Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
The Davidson House as it appeared in 1985, when the 132-year-old home was first listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
September 11, 2012
INDEPENDENCE -- A general contractor with 50 years of experience, Richard Lawrence doesn't buy the notion of a home remodel being "mission impossible."
With time and money, "anything is salvageable," Lawrence, 84, said. "You just do what you've got to do."
Still, the overhaul he and his son are performing on a 132-year-old home that even its owner quips resembles a "haunted house" is a challenge.
That dwelling at the corner of Ninth and Monmouth streets is known locally as the Davidson House, named after its builder and one of Independence's earliest residents. A two-story Gothic Revival, it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Decades of neglect, however, left it a near derelict, a neighborhood eyesore so deteriorated that its last occupant couldn't live there during her final days.
Fortunately, the residence is being brought back from the brink.
Paul Reiter, the owner of the Pink House Cafe, purchased the home in May and is trying to restore the landmark to its former glory.
"Some people thought I was crazy," Reiter said. "But I just couldn't imagine somebody coming in here and demolishing this to put in a duplex. That could have easily happened."
The 2,000-square-foot structure was built in 1880 by John E. Davidson, a physician who moved to Oregon from Illinois in 1850 and is credited with creating the first mercantile business in Independence, according to a 1984 article in the Monmouth-Independence Sun Enterprise newspaper.
Pink House Cafe owner Paul Reiter purchased the Davidson House in May and is attempting to restore the Gothic Revival home to its original 19th-century glory.
Since June, Lawrence and his son, Rob, have replaced almost 99 percent of the home's foundation, added a new roof, leveled a collapsing porch and are installing new siding.
They're starting from near scratch in the interior, which has been stripped to bare studs and framing in most places.
"There's an awful lot of work left," Lawrence said. "Another month outside, 60 days for sure inside."
The project is a passion for Reiter, who's fixed up several other properties in Independence. One was the Pink House Cafe at 242 D Street. It was erected in 1870 and in deplorable condition when Reiter bought it in 2006. It took him almost two years to restore.
It's also a tribute. Reiter was friends with the home's late owner, Betty Lou Newberg.
Newberg was the 11th owner of the Davidson House when she and her then husband acquired it in 1978. Even then, it was in rough shape, Reiter said.
Newberg was a well-known local historian and community volunteer. Reiter said it was her dream then to restore the house. After she divorced, she lived alone for many years.
General contractor Richard Lawrence installs subflooring in what will become modern bathrooms on the ground floor of the Davidson House Sept. 4. Lawrence estimates two more months to completion.
"She just didn't have the ability or resources to put the home back together," Reiter said.
The house fell apart. The old foundation started crumbling, and the house, settling, while the outside deck was almost completely dry rotted, said Jeff Kennedy, a city building official who visited the house in the mid-2000s.
The landscaping was a mess. Hedges in front of the house were so tall they almost obscured the residence from the street while ivy spread across the siding. Reiter said the backyard was nothing but brier "that grew up to the roofline."
Newberg lived with Reiter's family during the last four months of her life because of health and safety issues with the home. She died at age 76 in 2010.
Reiter served as executor of Newberg's will and put the house on the market late that year. Kennedy said he had told Reiter "that it would cost more to rehabilitate it than to tear it down and reconstruct the same building."
The asking price for the home started at $120,000 and dropped all the way down to $60,000. Still, interested parties deemed it too expensive a project to buy, Reiter said.
"My best offer was $45,000," he said.
When an old lien against the home was resolved, Reiter took ownership in May. Lawrence, a friend and regular restaurant customer of Reiter's, started the rebuild in June
Rob Lawrence measures a section of siding before cutting a replacement Sept. 4. The house is set to receive all new siding in addition to a replaced foundation and nearly complete interior makeover.
"I just couldn't bear somebody coming in and demolishing it, then putting a duplex here," Reiter said. "That's what could have happened very easily, because it was in such poor shape."
Perhaps a dozen pickup truck loads of dry rot have been removed from the home. Beams and timbers beneath have been replaced. An addition to the original structure believed to date back to 1910 was jacked up. The entire home will be rewired and fitted with new plumbing. A collapsing carriage house will be torn down.
"People say they don't build things like they use to and I think it's a good thing they don't," Lawrence said. "There were so many old ways of building that weren't right and you have old homes now that are rotting, sagging ... it's a learning experience."
Reiter estimates the price tag for the remodel will be in the six-figure range. The interior will eventually sport a modern kitchen and bathrooms. He said the outside will look as close to the original as possible.
Reiter said he's not sure what he wants to do with the home once it's finished, though he does plan to host a fundraiser or two here for the Independence Public Library, one of Newberg's passions. He also knows what color the house will be painted.
"Betty Lou wanted it yellow ... we're going to call it Betty Lou's Sunshine House," he said.
Did You Know?
* The Davidson House at 887 Monmouth St. and the Pink House at 242 D St. were both built by John Davidson about eight years apart. The two structures even share the same floor plan, Paul Reiter said.
"I didn't even realize that until we started helping clean out (the Davidson House)," Reiter said. "I don't think even Betty Lou (Newberg) knew that."