House of Wills
This Cleveland mansion has played host to a German singing group, a Prohibition-era speakeasy, a funeral parlor, and many civil rights meetings.
This 124-year-old, 50,000-square-foot Gothic-style building only showcases a small part of Cleveland’s rich and diverse history.
Built in 1898 and opened in 1900, the 42-room structure originally served as a clubhouse for the German Society where the Cleveland Gesangverein, a singing group, would perform for the next 14 years. The building was then converted into a hospital for Hungarian immigrants. After that, it housed the Cleveland Hebrew Institute for 18 years. Allegedly, the lower level was a meeting spot for prominent Freemasons and was a speakeasy during Prohibition.
In 1941, John Walter Wills, a notable funeral home owner and mortician, purchased the building to house his business after being forced out of his first two properties by the housing authority. In addition to serving as Wills’s funeral parlor, it was also his home. House of Wills was a meeting space during times of segregation and hosted civil rights meetings. Wills was very involved in local community organizations—he founded the Cleveland Chapter of the NAACP and the Cleveland Association of Colored Men, amongst others. After his death in 1971, the business was carried on by his family until its final closure in 2005.
What was once Cleveland’s longest-running Black-owned business and the largest Black-owned funeral parlor in Ohio sat vacant until it was purchased by a private owner in 2010.
Know Before You Go
House of Wills is open for ghost and architectural tours. You can find details and information on the House of Wills Facebook page.
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