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.

 

I have never shown this plan in its entirety before. Click to enlarge.

 

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:

 

..was also not quite what was built. There was a kitchen on the north wall. And something was built along the west wall, perhaps the eating nook as shown here. The Murphy bed was actually installed in front of the wide pocket door. The original walk-in closet was converted to a bathroom, although not arranged as shown in the drawing.

 

The pipes for the kitchen are extant. You are looking down at the floor. The kitchen was removed in 1950 when the house was converted to a motel.

 

The base on the west wall shows evidence of, likely, the 1929 alterations.

 

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.

 

23 Comments

  1. John Blick on January 30, 2020 at 10:47 am

    It is a huge house and I am sure it carries with it huge expenses. You have to be able to financially support the operating and maintenance expenses of the house. You should not feel the need to defend yourself to anyone. Especially given what you have accomplished and how hard you have worked here. Do what you need to do and don’t give it another thought.

    • Mike on January 30, 2020 at 1:23 pm

      John, I wish that your post had a “Like” button! 🙂

      • Nancy C. on January 30, 2020 at 4:23 pm

        Me too! 🙂

  2. Sandra Lee on January 30, 2020 at 10:53 am

    Hi Toss!

    Your adaptation arguments are solid. I agree all adaptations over Cross House history never interfered with structural integrity, nor permanent change.

    I was wistful about the Octagon room. I thought perhaps you might keep Octagon room intact for B&B. Long bedroom for self and other place to be adapted for storage.

    However, you know best with regard to vision. You are seldom incorrect with regard final results & fabulousness!

    So I give my blessing to your vision. I don’t like it, defer to your judgment. It affects integrityi of Cross House and your goal to restore what was in the beginning. Albeit modern adaptations. Just disappointing to me.

    I defer to your wisdom & vision. What I think really doesn’t matter,

    I wish you well and hope you achieve your vision of Cross House providing income and a better financial return on your investment. Also plans for future are sound plans.

  3. Seth Hoffman on January 30, 2020 at 10:55 am

    I think your careful adjustments and adaptations are entirely appropriate and respectful of the house and its history. It’s easy to look back at old structures as a frozen point in time, but that’s never how they were used, and turning them into a museum dedicated to one selected point is rarely economically sustainable (as you’ve noted in past posts on the subject).

    When you’re all finished with the physical work on the house, I think it would be cool to put together a new set of “as-built” plans for what you end up with and compile them with the previous versions. (original design, original as-built, apartment conversion, hotel conversion, etc). It could even provide an outline for an engaging book, along the lines of “The House with Sixteen Handmade Doors: A Tale of Architectural Choice and Craftsmanship” by Henry Petroski. If you haven’t read it, you should look it up. I think you may enjoy it.

    • Sandra Lee on January 30, 2020 at 11:01 am

      Well stated Seth!

      Still don’t like adaptation plan but defer to Ross and his superior vision. Plus an eye to financial feasibility as you stated.

  4. Roberta Jones on January 30, 2020 at 11:05 am

    Bless you for not building a museum. There are plenty of those! Your devotion to the house’s history is so admirable, but reasonably in view of making it actually a house that can still be lived in.

    For storage for your business, can you use any of the gigantic basement space? I’m assuming so, and that you are keeping that in mind.

    • Ross on January 30, 2020 at 11:10 am

      Yes, Roberta, I will be using the basement as storage for my lights. So, too, with the basement of the carriage house. The latter will free up the third-floor of the Cross House, so I can Airbnb it, too!

  5. Blair B. Carmichael on January 30, 2020 at 11:10 am

    Hello Ross,

    You are a great writer. Perhaps you should write a history, operating manual, and quick start guide for the Cross house. Have two copies printed, one for the house and one for the library. Too many people buy a home, see a feature and don’t know what it is, or how to operate and maintain them.

    I can imagine that anything you create will set a standard for old house owners around the world!

    • Nancy C. on January 30, 2020 at 11:50 am

      I think this is a most excellent suggestion Blair!

  6. Nancy C. on January 30, 2020 at 11:34 am

    You summed it all up beautifully Ross. I have been reading everything you have posted for about six months and love it all, every aspect of everything! I am a “silent cheerleader”, if you will. Lol! I do blurt out on occasion though. I have the same passion for putting things back as they were…to a fault! Lol! I just want to commend you for all you have done for this gorgeous home, every little “bit” of her. I am quite sure you have lived there before, there are just too many coincidences! Thank you for sharing, I have something to look forward to everyday! I love when you work on the inside….so many mysteries (love the solving phase) and discoveries!
    Also, do you by chance like Peacock feathers? I raise Peacocks and have an abundance of their tail feathers, they might make a nice arrangement to be placed in or near your bath that you intend to use that beautiful wallpaper in. They are very beautiful, they remind me of stained glass windows! I would love to send you some, let me know. Keep up the wonderful work!

