And What Happened in 1929
I recently posted about my plans to add a wall in the Octagon Room. The wall will be built as a temporary structure, and could be taken down later with no damage to the historic fabric of the room. Even all the electrical in the wall will be on its own circuit so, when the wall is removed, nothing will have to be changed concerning the ceiling lighting or wall outlets.
Since buying the house in 2014, I had always planned to use the Octagon Room as a work/storage space, necessary for my business, and adjacent to my office in the Round Room. However, I was always uncomfortable with this idea as it downgraded a fabulous room to a storage room.
A few months ago though I had the idea that maybe I did not need all the Octagon Room for storage. This would free up the very nice southern half of the room to be, well, fabulous.
All this seems perfectly sensible and reasonable but a few readers are not happy! I have pointed out that I am only continuing the long tradition of altering the house to suit changing times and conditions. Had the house not proved adaptable it would have been demolished long ago.
When the house was built it was in a prime neighborhood. This though very quickly changed and just two decades after the house was finished the neighborhood had distinctly declined. The house occupies a corner lot, at the intersection of Union and Sixth. And Sixth had gone from residential to commercial. The huge Cross House was no longer desirable as a private residence, and became a sanitarium. Then a sorority. Then a fraternity. And then, in 1929, it became an apartment house. All this in its first 35-years.
Later the house was converted into a motel, then a sorority again, a fraternity again, and then a boarding house. And every decade it grew ever shabbier. It was boarded up in the 1990s. A miracle then happened when Bob and Debbi Rodak purchased the house in 1999 and returned in to a single-facility home.
At one point the house had 14 bathrooms! And 7 kitchens! Yet, with all these endless changes, the house has remained remarkably intact, which hugely impacted my decision to purchase it. All eight of the 1894 mantels are in situ. Most of the hardware and doors, too, even though many were moved to other locations in the house (and then moved back by me). There were 43 stained-glass windows in the house in 1894 and during the next century+ only one went missing. Remarkable. And I am recreating that missing window.
One thing is clear though about all the changes the house has endured is that so many were clearly designed to be reversible. New walls were built around base molding rather than cut into it. While the main stair was shrunk in half in 1929, its discarded bits were stored in the house. And many of these bits have now been reinstated in their original location.
Of all the changes to the house none were so sweeping as the 1929 apartment conversion. Scott Mouse, Sr. had purchased the house and converted the second floor into five studio apartments. The Mouse family created an apartment for their use on the main floor (consisting of the dining room, kitchen, and library. The original half-bath was converted into a full bath. It is not known how the parlor was used.).
The original architect of the house, Charles Squires, lived a block away and may have designed the 1929 changes.
It is important to note that what was drawn was not, exactly, what was built. The Murphy beds, for example, look like full- or queen-size mattresses but in reality were single-size. There are many additional differences.
The Octagon Room as drawn:
I will be retaining the bathroom, of course. And my new wall may last a decade, or many decades. Who knows. But the wall can easily be removed.
I have no doubt that over the next century the house will undergo many, many more changes. My hope is that these changes are also easily reversed, continuing a long tradition.
If old houses do not adapt…they will not last. To me, adaption is not an issue. But how such changes are made is vital.
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