Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Signs of Life": Another Knox Hill Restoration in Progress

Insulation and siding restoration are beginning on this long forgotten Second Empire Cottage in Knox Hill
Of course regular readers well know of our restoration of the Nagele-Merz House, but ours is not the only restoration ongoing in Knox Hill and I thought from time to time I would focus on telling you the story of some of those other homes in the neighborhood, in a new recurring series called "Signs of Life".

Three years ago on a  typical weekend in Knox Hill one might be greeted by the sounds of barking pitbulls, boomboxes and occasional gunfire. Large parts of the neighborhood had gone into serious decline as homes that had been in families for years were sold off and replaced by uncaring, unfeeling, slumlords who didn't live here and frankly cared less about what went on here. An influx of Section 8 after the riots in OTR had filled this once quiet neighborhood with crime, meth addicts and prostitutes. There were very few old time neighbors left and at that time just existing in the neighborhood was the best one could hope for and their seemed little hope. It was against that background that we bought our home and started the Knox Hill Neighborhood Association.

Mark Elstun and his wife  have lived in the neighborhood for over 15 years and he and his wife had carved out a slice of the neighborhood for themselves on McBrayer . A house overlooking the valley built by an artist in the 1940's that has some unusual stone work and fountains, and another house, a 1880's Cottage surrounded by a native plant garden. In early 2008 they bought another house a two story on Knox that was one of the major "problem property" in the neighborhood that had been "infested" by meth addicts,and was a structural disaster. Mark assembled some friends, called in some favors and, largely by hand, demoed the house. On the site that was left, his wife Diane, an expert in native plants, created an urban rain and a native plant garden. She would often take flowers over to one of the long time elderly residents who had lived on the block since the 1950's to "Brighten her day". When trying  to decide where to buy, Mark and Diane were one of the reasons we decided to buy in the neighborhood as clearly they were an anchor in the community.

The house had clearly seen better days. Siding added in the 1920's and a porch added about 1900 obscured the historic character of the home. The 1950's awnings didn't help either!
Spurred on by our restoration efforts on the Nagele-Merz House, Mark decided to expand out of their 'comfort zone' and purchase the house across the street from our restoration. That house, another Second Empire cottage was built in the early 1880's and  a twin to the one east of it which is now also under restoration as well. The house had been vacant since about 2003-2004 and was last used as a rental. The house  suffered from neglect and in order to keep away the city bulldozers from an intact street scape of historic homes Mark bought it. In a relatively short time, the old front porch (circa 1910) is gone, and the house has been returned to its original facade. Mark intends to restore the street facade first and the decorative features between the roof gutter brackets which were gone due to remuddling. He has also located a period appropriate front door to replace the circa 1910 one. fortunately the house still retains most of its original 2 over 2 windows with original glass and now that the home has been made weather tight after roof  and downspout repairs, Mark is stripping the paint from the original woodwork on the inside.  The priority at the moment however is getting the blown in insulation on the front done and the damaged siding siding replaced. Mark spent his Holiday weekend doing that and priming new wood siding for installation.

You can see just see the house in the center of the background of this photo,taken from our front yard years ago
The home was originally painted a tannish/yellow with a lighter green trim and dark sashes and Mark will try to keep the house as original as possible and, weather permitting, will try to get the front facade painted soon. If the weather closes in he will work inside over the winter and complete the facade painting first thing in the spring. He hopes to retain as much original plaster in the house as possible but has already obtained a drywall permit for the inevitable repairs. Diane will likely plant a wildflower garden  in the spring. Mark hopes to find some slate to restore the original mansard roof as well.

And so, there are "Signs of Life" in Knox Hill!

1 comment:

Karen Anne said...

I'd love to see a photo of the native plants /rain garden...