The Cross House

Resurrection

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” — Socrates

 

An inner psychology drives each one of us. Yet how many of us actually understand our own behaviors and motivations?

One thing has been a constant my whole life: resurrection. I am deeply drawn to resurrection, yet have no idea why.

My income is derived from resurrection: I restore vintage lighting (I resurrect old lighting).

When I travel, I am drawn to forlorn cities and towns which are but shadows of what they once were, and I have a desperate yearning to somehow wave a magic wand and resurrect the lost vitality and architectural splendors.

When I come across, say, a 1920s movie palace, long closed, and now dusty with age and abandonment, I feel an overwhelming impotence at not being able to do something to resurrect its bygone magnificence. When, decades after touring the long shuttered and magnificent Leows Kings Theatre, in Brooklyn, NY, I learned that the structure was finally being restored, my heart leapt with joy.

After graduating high school, I spent several years trying to bring attention to the faded, declining, and emptied-out downtown of St. Petersburg, Florida. I even wrote my first letter-to-the-editor at the oh-so-tender age of twenty-one:

Scan

At the local historical museum, I would scan old archival images of downtown and see the glory of What Was, and experience a painful longing to resurrect all that had been thrown away.

It was excruciating witnessing gorgeous structures, built of quality materials, and with beautiful details, being smashed to the ground for parking lots. This seemed mad to me; insane. Such waste. Why, I wondered, could not such structures be carefully updated and made useful again?

This, thus, is a snapshot of my whole life. I feel driven, compelled to save things. To resurrect the abandoned, the overlooked, and the tarnished. To recreate what has been lost.

And I have no idea why.

In 1999 I first toured the Cross House just after Deborah and Bob Rodak had purchased it, and after the house had been long empty and boarded up. In the 1920s and 1940s the house had been carved up into apartments and, later, a motel, and the interior was jammed with many many many bathrooms.

At the time of my tour, Bob had just completed removing most of these later intrusions. As I wandered through the numerous rooms, and up/down the numerous levels, I felt nearly drunk from an intoxicating, desperate, overwhelming desire to SAVE THE HOUSE.

Of course, this simply was not possible. It was not mine.

Time passed. When I was in Emporia I often would make a brief detour for an external reconnaissance of Bob’s progress, and these forays would rekindle all over again my longing to wave that magic wand of resurrection.

When I discovered that the house was for sale in 2013, I made an immediate appointment with my realtor, Lacie Hamlin, who thought I must be nuts, as the house was everything I had specifically stated I DID NOT WANT (see preceding post).

How could I explain the burbling fervent of my psychology if I did not understand it?

To actually own the house after so many years seemed miraculous, and as I toured the empty rooms (none restored) I experienced a tingling awe and thrill.

Could I resurrect this broken, decaying, and faded thing of beauty?

But, where to start? EVERYTHING needed attending to, and 6,976 things seemingly needed attending to STAT.

Yet one thing jumped out at me, one thing which had been the glory of the house but which had, for almost a century, been compromised.

Could I resurrect this glory?

When the house was built in 1894 it had an imposingly grand staircase. The robustly carved newel posts and hand-carved balustrades rose in two-story splendour, and on the second level was a huge opening overlooking the main level. This opening was an extraordinary waste of square footage, yes, but it offered the extravagant luxury of space.

Yet, in the 1920s when the house was converted to apartments, this luxury  — space — was reduced by three-quarters.  A floor was built over the opening so that two kitchens could be installed on the second floor. Three arched stained-glass which had lighted the second-floor landing were now hidden behind a wall, and the glory of the house was reduced to a dark, unappealing space. It remained as such for almost a century.

On March 1, 2014, my first day of possession, my small crew and I assaulted the offending 1920s wall, and in but a few hours the light from the triple stained-glass windows streamed across the landing once more. We stood back, dirty and sweaty, but glowing with pleasure.

The glory was, almost, back.

The next step was to rip out the floor covering the original opening. We careful removed newel posts and sections of balustrades, and pried up board after board. In a surprisingly short time the expansive 1894 opening was, once again, back.

We stood against the wall opposite the stained-glass windows and looked down through the LARGE opening and to the main level.

The extravagance was back. The glory was resurrected.

The deep recesses of my inner psychology tingled with satisfaction.

 

This is an 1894 blueprint of the second-floor stair hall. The top of the image is north, and the exterior wall has three stained-glass windows (extant). In the middle you see a large rectangle. That is an opening to the main level. The stair was built as drawn, except for the few steps hugging the north wall. These steps were actually built around the corner a bit, hugging the east wall.
This is an 1894 blueprint of the second-floor stair hall. The top of the image is north, and the exterior wall has three stained-glass windows (extant). In the middle you see a large rectangle. That is an opening to the main level. The stair was built as drawn, except for the few steps hugging the north wall. These steps were actually built around the corner a bit, hugging the east wall.

 

This is a 1920s blueprint of alterations made to convert the house into apartments. The drawing shows how the original expansive opening was significantly shrunk to add two kitchens. The plan shows doors opening from each kitchen into the stair hall. There is no evidence that these doors were actually built, although there IS evidence that each kitchen had an interior window in the newly created wall, so that daylight could reach the now window-less stair hall.
This is a 1920s blueprint of alterations made to convert the house into apartments. The drawing shows how the original expansive opening was significantly shrunk to add two kitchens. The NEW WALL shows doors opening from each kitchen into the stair hall. There is no evidence that these doors were actually built, although there IS evidence that each kitchen had an interior window in the NEW WALL, so that daylight could reach the now window-less stair hall.

