Bill's House Page
I bought my first house fairly early in life, at the age of 24. It was old, it was huge, it needed everything, but it was a beauty, it was unique, and it was MINE. I still am fascinated by dwelling places and never stop tinkering with mine.
23 years later, this is my current residence in Webster Groves, one of the oldest suburbs of St. Louis. It is the oldest house I've owned (though not by much) and the easiest to live in. It has a wonderful floor plan, hardwood floors, plenty of light, a spacious kitchen, and a 3 car garage for all my automotive projects. Built in 1876, it was once a farmhouse. Now it is surrounded by newer houses built on the farm where it once stood alone. Despite its age it was well cared for by its previous owners, so I have worked on this house least of all the houses I've owned. Some would say THAT is why it may be the best.
If my current residence is the house I've had the least to do with, then the one that is the most my own handiwork (by percentage if not by hours) is my cabin on 17 acres of woods near Hermann, MO. I started this cabin in 1981 and more or less finished it in 1985. It has always been a work in progress and I still keep trying to improve it. I'm very fond of it although others have referred to it as my "lean-to" or "shack". It started as a project to see what I could build with mostly discarded and scavenged materials. The frame was built with lumber scavenged from a neighbor's torn-down garage. The siding was sawmill lumber ($0.24 per board foot at the time). Much of it came from a secondhand lumberyard that I found in south St. Louis.
During the 1980's I decided I was really cut out to be a real estate baron. With a group of partners (even less cut out to be real estate barons than me) we bought one of the worst houses in the Lafayette Square neighborhood in St. Louis and did a "gut rehab" keeping only the brick walls and foundation. We called ourselves the "Mississippi Avenue Partnership" because our house was on that particular avenue. Everything inside was new, set up as a 3 family apartment building with very spacious and luxurious apartments. We didn't make any money, but we did have fun and created a great building. Well, I had fun. My partners had less fun and wanted out, so I bought the building from them. It became my home after my divorce. I lived there for a couple of years until I decided I was affluent enough to buy the Webster Groves house.
But the house that I'll never forget and that taught me so many lessons was that first house. It was on a 1-block private street in Lafayette Square in St. Louis, a lovely oasis in the middle of the city. Lafayette Square was undergoing a transition from a slum to a middle-class neighborhood in those days, the early 1970's. (Some say that transition isn't finished yet. They're probably right.) It was nearly a mansion, 3 stories and 10 huge rooms with 12-foot ceilings.
During the 12 years I lived there I undertook many projects that taught me a lot about building and about self-sufficiency. Those houses needed so much work that calling a professional every time you discovered a problem was out of the question. See that decorative part just below the third floor windows? That's called a cornice, and when I bought the house it was falling apart. When I tried to get bids on replacing it, no one would even look at the job. Finally one guy bid $10,000. Clearly this was a problem I had to solve without help from contractors.
I hired a college student (Mike Ellis, now a successful civil engineer) for the summer. By the time that summer was over, using one shaky tower of scaffolding that my father-in-law gave me, we completely rebuilt that cornice, board by board, complete with a copper gutter. It was like having to rediscover a lost art.
This house was built in 1887. It had five fireplaces, a huge main staircase, and a small staircase in the rear of the house.
Huge pocket doors separated the parlors and dining room.
The dining room had a hand-inlaid parquet floor.
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