New Casa d’Angolo design gets cool reception

View of Casa d'Angolo from Alta House.

Looking north from the bocce courts at Alta House, the Casa d’Angolo condominiums would rise above Mayfield Road. This conceptual design received pushback from the City Landmarks Commission which considered the building monolithic even though it is eight feet shorter than the La Collina Apartments less than a block away (Maschke). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM

Little Italy project sent back to drawing board

Conceptual plans for a modern, five-story luxury condominium development called Casa d’Angolo, or “corner house “in Italian, were sent back to the drawing board by the Cleveland Landmarks Commission yesterday. The recommendation came despite a member of the development team predicting the proposed condos would become a Little Italy landmark equal to that of the Holy Rosary Church.

Seeking to develop the site is WXZ Development of Fairview Park, run by Jim Wymer, Matthew Wymer and David Swindell. It owns the land at the northwest corner of Mayfield Road and East 126th Street as well as a narrow strip over to East 124th Street behind Borgata Bar, 12412 Mayfield. WXZ Development, which is developing the trio of VIA 126 townhomes nearby on East 126th also plans a four-story building on the northeast corner of Mayfield and East 126th, after it builds Casa d’Angolo, according to plans by Robert Maschke Architects and Bialosky Cleveland.

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The plans show seven condominiums — two each on the second, third and fourth floors plus one penthouse unit on the fifth floor. Those would be above a ground-floor wine bar to be operated by Little Italy wine expert Carmen Armenti. Below would be underground parking accessed off East 124th. Three surface parking spaces for visitors and located under an overhang would be accessed from East 126th.

Seven years ago, Armenti and Robert Fatica, owners of the Primo Vino restaurant, 12511 Mayfield, wanted to develop the property with condos. Their restaurant closed in 2017 and the building has been empty since. That proposed condo development including demolition of the decaying stone restaurant building was approved by the city. But that proposal was too large for them to develop so they enlisted WXZ. Both men remain involved in this development.

Primo Vino restaurant rots on Mayfield Road at East 126th Street in Little Italy.

The former Primo Vino restaurant, which operated from 1982-2017, is vacant and rotting away at the northwest corner of Mayfield Road and East 126th Street. Formerly the Italia Supper Club, the building’s stonework may be preserved for use in a four-story development proposed on the northeast corner of the intersection by the same developer as Casa d’Angolo (Google).

“There’s an emotional side and historical side to this development,” said Fatica who has lived in Little Italy for 73 years. “My grandfather was a stone mason and he worked on that (Lakeview) Cemetery wall. I never knew him, but I think he would probably find the brickwork and the structure (in Casa d’Angolo) to be important to him. If there’s any way you (Landmarks Commission members) could take into consideration that part of this conversation I’d appreciate it.”

Casa d’Angolo’s structure is proposed to be built mostly of masonry — poured concrete with a travertine stone exterior and decorative metal panels. The interior will feature travertine and marble walls with caramelized bamboo-paneled floors. The goal is for the building to be evocative of modern Italian structures, Maschke said.

“The quality of this building will be extremely high, higher than I think Little Italy has been used to seeing — not just in terms of its structure but how it will be finished on the exterior,” said Jack Bialosky Jr. of the architectural firm Bialosky Cleveland. “There’s no vinyl siding. There’s no hardy board. This building is solid. It is all stone. So it will be the same type of landmark in the community that the church is further to the west.”

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Casa d'Angolo viewed west on Mayfield Road.

Looking west on Mayfield, the first-floor wine bar and balconies above it in the proposed Casa d’Angolo are intended to add more life to this portion of Little Italy. The Cleveland Landmarks Commission liked those aspects of Casa d’Angolo, as well as the proposed building materials, but didn’t like the proposed design of the building (Maschke).

While the building’s materials were lauded by the Landmarks Commission, it’s design was not. Most members said they appreciated the effort to make the building appear less imposing and monolithic by articulating and carving the façade in places, thereby pushing in the exterior and giving some relief to neighboring buildings. Carving out the façade also provided for covered terraces and balconies, Maschke said.

Per the zoning code, the height district allows building on this site as tall as 60 feet, which is what Casa d’Angolo would be. The building also would fill out the property, which will require a zoning variance from the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals, said WXZ Development’s Matthew Wymer, a 15-year resident of Little Italy. When a final design is submitted to the city, it will be voted on by both the Landmarks Commission and City Planning Commission’s Design-Review Committee. There will also be a community meeting held about this project but a date for that hasn’t been set yet.

Little Italy’s Design-Review Committee members had previously viewed some renderings of the building and liked the underground parking access off of East 124th, which is 12 feet lower than East 126th. They also loved the for-sale housing with units on one floor as well as the ground-floor wine bar as it would provide more street life to the upper section of Mayfield, said Ray Kristosik, executive director at Little Italy Redevelopment Corp.

Seen from across Mayfield Road in Little Italy, the proposed new condominium and wine bar building stands out.

Looking north from East 125th Street toward Mayfield Road and the proposed Casa d’Angolo condominiums, the modern structure stands out yet is actually smaller than some nearby buildings like the new La Collina apartments built several years ago a block away on Mayfield. It also has modern lines similar to the VIA 126 townhouses being built by the same development team as Casa d’Angolo (Maschke).

“The one thing the (Little Italy Design-Review) Committee keeps struggling with is the modern design and how it fits within the context of Mayfield Road,” Kristosik said. “But those may change based on the what they (the architects) are showing here today.”

“It’s not a very large building but because it is a little bit more monolithic it makes the scale feel larger,” said Julie Trott, chair of the Landmarks Commission.

“I think the massing is too great for the location,” said commission member Michele Anderson. “Although there’s other large buildings on the street, that particular block does not host those size of buildings. I think the massing needs to relate to the existing buildings. I think this design would be smashing in a lot of different locations but it’s too contemporary for this particular area. The other buildings are more simple. Articulating makes it too busy, too inconsistent and too jarring.”

Three modern townhouses are under construction across East 126th Street from Casa d'Angolo.

The same development team that wants to build Casa d’Angolo is building the VIA 126 townhomes across East 126th Street from the proposed condo development. These three townhouses are listing for sale in the neighborhood of $1 million. If built, a similar sale price might be offered for the condos (Maschke).

“I’m not disagreeing that the project can’t be done because it’s modern,” commission member Jonathan Bonezzi added. “The conversation is how do you incorporate yourself into an historic community. I believe that this would be a beautiful legacy to leave on this corner but is something we all have to agree we want to get done right. Where do I feel like there’s a disconnect right now between the building and the what you’re trying to achieve, I think it would be partly in the logic of ‘I’m just going to extrude it and carve it from the sides but I’m not touching the top edge’.”

Bialosky countered that reducing the size of the building would cause two things to happen. One is that the building would no longer balance Mayfield in Little Italy, with the Holy Rosary Church being the other bookend. The other outcome is that, without this density, the developer could not afford to build this structure with the same quality of durable construction methods and materials.

It is likely that most of the Casa d’Angolo condos would list for nearly $1 million each with the penthouse topping the $1 million mark. Across the street, VIA 126 townhomes, built by WXZ Development and designed by Robert Maschke Architects and Bialosky Cleveland, list for between $975,000 and $1.075 million, according to Zillow.

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