    • Ross on January 30, 2020 at 12:08 pm

      Nice meeting you, Nancy!

      I love peacock feathers!

      • Nancy C. on January 30, 2020 at 12:20 pm

        Yay! I will be sending you some! Can you email me an address or just tell me here where to send them?

  7. Stewart McLean on January 30, 2020 at 12:02 pm

    I wonder if you know the names of the Sorority and Fraternities that were in the Cross House, and what college(s) their students were from. Perhaps if you contacted the college(s) alumni magazine(s), they might let you write an article about the restoration and provide a link to this site for the magazine, inviting those with memories of the Cross House to e-mail you via RESTORINGROSS.COM. The article could ask the alumnae if they had any pictures or other ephemera from the students who resided there. Former residents could provide more stories about the house and tell about their part in its history. Who knows, perhaps Maybe someone witnessed the removal of the original Motel sign and will tell the story, or someone has a souvenir such as a bit of hardware they’d like to return.
    If they don’t take articles written by “outsiders”, they might ask one of their own to write an article.

  8. Dodi on January 30, 2020 at 12:04 pm

    Ross dear,
    Have you considered(along the lines of that book)making models of the various iterations of Cross House? I’m convinced that such mock ups would be of supreme interest to your guests as well as your house tour. Given how talented you are, I imagine that such a project would be a snap for you and might even be an extra source of revenue stream. In fact, there are several YouTube creators that sell things on Etsy, and I’m sure that you could easily sell the plans for such a project to interested parties from that venue.

  9. Sandy Burke on January 30, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    Ross, don’t know anything about the carriage house, but has it been considered to consolidate your lighting business there and create a work/showroom/retail space to be open by appointment maybe?

    • Ross on February 2, 2020 at 7:40 pm

      Hi, Sandy!

      I have zero desire to have any kind of brick/mortar retail business!

      • SANDRA BURKE on February 2, 2020 at 8:10 pm

        I understand completely, Ross, even so, and I guess it’s just my personal sense /need of organization, to have a home mail order business spread about in different parts of the house/property would unnerve me some. You have a glorious inventory according to your website…..good work…!!

  10. [email protected] on January 30, 2020 at 12:50 pm

    I feel that your ideas for the Octagon Room honor your house and provides a means of sharing it with others in harmony with your needs as the current steward who also requires a work space for your business. You are so thoughtful about the restoration process and not afraid to change your plans in your quest to bring out the best expression of The Cross House. So inspiring and such a joy to read about each part of this adventure!! Thanks, Ross!!

  11. Keeri on January 30, 2020 at 3:14 pm

    I’m not going to lie, I was originally not a fan of the wall. Even when
    you said that you had moved the bathroom door over by 12 inches, in my head I was thinking, “nooooo…move the sink not the door.” However, the wall is growing on me. With the new octagon design it might be, dare I say, even an improvement over the original design. Also, like you said, it can easily be reversed.

    You mentioned that you will be keeping the bathroom in what will become your storage room. Have you considered getting rid of it and reestablishing the two way closet between the octagon and round bedrooms?

    That way you could go back and forth between your office and storage room
    without having to go out to the main hall. You would still have a bathroom
    in your office and it would reestablish an original feature that wasn’t
    even in the blue prints.

    • Ross on January 30, 2020 at 3:30 pm

      Nice to meet you, Keeri!

      Yes, I suspect that the new “temp” wall will actually improve the Octagon Room, as it will reinforce the octagon shape. The finished space will be quite elegant and cozy.

      The 1929 bathroom will remain As Is. I would not want the bathroom to be shared by two rooms. And, I will be installing a “temp” counter with a sink so I can wash my old lights.

  12. Nancy Lyn McPherson on January 30, 2020 at 3:14 pm

    You have been sharing your adventures with your fans and have a large following now. You need to do what the “will of the walls” produce in your mind and in your heart. If that house could talk, it would tell many stories. The house has shown you what you can do. Ross, it is your house and if many of your followers do not agree with your decisions, it is too bad for them.

  13. Brian A on January 30, 2020 at 9:06 pm

    I feel partly responsible for this post, as one of those who initially despised the idea of splitting the Octagon Room. Sandra Lee pretty much summed up my current feelings–still not 100% thrilled with the idea, but getting used to it. And, of course, I acknowledge that the house isn’t a museum but must be both logistically and financially practical. Thanks for sharing the never-before-seen full floor plan of the 2nd floor apartments! Love that.

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