Our New Old House

1918 Bungalow

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“This house just goes on and on…” DSMRC Meeting, April 2011

This month we were thrilled to be invited to tour the grand mansion at the corner of 21st and University in Des Moines. Owners Aaron and Michael bought the house in 2009 and have been converting it back from being a commercial building as a former funeral home and retreat house into a single family residential home. They still have some work to do and opted to enlist the help of our Rehabbers Club members to come up with ideas about how to tackle some of their ongoing projects.

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I took some video of our tour. It’s about 40 minutes long, so pause the player and give it time to buffer. If you have a Vimeo log in you can also download the video to watch on your own computer, which may fix the buffering problem.

Des Moines Rehabbers Club Meeting April 2011 from Kelli Griffis on Vimeo.

The grand entrance, which faces 21st St., features this beautiful tile floor:

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The grand staircase flanks one side of the foyer:

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Ornate, hand-carved newell post:

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We started our tour in the receiving parlor. Here’s Aaron telling us about the history of the house. To his left is Michael. The room behind Michael was the original dining room.

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Here’s the rest of the crowd.

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The room behind the group is known as the library and has the most ornate crown molding in the house. It seems to be made of plaster and to have been cast and painted on the ground and then mounted to the walls in pieces.

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The decoration seems to include some Arabic calligraphy script, which I’m seeking help in understanding. If anybody out there can read Arabic calligraphy and tell us what this says, I’d be truly grateful!

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From the main foyer, pocket doors open to the formal parlor:

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The formal parlor includes this gorgeous fireplace:

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Pocket doors lead from the formal parlor to the receiving parlor and on through to the dining room. We speculated that another set of pocket doors would have led to the dining room.

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The original kitchen was dismantled and a new modern kitchen is on the second floor. Aaron and Michael plan to restore a full size kitchen to the main floor. An original bathroom does survive, though, and it has some beautiful tile details.

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The second floor shows off this beautiful curved hallway that lets in the light from the tall stained glass windows.

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Five bedrooms and a servant’s apartment at the back make up the second floor.

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This would have been quarters for the servants. The doorway on the right in the background is a pass-through closet to another room and includes a built in dresser.

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A very small sun room was added on in the 1960s with a small addition. We speculated this was originally an open air porch that was later enclosed. It is only about 4 and a half feet tall.

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This doorway goes back to what is now a modern kitchen. It includes two linen closets, which leads us to believe it was part of the servants’ area where they lived and cared for the family’s linens.

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Next up was the third floor. Originally a ballroom, it later became the casket showroom for the funeral home and the area to the left of the stairs was the embalming room.

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This unusual antique ceiling fan is on the third floor. I didn’t hear whether Aaron said this was original to the house or simply period appropriate.

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From there we ventured outside and got a good side view of the house:

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We talked about landscaping questions, including the unique challenge of having nearly an acre of parking lot.

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One of Aaron’s questions was what to do with the sign. Some people suggested removing it and using the existing electrical wiring to run a fountain.

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The brick driveway is a feature Aaron wants to restore and use, but part of it is covered by concrete. The part in the photograph is an example of some interesting ways to fit bricks together around a round driveway.

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Next up we looked at the carriage house.

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It has the original brick floor…

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…and is a treasure trove of historic artifacts, including this unique piece of plumbing fixture. People had all kinds of speculations about this one. Is it a sitz bath? A tub specifically for bathing infants and children? Something specific to the funeral home business? You tell me. Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

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A close-up of the knobs:

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A small side staircase led to the carriage house apartment where the stable hands and carriage driver would have lived.

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The place was in bad shape but we could all see the potential for a really cool living space or artist’s studio or something here.

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It felt like entering a time capsule where nothing had been touched for a hundred years.

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They found trunks full of old papers and letters, as well as some remnants of household items.

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You could almost imagine a small team of horses grazing outside the window there.

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That concluded our tour. Aaron and Michael have a beautiful home and lots of enthusiasm about bringing it up to its full potential. Thanks a million to both of them for sharing their home’s story with us. We’ll be checking back to find out how things are going.

Des Moines Rehabbers Club visits a different kind of house

Last month we held our meeting at the Trinity United Methodist Church in the River Bend neighborhood of Des Moines. The building is under major renovation and we got to hear about the project details and tour the building.

I forgot to take a picture of the exterior so here’s one from Google Street View:

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Inside the sanctuary the historic pipe organ is being protected while the plaster is repaired around it.

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This organ is the oldest of its kind west of the Mississippi.

We toured the sanctuary and learned about the roof repair, the plaster repair, and plans for refinishing the floor and pews. They hired an interior designer to pick out paint colors and local plaster craftsman from the neighborhood are donating their time to patch cracks and prep the surfaces for painting.

We trekked upstairs to check out the balcony and get a better view of the sanctuary.

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The huge dome skylight over the sanctuary was once so covered in pigeon debris that it didn’t let any light through. It has been cleaned and restored and with a fresh coat of paint on the trim, the colors really shine.

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Plaster workers broke channels into the plaster so that electrical cords could be installed for sconce lights.

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We didn’t get to see the lights that would go there but maybe they look similar to the fixtures in the hallway.

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In the basement there were bricked up doorways that once led to the alley.

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The architectural details in the building are beautiful and they’re doing a good job of preserving them.

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The renovation work continues and they’re always looking for volunteers. If you can lend your talents or want to learn a new skill alongside a more experienced craftsman, ask about volunteering at Trinity. They have a work day the third Saturday of every month from 8am-5pm. Call (515) 288-4056 for more details.

Apprentice for a day, Part 3: Goodnight, John-Boy

In addition to all the great tips and experience I got working with Doug Burnett, I got to explore his cool old farm house near Runnells. When I saw the house, inside and out, I thought if the Waltons’ house hadn’t burned down on the TV show, this is what it might look like today.

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Oh, did I spoil the ending for you?

Anyway, this 1910 farm house was owned by the same family since the 1940s and the latest couple living there were extreme hoarders. The house has been emptied and parts of it gutted for renovation. I wandered around and took pictures.

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Basement:

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Living room:

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Kitchen wallpaper:

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Door hardware:

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Gas light in the front entryway:

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Stairway off the living room:

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Looking up to the first landing:

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Looking down from the second landing:

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Looking up from the second landing:

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Looking down from the doorway in the second landing. These stairs go down to the kitchen.

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There are four bedrooms:

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Detail of heat vent and light switch in a bedroom:

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Upstairs bathroom:

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Door hardware upstairs:

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Ladder to the attic:

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A peek at the attic:

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I can’t wait to check back in several months and see what kind of progress Doug’s made!

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