Elmer Harry Close
Elmer Harry Close was one of the most important real estate developers in Toledo. He subdivided and developed much of the farmland surrounding Toledo, and helped to promote the city itself.
Close was born in Bellevue, Huron County, Ohio on December 9, 1875, the son of Joseph W. and Gertrude Close. Although he made his living in the grain business, Joseph Close maintained important contacts in real estate, which may have influenced his son. At a young age, Elmer Close gained the reputation of being business minded. He worked as the local agent for the Toledo Bee and became known in Bellevue as "Bee Close." He kept his parents amused by boarding trains stopping at Bellevue and selling apples to passengers.[Toledo Biography Scrapbook (Elmer Harry Close), Local History Collection, Toledo/Lucas County Public Library.]
The younger Close attended school in Bellevue, and then went to the University of Michigan. After graduation, he entered the insurance business in Duluth, Minnesota. But in 1897, Close returned to Toledo to become the partner of George E. Pomeroy, a real estate developer. He stayed with that company for twelve years as secretary and treasurer.
In January 1909 Close went into business for himself, organizing and becoming president and treasurer of the E.H. Close Realty Company, one of the largest realty companies to have its headquarters in Toledo. Its offices were located in the Spitzer building on Madison Avenue. The company grew steadily and by 1914 needed more space, so it moved into the six-story building across the street. Once he had organized his own company, Close began a comprehensive campaign: "It is said that almost every fence and barnyard wall in Toledo carried his placards until the name of the firm was almost a household word."[John M. Killits, ed., Toledo and Lucas County, Ohio 1623-1923 (Chicago and Toledo: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1923), Vol. 2, p. 238.]
Close's company policy promoted home ownership and the development of downtown Toledo. He hoped to stimulate the expansion of the business district through the building of new structures and the remodeling of old ones. As Pomeroy's partner, Close created his first subdivision, Harvard Terrace, near Walbridge Park. In 1911, while on an "epoch making" automobile trip, Close had an important experience that helped to redirect his real estate interests. He had gone to look over houses in the poorer districts of the city which had been listed with him for sale. The cramped dirty conditions and lack of quality living shocked him. He responded by devising a plan of suburbs, linked to the city through a system of streetcars, for the working classes. Low priced lots and monthly payment plans would make the housing affordable. Close bought up farmlands in the west Toledo area and in 1912 initiated his vision with the opening of Homewood. When this development sold out, Homeacres and Homeville followed.
When E. D. Libbey saw the workers moving out of the city into suburbs he asked why executives could not also take advantage of the suburban atmosphere. Close bought a 600 acre tract beyond Secor Road, and in 1913 established Ottawa Hills, a residential area for the wealthy and prominent families of Toledo.
Close became one of the leading realtors of residential subdivisions in the United States. He was also responsible for the large office building, known as the Close Building, located on Madison Avenue in downtown Toledo.
In October 1898, Close married Nell Kempf, the daughter of Reuben Kempf, president of the Farmers and Mechanics Bank of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The couple had two children, Joseph K. and Suzanne G. Close and made their home on Ridgewood Road in Ottawa Hills. Close participated in the Toledo Commerce Club, Toledo Club and Toledo Yacht Club. He owned the lake cruiser "Tillicum." Close served as director of the Northern National Bank and Commerce Guardian Trust and Savings Bank, and as president of the Toledo Real Estate Board.
On August 6, 1924, as Nell Close and the two children cruised the Thousand Islands, a servant discovered Elmer Close's body. His death at fifty years old was believed to have been caused by heart trouble. Nell Close died in 1957.
It has been estimated that Close made it possible for more than 10,000 people in Toledo to own their own homes. At the time of his death, Close owned three miles of frontage on the Dixie Highway, his land paralleled the Pere Marquette improvement in north Toledo. Close is credited with helping Pere Marquette acquire holdings in the 1920s and closing the roads in the path of the railroad.[Killits, pp. 238-241; Nevin O. Winter, A History of Northwest Ohio (Chicago and New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1917), Vol. 2, pp. 679-680; and Toledo Biography Scrapbook (Elmer Harry Close).]