LORAIN — Close to a decade in the making, Harbor House is now open.
The newly renovated building at Century Park was the site of a bustling open house Saturday afternoon, with volunteers from the East Side Block Watch showcasing the results of hundreds of hours of work to turn the once-decrepit building into a beach-themed space.
Lorain public property manager Lori Garcia said work on the building started in earnest in 2011, after the city received a grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to replace the HVAC system. In roughly 2014 it used block grant funds to build handicapped-accessible bathrooms and a Lorain County Solid Waste Management grant in 2018 for recycled windows and floors. The property had been deteriorating since 2009 when the longstanding Santa Land event ended.
“The walls and the ceiling were painted black, there was glitter all over the place. … It’s come a long, long way,” she said.
The bulk of the physical work was done by the East Side Block Watch, led by JR and Nancy Lee. Nancy Lee said Garcia would always find some way to help the block watch out during the ups and downs of the renovation.
“A lot of people have been anxious to see it and want to know what was going on here,” she said. “Every summer, everybody asked all the time.”
Now, the inside of the building is painted bright blue, with sunlight from large picture windows shining through fish-net curtains hung with shells. Driftwood from the beach holds up the curtains, and oars made from the building’s old wood hang on one of the walls, opposite a large mural of the east side’s history painted by Nancy Lee’s brother. Artifacts donated from friends, family and neighbors dot the space.
For years, the East Side Block Watch has been improving the circa-1920s building with the city’s help, thanks to a bet they made with the city’s previous administration, Nancy Lee said.
“It was overgrown, a lot of drugs, a lot of alcohol, and it was a mess,” she said. “There were tents set up down there (on the beach), they used driftwood for the place to sleep on the beach, everything. We took out 15 truckloads of debris out of there to clean it up, and we did that for the past six years. We did the outside and then we started on the inside. … They were just going to let it go and we could see it, it’s a neighborhood park.”
Saturday was the first time the building had been open to the public since 2009 — a day those working on the project at times feared would never come.
“I have to say, sometimes I was ready to throw in the towel,” Garcia said, laughing.
Nancy Lee added, “We were, too, so many times because it was just so hard to get things. You want to do it right now and you can’t, you’ve got to wait. You can see it coming and coming and finally — that’s why I think it’s a lot of weight lifted off.”
Lee said the block watch will continue to maintain the property and clean up the beach and bluff. The group plans to be out May 18 for Lorain County Pride Day and welcome any community members willing to lend a hand, she said.
Mayor Chase Ritenauer agreed with Garcia and Nancy Lee that the building’s renovation was a long time coming.
“I think it’s just a great example of people coming together to try to turn something that was sort of forgotten about and left to kind of fall by the wayside, to bring it back to a real positive asset for the city,” he said. “So I can see this being used as a community meeting room, us renting it out, being something the east side can be proud of.”