The Cross House

The Why of the Buy

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans — John Lennon

The powerful truth of this well-known quote has made itself evident to me many times. While I furiously make plans, life often saunters in from nowhere and bashes me in the head with its own agenda.

I really hate this.

Life did it again in 2014. 

A few years previously my ever-expanding business (restoring vintage lighting) forced the issue of finding a suitable structure to house the business. I mean, how much longer could I tolerate hanging old lights en masse above my bed? No, a place which could properly house the business became critical.

So began The Great Real Estate Search. This being the modern age, Zillow became a daily companion.

My focus was specific. I was not too concerned with WHERE I relocated but was adamant about WHAT I would relocate to.

The what was: A mint 1950s Mid-Century Modern ranch, in untouched original condition. I also wanted a brick exterior. I swore that I would never again own a wood house. Just too much endless maintenance and I was (sigh) simply too old for all that.

In short, I was way too busy/too old to consider a house needing a lot of work. No no no no no way. No. NO!

My thought was that I would find the perfect Mid-Century jewel, do some minor updates and painting, and move in.

However, all that I looked at did not quite fit my requirements. This grew frustrating. I did not want a dining ell (as was popular in the 1950s) but a dining room. While having an attached bath to the master bedroom was a luxury in the 1950s, it did not, apparently, concern Lucy & Ricky that it was a tiny bath. In 2014 however, this did concern me. A one-car attached garage? Please. I am a two-car minimum kind of guy (what guy isn’t?). And so on.

Another huge issue became evident. I found no home large enough to house my personal life and business. Because of the very long/late hours I work it seemed vital to have my home/business located in the same structure. At 11:30PM, a very short commute from desk to bed is highly attractive.

But, no matter my plans — cue drum roll — a house which could not have been more diametrically opposed to my ideal sorta kinda somewhat fell into my lap in the spring of 2013. Over a period of several weeks I spent hours touring the house and talking with the owner.

Unexpectedly, mature reasoning — Hey! Where the hell did that come from? — managed to corral my desire and I walked away.

I suspect that the house was amused by my showy maturity and knew that it only but needed to bide its time.

In December, I found myself irresistibly yanked back by the gravitational enticements of the house.

Damn life. Damn house.

The house was IN NO WAY sensible. It was IN NO WAY a quick refresh and then a move in.

The house was:

  1. Huge. When I say huge you need to imagine a HUGE house. Then double this imagining. Then perhaps triple it. Yea, that’s it, about that size!
  2. Built in 1894. Geez. Was I mad?
  3. The exterior was — you guessed it — not prudent brick but (I am embarrassed to publicly admit this) all wood. Three stories of wood which requires repainting several times a decade. Three friggin’ stories!!!!! Of wood! God help me.
  4. And, most disturbing and altogether terrifying, the house needed a ton of work. However, a-ton-of-work can in no way truly convey the reality of just how much work was required. The projected expense and time required to even make the house livable (much less fully restored) was, yes, terrifying. Terrifying on a profound, shocking, alarming, lock-me-away level.

Of course I purchased it. Can you believe it? 

Work started on March 1, 2014. Because I intend to die in 2049, at the age of ninety-two, the house just might, might, be fully restored before my departure date.

Oh, on March 2, 2014, I started playing the lottery weekly.

 

Qualifying Reasoning Alert #1:

There were several factors which offset the enormity of this titanic-scaled insanity. Really!

Most significantly, the house was the only property I looked at which could absorb both my personal and professional lives. Its huge scale was actually a positive rather than a deterrent.

Without a doubt however was THE factor: I was in love. A full-blown, crazy, insensible, lusty, driven-beyond-reason, ecstatic kind of love.

Well, how could carefully laid plans prevail against this?

So, yes, I purchased the madness. To date, I have not regretted this for an instant (caveat: I reserve the right to change this statement without notice). Indeed, I feel a level of — the only accurate word is glee — which I have not experienced for a long time.

 

Qualifying Reasoning Alert #2:

One thought pushed me over the edge of uncertainty.

Just before I signed a contract I wondered: When was the last time I did something crazy? I had not expected the thought; it just popped into my head.

When I was younger I did a lot a crazy things (no, I will not let you read my diary). In retrospect, many of these actions almost wrecked my life, but some, some, proved deeply nourishing. And, you know, even some of the disasters make me, today, smile when I think: I did what? I admit to a certain pride at the impressive, glittering foolishness of some of my actions.

In 2014 I was fifty-seven. As I have grown ever older I have also grown ever more cautious. This dynamic is not unique to me, but…should I, could I, would I be willing to, for perhaps one last time, joyfully jump off a cliff and toward…?

The last crazy thing I did was in 1996. Had eighteen years really now since passed? The thought stunned me. Eighteen years! Was I now frozen in a kind of old-age conservatism?

At fifty-seven was there enough boldness left in me to fuel THE craziest thing I had ever done?

The question stopped me cold.

