“This has been the adventure of a lifetime,” says Carol Shamakian, innkeeper and owner of the Steele Mansion on Mentor Avenue in Painesville. Shamakian, along with her husband, Arthur, and her family have been owners of this historic building since December 2010. After a massive fire in 2001, the demolition of the original structure of the Steele Mansion was scheduled for March of 2011. Her family’s goal was to save as much as they could of the original structure and bring it back to life again.
What drew the Shamakians to purchase the building was the land value. It was in a great location in Painesville and right across from Lake Erie College. “It was an opportunity. We wanted to leap on it and the city allowed us to save it. I think it was a great buy,” Shamakian says.
Once the renovations started, Painesville residents and former dwellers mentioned they used to come to the mansion for parties, to see people they knew and people gave her lots of advice. “It really caught us by surprise because everybody loved this place,” she says. “We really wanted to put the emphasis on a Lake County project and wanted it to be a local business for the community to enjoy.”
The restoration and rebuilding process has been “a great adventure,” she says. “Being part of the restoration has changed our lives. We got to work on an incredible building, we got to meet people, we have a business that is great fun and we love seeing what everyone’s reaction is when they come here. It’s very gratifying.”
The Shamakians are very pleased with all their renovations and how the original charm and history of the Steele Mansion was replicated. “It came out the way I wanted it to,” she says. “The reaction of the people who come in is very positive. I decorated it and gave it all the comfort of modern amenities but kept the charm of the 1800s. The furnishings and decor of all the rooms came from local auctions and local businesses.”
The original building was completed in 1867 as the home for the family of George Steele. “There is a lot of history at Steele Mansion,” Shamakian says. “During the last half of the 1800s, everybody wanted to be seen here. President James Garfield was at the mansion many times. High-society dress balls were held weekly in the third-floor ballroom. It was part of the post-Civil War Underground Railroad.
“Amelia Earhart stayed here in 1936 after speaking to the Aviator’s Club at Lake Erie College since this was the college president’s home,” she adds. “The famous poet Carl Sandburg stayed here for a week in the 1950s while teaching a class. Lake Erie College owned the building, called the Mentor House, from 1921 to 1980. It was used for many purposes — as a dormitory, offices and many social functions.”
Shamakian would like to welcome everyone to the Steele Mansion. “After five years of construction, we are open for guests to our 16-room luxury hotel with a full-service party center. We host weddings, parties, showers, wakes, meetings. We can do it all. You need to see it to believe it. We have the best of the old, and the best of the new.”
Part of the adventure is the opportunity it has provided for new experiences. “I get to meet so many incredible people, the business is exciting and to see it growing and thriving the way it is right now is very rewarding,” she says. “It’s a family project for me and my husband, my daughter Elissa and my son Brian.”
She is proud that the Steele Mansion has a “five-star review” and sees it as an incredible asset for Painesville. “The building attracts upscale businesses, plus upscale travelers from as far away as Europe,” she says. “It just attracts some of the most amazing people… and it’s good for Painesville.” Thousands of cars go past the building in a week, she points out.
“We had to do a lot of research of the timeframe of the Victorian era we were trying to replicate, and it turned out right,” she says. “It wasn’t exactly like the original building, but it still has the original character, all the charm of the past with all the modern conveniences.”
For more information about the Steele Mansion, call 440-639-7948 or visit steelemansion.com.