 

We have started to remove the plaster from the wall built in the 1920s when the Cross House was converted to apartments. The wall was created so that two kitchens could be installed, one for each of the two adjacent studio apartments (former bedrooms). When the house was converted into a motel in the 1940s, the kitchens were removed and two bathrooms built in their place. Yet later, one bath was removed, and the space converted to a small bedroom (with bath). The door to this bedroom is seen in the image.
We have started to remove the plaster from the NEW WALL. When the house was converted into a motel in the 1940s, the two 1920s kitchens were removed and a small bedroom with an attached bathroom was built. To access the bedroom, a door was punched through the eastern side of the NEW WALL, and this opening is seen in the image.

 

This is the same wall, but to the left (west). If you look close you can see a former window, blocked in with lath strips. Originally, the two bathrooms behind the wall each had a window, so that light from the triple stained glass windows on the north exterior wall could still offer some light into the stair hall. The two windows were later blocked over, thus depriving the stair hall of any natural light.
This NEW WALL, but to the left (west). If you look close you can see a former window, blocked in with lath strips. This is one of the two 1920s interior windows which allowed light from the triple stained glass windows on the north exterior wall to enter the stair hall. The two windows were later blocked over, thus depriving the stair hall of any natural light.

 

A close-up of the blocked-over 1920s interior window. Obviously, the window would have been frosted or something so that people using the stair could not look into the bathroom.
A close-up of the blocked-over 1920s interior window. Obviously, the window would have been frosted or something so that people using the stair could not look into the bathroom.

 

Most of the plaster and lath are now removed, and the triple stained-glass windows on the north wall are, after almost a century, lighting the stair hall once again. Hallelujah.
Most of the plaster and lath is now removed from the NEW WALL, and the triple stained-glass windows on the north wall are, after almost a century, lighting the stair hall again. Hallelujah. NOTE: To the left are plastic pink wall tiles from the 1940s motel bathroom.

 

The offending wall gone. Incredible. The stair balustrade parallel to the triple stained-glass windows was originally much closer to the windows, as it will be when the stair is fully restored.
The offending wall gone. Incredible. The stair balustrade parallel to the triple stained-glass windows was originally much closer to the windows, as it will be when the stair is fully restored. That is Justin to the left; Scott to the right.

 

This is Scott, on the first floor, and under where the offending wall was. The plaster above his head was put in place in the 1920s, when the original expansive stair opening was reduced by three-quarters. The image is poor due to all the floating dust.
This is Scott, on the first floor, and under where the offending wall was. The plaster above his head was put in place in the 1920s, when the original expansive stair opening was reduced by three-quarters. The image is poor due to all the floating dust.

 

The non-original plaster has now been removed, exposing 2x12 beams last seen when they were installed in the 1920s.
The non-original plaster has now been removed, exposing 2×12 beams last seen when they were installed in the 1920s.

 

The non-original 1920s beams sat on the original 1894 landing, about 18-inches below the second floor.
The non-original 1920s beams sat on the original 1894 landing, about 18-inches below the second floor.

 

An extraordinary discovery under some door trim was this fragment from the past, a circa-1940 wallpaper. So exotic! The background is silver. Of course, this precious fragment was saved.
An extraordinary discovery under some door trim was this fragment from the past, a circa-1940 wallpaper. So exotic! The background is silver. Of course, this precious fragment was saved. To the left is a sliver of one of the triple stained-glass windows. It is remarkable, indeed, miraculous, that considering all the changes which have ensued over the last century in just this area that the original windows should be intact.

 

We have started removing the non-original flooring.
We have started removing the non-original flooring.

 

Looking down to the first floor, a view blocked over for almost a century.
Looking down to the first floor, a view blocked over for almost a century.

 

At last. The original expansive stair opening resurrected.  To the right, with some remaining 2x12 stubs sitting on it, is the original intermediate landing. A cool feature also buried for almost a century.
At last. The original expansive stair opening resurrected. To the right, with some remaining 2×12 sections sitting on it, is the original intermediate landing. A cool feature also buried for almost a century. That is my bald head coming up the stairs.

 

6 Responses to Resurrection

  1. What you are doing is truly amazing. I am a kindred spirit in an 1880s home that lived a sad life as the Jaycees haunted house in El Dorado, KS. That home’s soul and the Cross family are thanking you.

  2. This is awesome. I love old blueprints. I love how you show the story of all the subsequent alterations before you undo them. I was impressed with the workmanship of the altered stair opening actually, but then I think I saw a sawed off newel post and winced. I can’t say I you but I can’t wait to see more progress.

  3. Ross, I am enthralled and impressed. We have owned and (to varying degrees) restored 3 homes to date, but never this extent. I doff my bowler to you. This home was indeed meant to be yours.

  4. Wow! I know very little about renovation but it looks like you are doing such an incredible job with this house!!! It’s gorgeous! My husband and I did some on a 1940’s home in upstate New York years ago. I just knew that whenever we started a simple repair we would then be hit with a big surprise. It was always more costly than we ever could imagine. We did what we could and then had to move on to another location due to my husbands job. I would like to one day have the time and resources to restore a beautiful old home but we are in our 50’s and I don’t think this will happen. Who can say. However, we love old homes, especially victorians, and love to stay at old B&B’s. What are you going to do once this amazing house is restored? Is it all for storage?

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