodwill which we bear toward the people of the said city of Columbus,” says the deed that transferred the property to the Department of Recreation and Parks.
That area continued as a focal point of development with the 1925 completion of the first main building on the campus of St. Charles Preparatory School and the 1926 occupancy of the first homes within the Meadow Park subdivision, located between Sessions Village and St. Charles.
The Meadow Park neighborhood, with home prices well below those offered in Sessions Village, had all but one of its 11 lots built out by 1942.
It should come as no surprise that the well-groomed enclave of Sessions attracted some of Columbus’ leading real estate developers and architects. Public records show developers Bill Dargusch of Metropolitan Building Solutions and Bill Schottenstein of Arshot are among those who currently own homes in Sessions Village, as well as noted architects Robert Loversidge of Schooley Caldwell Associates and Bill Riat of Casto Communities.
The allure all comes from an appreciation of excellent residential planning and high quality design. “When people move in here, they have to appreciate what the original owners built,” says Loversidge, whose firm has a significant practice in leading the renovation and adaptive reuse of historic properties such as the LeVeque Tower, statehouses and courthouses as well as new-build projects with keen aesthetic sensibilities.
“It’s not the same as having a big suburban home,” says Loversidge.
Nevertheless, renovations and expansions still occur in Sessions, especially in homes built after World War II on larger lots beyond the place where Sessions Drive splits into north and east legs. Riat’s lot, just under a half-acre, allowed the space to expand his home, which he bought in 1997.
“I loved the house and community so much I did a complete overhaul,” says Riat, who also has multiple credentials in restoration and redevelopment of historic properties. “It’s as spectacular as the original  home.”
Interior designer Jessica Bodamer, owner of one of four Sessions homes fronting East Broad Street, said she extensively remodeled much of the interior after she and her husband, Benton, bought the 2,800-square-foot home, which was built during the first wave of Sessions development. “We bought the home from a sweet little old lady who had an aesthetic matching her personality,” Jessica says. “And now it matches mine.”
Unlike Riat, the Bodamers had to work within their home’s original footprint, as their house adjoins the Loversidges’ home, much like a condo. Upgrades during the yearlong renovation included reconfiguring the kitchen and adding closets and such.
“We didn’t move many walls but we completely refurbished the whole interior,” says Bodamer. “There was a lot of modernizing to do.”
Expansions or changes to exterior details get strict scrutiny from a neighborhood panel to ensure adherence to the standards and theme of Sessions Village as originally planned. “You can’t just do anything,” says Taylor. “The architectural review is more stringent than even Bexley. Everything gets reviewed.”
The Taylors so far have done little more than repaint exterior trim and remove a porch overhang. Riat agrees that the homeowner association and architectural review committee take the responsibility seriously. “We work very hard at keeping the original feel, the original architecture and character,” he says.
Perhaps that concern for quality is what makes Sessions Village among the most expensive neighborhoods in the region. Caldwell Banker/King Thompson real estate agent Mike Carruthers said homes there can cost in the mid-$300s per square foot, “some of the highest prices in the market.”
Three properties have sold for $1 million or more in the last three years. Carruthers sold a 3,300-square-foot house on slightly over an acre in late December for $1.1 million. Also in contract is another house—a 2,850-square-foot, two-story space with copper gutters and downspouts and a slate roof, he says. That property has a list price of $925,000.
“Bexley has a lot of options,” says Carruthers, who has sold 18 of the 29 homes at least once in the last 30 years. “Sessions Village is a great option.”
Finding a place to call home
Riat said he first looked into Sessions Village at the urging of veteran Columbus developer Don Casto III, a longtime resident of the neighborhood who hired Riat in late 1995 to head the development company’s newly minted Casto Communities division.
At the time, Riat and wife Sheila lived along the Muirfield Village championship golf course in Dublin while his parents lived on the East Side and his in-laws were in Pickerington. “When I started working Downtown, I wasn’t thrilled with the commute,” he says. “It was a long haul.”
Moving to Sessions Village did more than shorten his commute and trips to visit the parents, though. “As an architect, Sessions had a real appeal,” he says. “It’s such a historic community.” Riat’s work for Casto Communities and his own projects often have a strong historic renovation or adaptive re-use component.
Sessions Village remains an inspiration and a standard for developers even as the bounds of metro Columbus move farther from innerbelt communities and into less dense surrounding communities and countryside. “Everybody wants to replicate it,” he says. “It’s hard to do.”
Interior designer Bodamer said much of her affection for Sessions Village stems from her undergraduate concentrations in international studies and French as well as a longtime interest in architecture, especially of older homes.
The Bodamers met at the Moritz School of Law at Ohio State University, but Jessica later switched her vocation to interior design. The Ohio natives returned to the state after living for a while in a 330-year-old home on Cape Cod. “Having lived in Columbus a number of years, I had often heard of Sessions Village,” she says. “There was a certain mystique.”
The atmosphere of Sessions Village has changed in the last several years as the settlement attracted more homeowners with school-age children. The Loversidges had the only child in the community when they moved in during the mid-1990s with their then 2-year-old daughter, Kathleen. The Riats moved in a couple of years later with their then 10-year-old son, John.
“Now we have a lot of little kids, probably a dozen in elementary school,” Loversidge says of the changed demographics.
Riat said his son often had friends to their home from St. Catharine grade school and St. Charles high school over the years. “It worked out great,” he says of the close proximity of the two parochial schools.
Bodamer said the gate slowing traffic in and out of Sessions Village has made it a safe haven for her 9-year-old daughter, 7-year-old son and other children to play or ride their bikes. The split of Sessions Drive into east and north legs creates a wide crossroads where celebrations are held for Christmas, Halloween and other holidays, even Bastille Day.
“There is a great neighborhood feel,” says Bodamer.