The answer catapulted me off that cliff.

I have no sense. And, obviously, I am immune to a rational sensibility.

Funny though, since jumping — arms outstretched, a radiant smile blazing across my face — I feel many years younger.

Incaution may be a magic elixir.

16 Responses to The Why of the Buy

  1. I love this! I love your reasoning, I love your written voice and I love that you are doing so well! Congrats on big things Ross!

  2. Jill!!!!!!!

    What a delight to hear from you! And thanks for the kind words. Next time you are going to be in Emporia let me know. I will give you the grand tour!

  3. Hey Ross. Can’t wait to catch up on these posts. It’s late and I just had time to skip through and check out the (few 😉 pix. Such a great house; and who knew you were such a handsome guy! Jeff

  4. Great stories you tell and what a great old house! My sister and I enjoyed visiting with you when you came out to greet us as we stared at this house, wondering at the love and dedication that must propel someone to undertake such a worthy, but daunting project.

    When your house is finished I’m sure it will rank as one of the finer examples of Emporia’s worthy attractions along with the Granada theater and the old public high school now being converted to new uses.
    Kenton Rhoades, Boston MA

  5. Hello Ross! I love your candor, your commitment to restoration with integrity, all while exploring your inner architecture and sharing it with us. Thank you for all you do and all you are! Emporia is a better place because of you. G:-)

  6. Ross, I finally had a chance to look at your blog — love it! You have a great eye for beautiful objects, and great energy. I was excited at first, because I thought you were in Emporia VA, but alas, Kansas is a world away…I will have to wait to oogle this beautiful structure some time in the future, in the meantime, I look forward to reading more.

  7. I have a little strange story about your house. I thought it was a bit of a creepy coincidence, maybe you will also find it amusing.

    I was starting research for a kids/tween book (ghost/horror genre) and of course wanted a beautiful and creepy Victorian house to use in my story that reminded me of the ones that frightened and left me awestruck as a child. The first thing I did was enter a google image search and hundreds, if not thousands of pictures appeared. I already had an idea of the style and architecture of the house I wanted to use in my minds eye. (Had to have a turret of course – I love the idea of circular rooms and all that light and glass.) I spent hours viewing houses for a few days and came across a picture of the Cross house (this was before you purchased it). I knew immediately this was the house I wanted to use in my story. (As it also needed to be in disrepair, a fixer-upper.)

    I then found the website the previous owner couple had started and it had quite a few pictures. There to my complete surprise, a picture of a mantle was posted and sitting in the center was a ceramic sculpture of Jesus on the Cross with a Roman soldier at his feet. I have the original sculpture of this statue, made after the stone pour for Kemple Molds back in the late 80’s, as my dear friend of 25+ years made that sculpture when he was young for mass production. He had it for years, covered in dust in his studio and while helping him clean out his studio, he decided since he was downsizing this was to go. He asked if I wanted it. I took it home and it has sat in a bookcase for over 10 years in my house. I really hadn’t even thought much about it, until I saw it on the mantle of your future home. I knew immediately that your house was perfect for my story. It struck me as a bit of a creepy coincidence – of all those pictures online, the one house that I decided was perfect from one tiny exterior picture was the same house with this sculpture sitting in it.

    There is one other thing that is quite a strange coincidence. I wanted a dungeon for the story, and as I looked thru the Cross House website, I came across pictures of the original house blue-prints. LO and behold, there is a room listed on those plans as you well know, called: ‘The Dungeon’. I hope you find these odd and strange coincidences as amusing as my friends and I did. (Unfortunately, life, as always threw me a lot of curve balls last year and so I hope to finish my book in 2016.)

    I wish you much luck on being able to get your wonderful Victorian home project completed so that you can enjoy it in it’s full glory for many, many years to come. Many thanks to you and the previous owner for sharing all the photos and history of this house with the rest of us. It’s been a treasure trove for my research.

  8. Hello Ross,

    Found my way over from CIRCA and I not only love this post BUT can relate to it well. I am currently a new owner of a 1756 “had to have so help me by the love of all that is crazy because of all the work” stone house. I look very forward to reading your exploits!

  9. Hi Ross,

    I’m an alumnus of Phi Sigma Epsilon, a graduate of ESU, a woodworker, a boater, a big fan of Emporia, and very interested in historic preservation of all kinds. It’s exciting to see that someone such as yourself is now the caretaker of this fine home. I wish you the best with it!

  10. Very impressive.. I have four acres, and two huge old house trailers, and they are enough for me to take care of by myself… But, a house like that.. Dreams are made of that! I also need a lot of space to store things, and old cars, and RV’s.. I live in a valley, I call my “Little Hell Hole!” I have been here ten years already, and just cutting the grass, is enough work for me..
    What you are doing there, is just amazing, though.. Yours, EWJ

  11. Mr. Ross,
    I love reading your blog. You have a terrific writing “voice.” Thank you for taking the time to share this with us.
    Best,
    Amber

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