LIMA — Post-World War II America turned from producing tanks and planes to producing cars — and refrigerators and televisions and kids. Lots of kids. Spurred by the baby boom, Americans began moving out of the cities into spacious new suburbs with rows of houses with their rows of utility poles and TV antennas.
Home builder Ben Cogen arrived in Lima on the cusp of this housing boom. Cogen would build a lot of houses in Lima but gained notoriety for something that couldn’t be seen — utility poles and TV antennas.
Cogen developed Sherwood Park. “Neither poles nor television antennas will be seen in Sherwood Park, mid-America’s first all-electric residential development, now under construction here,” The Lima News boasted Oct. 5, 1961. “Power, telephone and television cables will run underground, making this the largest known residential installation of its kind in the country.”
Born in 1912, Cogen married Celia Greenbaum of Cleveland. The couple had a son and a daughter. Lewis Cogen, born in 1940, would become a physician and, like his father, he was a bit of a builder, piloting a car he built to the top spot in the Lima Soap Box Derby in 1956. Lewis Cogen died in 1991 in Portland, Maine. The daughter, Karen Jean Satran, lives in Tenafly, New Jersey. Celia Cogene died in 1959. In 1973, Ben Cogen married Nancy Ann Clune.
Lottie Cogen, his older sister, followed Cogen to Lima. On Nov. 12,1950, the News reported that “Jocel’s, a new store featuring exclusive lines of women’s suits, coats and accessories, will open within the next two weeks at 128 W. Market St. … In charge will be Miss Lottie Cogen who comes here from New York City with a 15-year background in the business.” Another sister, Lillian, was married to author Gerold Frank who was considered a pioneer in the “as told to” form of autobiography.
After running a construction company in Sandusky, Ben Cogen arrived in Lima in 1943 and wasted little time getting involved in the construction business here. “Ground probably will be broken next week for a group of 30 moderately priced residences in the area north of Fourth Street, between Hughes and Central avenues, it was announced Wednesday by the attorney for American Township Homes Inc., headed by Ben Cogen,” the News noted May 24, 1944.
The 1946 city directory lists Cogen as secretary-treasurer of Lakewood Homes while his wife is listed as president of the company. An April 1949 story in the News described a home under construction by Lakewood Homes as “long on comfort and short on fancy gadgets.” The “only departure from the conventional in the home,” the story noted, “is baseboard heating.”
By the 1950s, Cogen was building blocks of homes. On May 25, 1951, the News reported Lakewood Homes had purchased 30 acres “just west of Fernwood Drive between Elm Street Road and Pears Road for a housing development which eventually may involve 90 or more new homes and $1,800,000. … Cogen, a veteran Lima builder, has constructed more than 400 homes in Lima in the last six years, principally in the west section just outside the city limits.”
Cogen turned his attention to the north in April 1959 with the announcement of plans for a “97-lot subdivision encircling more than 28 acres.” The “building area begins at Metcalf Street and Brower and continues past Lewis Boulevard,” the News wrote April 7, 1959. Known as the Northland subdivision, the area contained homes “a working man can afford!” newspaper ads proclaimed.
On Nov. 6, 1960, Cogen announced Lakewood Homes, described in the News as “developer of Northland” and “the oldest residential builder in the city,” had hired Lima’s Central Advertising Agency to handle its publicity.
The following spring, Cogen would put the advertising agency to work. “A $10- to $12-million development, including 400 homes and 25 four-family apartments, will be built at the western edge of Lima, it was announced today by Ben Cogen, manager of Lakewood Homes, Inc.,” the News reported April 4, 1961. “The development, called Sherwood Park, is located on the west side of Cable Road between Allentown and Elida roads. … The planned community will feature such innovations as swimming pools, a park and community house, a park-oriented layout, and exterior landscaping.”
After initially rebuffing requests to tie Sherwood into city sewer and water lines, the city relented when Cogen agreed to seek annexation of the new subdivision to Lima. By November 1961, ads were touting Sherwood Park as “your new horizon in golden living” and Lima’s “luxurious total electric … park-planned community.”
On Dec. 1, 1961, six completely furnished model homes in Sherwood Park were opened for public inspection. “The development on a 126-acre site west of Cable Road between Allentown Road and the Pennsylvania Railroad, will be the largest total electric community in the nation,” the Lima Citizen wrote. “It will have 400 homes, 100 apartments, and a small shopping center. … By next summer, Sherwood Park residents will have a swimming pool, landscaped picnic areas, children’s play areas and a community center.”
The following spring, Sherwood Park gained national attention. News business editor Chuck Dell reported April 5, 1962, that American Home magazine had cited Sherwood as an “example of progressive residential development.” The magazine wrote that home owners “who hate to see their landscape cluttered with utility poles can take heart” as Sherwood “boasts a skyline with no power poles, telephone lines or television towers. … Since the development is all electric, this is quite a parcel of wires underground. All snug from damage when storms rage.”
By the summer of 1963, the more visible selling points of Sherwood Park were progressing. On July 21, 1963, Cogen told the News “plans for opening a new recreation center and swimming pool are progressing” and would be ready for use in a week. On Sept. 19, 1963, the News reported, “Two apartment buildings are scheduled for construction in Sherwood Park, according to an announcement by Ben B. Cogen, Lakewood Homes, Inc., president. Lakewood plans for Sherwood call for a quadrangle of 100 apartments, 32 of which were completed this year and are already occupied.” The quadrangle, the News noted, would also have a swimming pool.
“Sherwood Park has become one of the fastest-growing residential areas in Lima,” the News wrote Sept. 22, 1968. “The area is large enough to eventually include 400 dwellings.”
By then, Cogen and Lakewood Homes had turned to other projects. After failing to find support for an eight-story apartment building at Market Street and Jameson Avenue in April 1964, and at Market and Cole streets in May 1964, Cogen turned to Shawnee Township, where he developed the Carlton House on Shawnee Road.
Early in 1968, Cogen proposed building the federally subsidized Northwood Apartments complex off Brower Road. “Northwood would consist of 200 units in 12 buildings on a 13.06-acre site south of Brower Road and west of West North Street,” the News reported April 27, 1971.
The plans, however, were tied up in court battles for nearly four years. The name of the project was changed to the Maplewood Apartments early in 1972 and the first earth was turned for the apartments in October 1972.
Cogen eventually moved to Miami, Florida, where he died at the age of 72 on Dec. 3, 1984.
Reach Greg Hoersten at TLNinfo@civitasmedia.com.