published Friday, August 30,1996
The 100-year-old Buhl Mansion in Sharon is in demand. Its owner, its tenant and businessman James E. Winner Jr. are in a dispute about the sale and future of the 422 E. State St. home that was built for industrialist/philanthropist Frank H. Buhl. (David E. Dale/Herald )
3 tied up in dispute over Buhl mansion's future
By Shawn M. Starkey
Herald Staff Writer
Ownership of the Buhl Mansion appears to be up in the air.
According to Sharon tax records, the mansion at 422 E. State St. is owned by Anthony Sokall Sr. of Meadville.
Businessman James E. Winner Jr. on Thursday said he has an agreement of sale with Sokall and should be taking possession during September.
Tim Benton, who has been living in the mansion since 1990, said he has a lease-to-own agreement with Sokall.
But Sokall said he's not selling the mansion, built in 1896 for industrialist/philanthropist Frank H. Buhl, to anyone.
As for Winner's agreement of sale, Sokall said, ``Well that's good, I want to see it.''
Sokall also said Benton isn't leasing to own anymore. ``He wants another lease, but his ass is going out the door. He owes me too damn much money. He ain't paid no rent for over a year,'' Sokall said.
But Benton said he only stopped making his lease payments this month when he began hearing about Sokall's alleged deal with Winner.
Sokall said he has his own plans for the mansion and isn't selling it to anyone. ``It's all news to me,'' he said.
Benton said his original lease-to-own agreement called for him to pay Sokall $225,000.
Winner wouldn't disclose a purchase price, but Benton said he's heard Winner offered Sokall $250,000.
Benton said he tried to pay off the lease in 1992, in 1994 and again at the beginning of this year, but Sokall kept changing the amount of money he wanted.
``He just brought papers down the other day that he was selling it to me,'' Benton said.
Now, Benton said, he doesn't want to give Sokall any more money only to find out that someone else has bought the mansion.
Benton said he has no problem with Winner personally or with Winner wanting to buy the mansion. But Benton said he is upset that Sokall is trying to sell the mansion out from under Benton.
Asked how his buying the mansion affects Benton, Winner said, ``That's between Mr. Sokall and Tim Benton.''
Winner has no definite plans for the mansion, but said he does plan to restore it, adding he's driven past it and seen the building deteriorating.
``As soon as we get it, we're going to put people in there working,'' Winner said. ``I actually have some people lined up to go in.''
Winner said he wants the mansion because it was Buhl's.
``Frank Buhl was truly one of my heroes because he was successful as a business person and he gave back to the community,'' Winner said.
The stone mansion was converted into apartments, then into a French restaurant and later a beauty school with apartments before Benton moved in.
It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In April 1990, Benton said he hoped to own the mansion and its seven acres by June of that year and to complete restoration in time to rededicate it during this, its centennial year.
Because the mansion is in Sokall's name, Benton Thursday said any changes had to be approved. But Benton said Sokall would give verbal agreements and then refuse to sign written ones just when Benton was ready to begin work.
However, Benton said, he was able to restore the walls in the back of the house. He also had a replica made and installed of the stained-glass window decorated with the Buhl coat of arms.
The grand stairway, which had been removed, is almost restored, Benton said.
Most recently, Benton said, his plans had been to turn the mansion into a bed and breakfast.
Benton said he researched the mansion down to wall colors and even minute details such as ``what table had an ashtray on it.'' He did that in part, he said, by talking to a family from California who grew up living in the mansion's carriage house.
SIDEBAR STORY: Winner is planning museums in 2 State Street houses
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Updated August 30, 1996