WF Norman Road Trip!

This year I took two road trips to the fabulous WF Norman Company in Missouri. Norman is almost as old as the Cross House, and the company restored its tower finial, recreated the lost finial on the octagon tower, and created a finial for the carriage house turret.

As awed and fascinated as I was by the magical wonders the company created, I was also mesmerized by the company offices. It was as if time had stopped. Mark, the owner, seemed to enjoy my reverence.



A century ago.



Today. Same tin ceiling. Same stair. Same mantel (far left). I asked Mark what was upstairs? “Why don’t you go an take a peek?” My eyes lighted up, and without hesitation I scampered up the oak stairs, feeling like a ten-year-old who had just been given keys to the candy store. At the top, I gently pushed upon a creaking door, and was…transfixed.



I really had gone back in time. The upstairs offices had been decorated a century ago, and left untouched since.



The tin ceiling retains its polychrome finish. Wow. WOW!



And the walls retain their anthemion stencils!!!!!!!! Wow! WOW!



And borders! Wow! WOW!



The mantel is elegantly simple, and above a glazed tile surround.


Oh, how I yearn to ever-so-gently restore such a space to use. What a thrill to live or work in such an environment.

Across America, in countless small towns, are tens-of-thousands of such lost-in-time treasures as the second floors of most small town main street buildings are abandoned. This seems an extraordinary waste of a valuable resource.

Some cities are trying to do something about this, and have created horizontal easements. whereby the upper floors of a main street building can be sold separately from the first floor. Even Emporia, Kansas, is now doing this.






  1. Jason J on December 21, 2016 at 11:55 am

    I know your feeling! I just seen this auction listing on ebay for two downtown buildings in my town, I walk by them and see the original facades just hidden away, I sooo want to get in there and peel back the layers. It would be fantastic to restore the whole building back to when it was built…

  2. Chad on December 21, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    But I’m even more pessimistic about how much would get tossed to adaptively reuse a space like this than a house.

  3. Blair Carmichael on December 21, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    Have you read “Flip this Town”? It is more about flipping the mindset of communities with historic downtown assets than gutting and razing for profit which historically backfired in over 90% of Americas small communities. An inspirational read!

    • Chad on December 21, 2016 at 1:04 pm

      Sounds interesting! And the backfiring isn’t limited to small communities. I’m in Philly and there are awesome Victorian building graveyards / parking lots that were supposed to be developed 30 years ago with countless dead proposals on them. 2 blocks over, areas that were out of the way just enough to dodge the slum clearance work are booming.

      • Ross on December 22, 2016 at 8:29 pm

        You detail a sad/tragic phenomenon all over America.

    • Bethany Otto on December 21, 2016 at 5:12 pm

      Sounds like a must-read! The city council of my hometown in Illinois recently voted to raze the town founder’s home to put in, are you ready for this . . . a Starbucks with drive-thru. Thankfully there was enough protest to at least put it on the back burner for a while.

  4. audrey B on December 21, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    I can not remember a time when I did not love peeking at old wood decorated rooms and buildings. I attended School in Baldwin City, Kansas in the1970’s and was enthralled by all the old buildings in that small town. There were so many big old houses that were divided up into apartments for students and I was always imagining what the grand houses must have been like in their hay day?
    My brand new daughter-in-law grew up in Hannibal, MO. When we traveled there recently for the wedding I spent quite a bit of time gaping out the car window and dreaming about buying one of those amazing buildings in that very old town.
    There are ordinances and laws about “derelict” buildings and we live close enough to an urban area that any older buildings with character have long ago been demolished in the name of progress. Cookie cutter houses, devoid of much character, crammed together in subdivisions seems to be the way of the day. Sigh.
    I have always loved the idea of restoring a cool old house. Alas, I am married to a guy who is more practical with HIS time, energy and money. And like I said, I love the idea… not so much the WORK! So Ross, it is with great admiration I watch your efforts via this blog, thank you for sharing.

  5. Melody on December 21, 2016 at 10:37 pm


    You actually walked out? Did they have to drag you out?

    Any idea if they have plans to restore it? It looks like it has been very well preserved.

  6. Jakob on December 21, 2016 at 10:41 pm

    I waited tables in such a building – a bar below, with a closed-off upstairs brothel shuttered since at least the 40s in downtown Bellingham, WA. I talked the maintenance man into a tour one night. We scaled a ladder up with only two tiny flashlights to light our way; the electricity had long been disconnected. We had to watch our step, as the floor was torn up here and there to run wiring for below. It was knob and tube, so that’s how long it had been since the space was used! The tin ceiling was water-stained and rusted in spots, and old skylights tarred over, perhaps from the WWII-era Blackout Laws we had on the West Coast. The main stairs were long gone, demolished to free up space on the main floor. A parlor faced the street, it’s tall windows covered over when a stucco facade went on in the 50s. The Madame would introduce the working girls to the johns, and there was a small side parlor where I’m assuming a deal was struck. From there, a hall led to a half-dozen rooms so tiny they could barely fit a double bed, and windowless save for the transoms above the doors. The casing/trim, wallpaper and hardware looked right out of the 1890s, save for some water damage. The back half of the building had been some sort of card room, though sadly what had been the bar area was stripped away to run the HVAC for the restaurant below. It certainly wan’t perfect, but it was fun to get a glimpse at what it was 70+ years ago!

    • Ross on December 22, 2016 at 8:25 pm

      PLEASE tell me that you took pictures!!!!!!!!

      • Jakob on December 23, 2016 at 12:39 am

        We had but a moment – and I tried with what my abysmal camera phone could muster. I think the only thing that really turned out was a close-up of some wallpaper detail. It’s the Horseshoe Café in Bellingham, WA if you’re curious. The access was through an attic hatch in the men’s room, and it was a 24-7 joint back then, so it meant closing the guy’s room for a while. Boss would not have liked that!

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