Early Midcentury Home Made of Concrete Is Preserved by Upper Arlington Couple

This home is a perfect match for these empty nesters.

Nancy Richison
An early midcentury home made of concrete in Upper Arlington

If you’ve ever driven along Coventry Road near King Avenue in Upper Arlington, you may have noticed one house that stands out among the more traditional homes built in the 1930s.

“Georgian red brick and the traditional Tudor—it’s not any of those,” admits homeowner Melissa Fisher, who bought the house with her husband, David Pyle, in 2000.

The off-white, concrete home with its modern lines, flat roof and glass block windows looks more like it should be along the California coast. “It sticks out like a sore thumb now in Upper Arlington,” Fisher says, “But you can imagine in 1937, I wonder if there was any controversy.”

The fireplace and mantel in the concrete midcentury home in Upper Arlington

The 2,119-square-foot house was constructed by George Nagel, who owned the Greenville Gravel Co., and was trying to market various uses for concrete. At the time, he and his wife lived next door.

“He intended it to be their retirement home, but my great-grandmother was sick of moving,” says Chris Snapp, Nagel’s great-grandson. Snapp says his great-grandfather had built around 10 houses in Greenville, Ohio, moving the family each time a new one was finished and then eventually moving to Upper Arlington.

More:A Midcentury Blacklick Home Rescued by Local Architect and Wife

The three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home is ahead of its time in many ways. It features a first-floor bedroom and full bath, with additional bedrooms and another full bath upstairs. It’s a layout that is often sought by empty nesters today but was atypical in most two-story homes built during Nagel’s era. Fisher, who runs her firm, F4Marketing, currently uses the downstairs bedroom as an office but acknowledges it’s a house the couple can use well into retirement. “I’m going out in a pine box, feet first,” she says with a laugh.

Homeowner Melissa Fisher relaxes in the living room of her midcentury home. Though built in 1937, the home is perfect for today's empty nesters given its first-floor owner's suite and comfortable living accommodations. Beams, crown moldings and other ornamentation are made from wood covered in concrete.

At the time Fisher and Pyle were house hunting, they had just returned to Ohio after living in California for a dozen years. Despite their best efforts, Fisher couldn’t find a house that she didn’t consider drab or dreary. Eventually, Pyle, an engineer for Battelle, figured out that the way Upper Arlington is platted, the even-numbered houses faced south or west and got the afternoon sun while the odd-numbered houses faced north or east and got the morning sun.

When they first toured the house one sunny afternoon, Fisher recalls, “David said, ‘This is it. She’s going to see all this natural light.’”

The kitchen dining area

The home needed a little TLC, Fisher says, but she couldn’t pass up the natural light from the glass blocks, corner windows and rounded bay window in the living room. She admires the craftsmanship and “the thoughtfulness” of the house, including what she calls “Frank Lloyd Wright touches.”

Just like the famed architect, Nagel incorporated built-in seating areas, but keeping true to his material, the curved benches in the living room, kitchen eating area and basement are all made of concrete. Beams in the ceiling, ornate crown molding and the fireplace mantels are constructed of concrete covered in plaster. Nagel held quite a few patents for concrete uses, including precast roof deck slabs and reinforced cribbing walls.

The house still has its original brass railings on the staircase and parquet floors in most of the first-floor rooms. Steel doors remain in the basement, but most have been replaced in the rest of the house to avoid clanging when closing.

The dining room off the kitchen

Fisher intended to replace the original bathtubs while doing renovations but was advised by a contractor to reglaze them instead of trying to remove the steel tubs that were adhered to the concrete. The house, with its 9-and-a-half-inch walls is so solid that Fisher says, “We refer to it as a bomb shelter for the neighborhood. The story goes that George Nagel was trying to promote the idea of concrete construction because it’s not going to burn and it’s not going to blow away.”

In fact, Fisher’s insurance adjuster had a challenging time trying to value the home when the couple first bought it. His dilemma? It would cost a fortune to replace, but he couldn’t think of why it would need to be replaced.

A sitting area in the concrete home with parquet flooring

One challenge, though, is the rubber roof, which has sprung a leak or two over time. Fisher says it’s difficult to find a contractor willing to repair a residential roof of its type. In fact, she has avoided putting furniture on the second-floor deck due to the roof. One concession she made was early on when her husband noted that it isn’t the type of house where you can remove walls. Painting can be done, but opening up rooms was not possible.

Fisher acknowledges that living in California prepared the couple to be attracted by a home that is more unique than typical Midwestern styles. Although, she says when she’s outside working in the yard, people walking their dogs will often tell her how much they love the house.

Once when Melissa was gardening, a car slowed and the woman inside called to her. She said she had once owned the house and told her it most closely resembled Weisenhoff-Siedlung, a European home that featured the modernist design made popular by Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier.

Fisher remembers the visit: “She said, ‘I only lived there a couple of years, but it was the only time I felt like I owned architecture.’”

This story is from the June 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.