The Cross House
“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:
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.