There's an old saying that "some things never change," but at Elmhurst, The House of Friendship, a senior retirement residence in Wheeling, the residents, staff and supporters are applauding all of the positive, modernizing conveniences incorporated into the historic home's periodic renovations and additions as they prepare to host a 70th-anniversary celebration of its founding Monday, July 23.
The House of Friendship officially opened its doors in the former family mansion of Mail Pouch tobacco executive Samuel S. Bloch at 1228 National Road on that date in 1942. The party Monday evening also will spotlight the completion of the renovation of the large front porch's railings to their original construction; the railings had become weakened with age.
"Everyone at Elmhurst is looking forward to celebrating the 70th anniversary of this grand historic home's mission," commented Jamie Crow, executive director of the retirement residence that also offers assisted living.
"Throughout the years and with each expansion, Elmhurst has maintained the beauty, integrity and charm of the Bloch home in all of its Victorian elegance," Crow said. "At the same time, we have all of the modern conveniences and amenities that today's retired senior citizens look for when they want to move to an affordable and more carefree lifestyle. I encourage anyone who has driven by and wondered about retirement living at Elmhurst to call me for a tour and learn firsthand how affordable we are."
Today's Elmhurst offers a selection of beautifully decorated apartments and suites for men, women and couples. All meals are provided in the elegant dining room. Laundry and housekeeping services also are provided. Total occupancy at Elmhurst is 48.
In 2011, Elmhurst was named the West Virginia Assisted Living Residence of the Year by the state Assisted Living Association.
Peter Holloway, chairman of the board of directors, said, "Members of the board greatly appreciate the exceptional quality of life Elmhurst has been offering for the past seven decades. Elmhurst exemplifies the best in retirement living and our board members work diligently to preserve Elmhurst for future generations. We look toward the next 20 years when many of us will choose Elmhurst for our retirement living, and we intend to ensure the future of this extraordinary residence."
Holloway cited the many amenities offered at Elmhurst, including the quality of the food provided by the culinary staff where "cooking from scratch" is the order of the day, including homemade baked goods.
"Our dining offerings are superb, as is the personal attention given to each resident - all of this and the many other amenities make Elmhurst a wonderful senior retirement residence," Holloway added.
Originally, The House of Friendship was situated on the corner of 13th and Jacob streets in downtown Wheeling. It was established in 1890 as a home for elderly women. It was known as the West Virginia Home for Aged Women and was home to women over the age of 65 and as a temporary residence for wayward and homeless girls. Samuel Bloch's wife, Bertha Prager Bloch, was an active volunteer at the home.
In 1940, the children of Samuel and Bertha Bloch donated their late parents' home, Elmhurst, to The House of Friendship upon its 50th anniversary. Their gift to the West Virginia Home for Aged Women allowed the move to the spacious Bloch home instead of making repairs to the original building in the downtown area.
In order to accommodate additional elderly women, the board of directors decided to add a wing onto the left side of the mansion, connecting the two structures. The new wing was completed in 1942 and provided 24 private rooms. Although each resident had a private room, the residents shared communal bathrooms located on each floor.
A resident of the original home who moved to the new location in 1942, Dr. Clara E. Sullivan, wrote in The Intelligencer at the residence's opening, "From the first, (sic) have known and admired the unselfishness of this gift from the Bloch family. When we of the Home first heard of the gift, quite naturally the first reaction was 'now we will have to leave our old haunts.' Human nature is like that most of it, especially as we get along in years. People often cling to 'old places' even if they are not so nice ... However, this reaction did not last long with a great many. They began to be interested in the new home, and now I am sure that everyone is eager to be settled in the lovely place."
The Bloch family's philanthropy is an established part of Wheeling's early history. Samuel Bloch, who with his brother, Aaron, in 1879 began manufacturing chewing tobacco, created the largest factory of its kind in the world.
In 1929, Mr. and Mrs. S.S. Bloch celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by donating funds to Ohio Valley General Hospital for the erection of a pediatric ward. A public playground for children on Wheeling Island was also created by S.S. Bloch.
In their honor after their parents' deaths, the Bloch children, Jesse A. Bloch, Harold S. Bloch, Mrs. Edouard Ziegler and Mrs. Steven J. Hirsch, gave funds for the construction of the S.S. Bloch Nurses' Home at OVGH.
With new needs of senior citizens emerging in Wheeling and a desire to broaden its appeal, The House of Friendship decided to remodel the facility again in 1989.
The project, designed by Peter Greer and James Kling of DRS Hundley Kling Gmitter, included the addition of adjoining bathrooms to each of the rooms located in the wing, an addition of a fourth floor consisting of four rooms, installation of a modernized kitchen and elevator, and a complete refurbishing of the interior of both the wing and the mansion. The expanded structure increased capacity to 36 residents and included enlarged entryways, a new terrace area, a raised garden and air conditioning.
The new addition garnered Elmhurst the "Gold Seal Award" for Renovated Senior Housing presented by the National Association of Home Builders.
At the same time, the House of Friendship restored the name Elmhurst in its title. Today it continues to be known as Elmhurst, The House of Friendship Inc. To reflect the tall elm trees planted around the estate, the Bloch home was christened "Elmhurst."
In 2009, Elmhurst underwent another large expansion with the addition of a second wing designed by Victor Greco from the Wheeling office of Schamu Machowski Greco Architects. The 22,000-square-foot, four-story addition features four two-bedroom suites and eight one-bedroom suites; an additional activity room; a large room containing storage lockers for use by all residents; a second elevator for the facility and administrative offices; a central lobby and reception area. A new, covered main entrance opens into the lobby with a paved parking lot for residents' and visitors' vehicles adjoining the entry.
The new wing complements the previous structure, incorporating design elements such as curved arches, pillars, pocket doors and architectural adornments that reflect the ornate Victorian elements of the original mansion.
As part of the project, the home's existing dining room has been enlarged and the mansion's original billiards room has been restored.
Outside the complex, landscaping includes gardens and walking paths. A gazebo and a large deck jutting out over the creek bank offer residents a comfortable setting from which to observe nature.
Interior designer Mary Beth Hughes coordinated the wall coverings and carpeting for the new wing, selecting new, matching carpeting for the existing hallways which open onto the new wing at every floor.
Each of the new 12 suites contains a kitchenette area, a living room, a bathroom and one or two bedrooms. The kitchenettes are more spacious in the two-bedroom suites with a larger refrigerator and space for a dinette set. The corner suites also have balconies.
The first floor of the new wing houses the administrative offices, a spacious multi-purpose room and a large lobby featuring a fireplace surrounded by large, beautifully upholstered antique chairs.
While remaining true to the building's architectural roots, the new wing subtly incorporates contemporary features to serve residents' needs. Hallways are wider. Recessed lighting illuminates the walkways. As a "green" element, lighting fixtures in bathrooms and closets are equipped with motion sensors to turn lights on and off as people enter or exit.