From the Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 31, 2000

City, Owner Battling Over Pace of Repairs

July 31, 2000
By Zina Vishnevsky
Page 2B

Cleveland housing officials are prosecuting the owner of the fire-damaged Franklin Castle - and threatening to demolish the historic structure - over the slow pace of repairs.

Sharon Dumas, assistant director of Community Development, said owner Michelle Heimburger "has been nonresponsive" to citations from building inspectors since the fire Nov. 7."If she doesn't repair it, we could require it to be demolished," Dumas said. "Her nonresponse forces us into a lot of hunting to see what we can do about it."

Heimburger, in an interview last week, disputed that she has ignored the city. She said that a certified-mail notice from the city that she picked up July 18 was the first time she had heard from city officials since the city's December inspection of the landmark Ohio City home at 4308 Franklin Blvd. She said she didn't know of a June 14 Housing Court hearing until she got the letter.

A Housing Court employee said the city did not properly notify Heimburger in May of the hearing, so Judge Raymond L. Pianka set the hearing for Aug. 9.

Pianka declined to discuss the case. But he said code violations can carry a sentence of 180 days in jail for each day of violation, so property owners are advised to bring a lawyer.

Dumas said that if Heimburger, who lives in San Francisco, fails to appear for her next hearing, she could be cited for contempt of court and a bench warrant could be issued for her arrest.

Heimburger, 26, is a Cleveland native who works for the Internet firm Yahoo! Inc. In April 1999, she paid cash for the 26-room mansion, built in 1860 by wealthy banker Hannes Tiedemann. It has five marble fireplaces, 80 windows, extensive fancy woodcarvings - and a reputation for being haunted.

Seven months after Heimburger bought the mansion, a homeless man set a fire that badly damaged it.

A city building inspection report in December gave Heimburger 30 days to complete repairs to the roof. A restoration company draped the roof and cleared much of the debris.

Heimburger said Thursday that her insurance company has paid her more than $300,000 for repairs. "I interviewed a couple architects, but we didn't click," Heimburger said.

She said she put her cousin, Kate Freund of Middleburg Heights, in charge of the project. Freund, 32, a former Franklin Blvd. resident and a graduate student at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management, said last week that she hopes to choose an architect within two weeks to hire and direct contractors.

The castle's Web site: has been inundated with complaints about the property's condition. Heimburger posted a response on July 24, saying interior work is not apparent from the exterior. On Thursday, she posted a lengthy explanation on the Web site describing the emotional impact on her.

"It is not an easy situation to deal with at all, and I'm realizing more and more every day what a toll it has taken on me," she wrote.

The castle has a rich history. Some ghost hunters want a look; others want to hold meetings there. Some local residents have said they just want to see inside a 26-room castle.

"Once it is repaired, I will let everybody in. It just isn't safe right now," Heimburger said Thursday.

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