The Cross House

What do you think about a…GO FUND ME for the Cross House?

Last week a reader, Carla, wrote in, curious why I did not have a Go Fund Me link on this blog.

Since starting the blog in the summer of 2014 I have received about a dozen such comments.

Without quite understanding why, I have resisted the idea. Yes, I know people donate massive amounts of money to help feed children in faraway countries, save animals in need (yes, you, Mi’Chielle!), buy up rain forests to protect them, and countless other issues.

People also donate millions to protect historic architecture.

While I know all this, I have nonetheless resisted the idea of a Go Fund Me account for the Cross House.

Of late though I have been pondering this resistance, thanks to readers like Carla and others, and because of five thoughts which have been floating around in my head.

So, below I offer these five thoughts for your reflection, and five ideas.

 

THOUGHT ONE

While I was able to afford to buy the Cross House, I always knew I could not afford to fully restore it. This is why the Heritage Grant I applied for (and received) was so vital. I also financed a construction loan for the first year. Without this, I would never have purchased the house. The loan, of course, must be paid back!

The grant and loan though will not be enough to fully and properly restore the massive house. Which means all the rest will be out-of-pocket. With such a huge house, and one is such terrible condition, every out-of-pocket is always a big ouch.

Last year I had the radiator system rebuilt. The titanic-sized bill caused me a heart-attack, and I have been paying it down ever since. I am down to about the last ten percent. This means that since April of last year I have not been able to pay for much of anything else. So I did not order the new porch spindles, the lattice for the porches, the replica tiles for the bathrooms and vestibules, and many other luscious things I had fully expected to have in place by the end of 2015. Last week I finally found a pair of period-correct gas/electric chandeliers for the parlor and dining room, and my worry about not being able to afford these beauties caused me massive anxiety. In the end, the eBay bidding did not go very high, praise the Lord, and I proved the high bidder, praise the Lord. But I had to put the cost on a credit card. And I surely aged several years the day of the bidding. Crazy, man!

I have now owned the house just shy of two years. During these years, as my love for the house hugely increased, and my passion, and as my knowledge of it massively increased, I developed an ever-increasing worry. And this is worry is particular, and debilitating.

I worry that I will not be able to afford completing the restoration. And this is causing a lot of stress. A lot. (This is really hard to go public with.)

NOTE: I do not regret buying the house. Not one iota.

NOTE: I am NOT suggesting that all work is grinding to a halt. Quite the contrary, the Heritage Grant work is moving ahead, I look forward to painting the north facade this year, a huge structural beam is being installed right now, and plenty of other tasks are ongoing and scheduled.

No, the worry is quite basic: Can I afford to complete the work? This question of course has been there from day one. What I did not anticipate was the anxiety of living with such a question.

Two years ago, this question was intellectual. Today, the question is brutalizing me emotionally, like in a boxing match:

In one corner we have The Question! In the other corner we have Ross’ Emotions! WHO WILL WIN?

So far, The Question is smacking the hell out of Emotions.

 

THOUGHT TWO

I purchased the Cross House mostly for my business. I needed a place large enough for it, and to live. The size of the house was just right.

Importantly, I was doing the house for me. How long it took was not a particular worry. It would get done when it got done, and the plan was to get the interior restored so I could move in, and then worry about the outside.

In short, I had assumed I could go about restoring the house without anybody paying much attention.

Today, I smile at my naivety.

What I did not anticipate, and was rather startled to discover, is how beloved the house is to so many people. Today, I am deeply aware that what I am doing is not happening in a vacuum. The Cross House sits on a very public stage! This has proved a bit unsettling, yes, but also, well, kinda cool, too.

This awareness has totally changed how I perceive the house. What was intended to be a one-man effort now feels like a community project. I have never before lived in a house that anybody else cared about. This has taken some getting used to, but I now like the feeling.

This new awareness has manifested in a considerable compulsion to finish the exterior STAT, because this is what everybody sees. The Cross House has not looked truly fabulous for many decades. From what people have told me, its decline was evident by about 1960. So, almost sixty years. Sixty years whereby the people of Emporia have been patiently waiting for that big old fabulous house to look great. Sixty years. In talking with people these last two years I have been startled by how deep this yearning is.

 

THOUGHT THREE

I really really really hate stating the following. Not so much to you, but to me.

When I purchased the house I had just turned fifty-seven. The first day of ownership I worked twelve house; twelve thrilling exciting extraordinary hours running all over the house and up/down four flights of stairs.

Then I drove home. When I stopped the car, and tried to get out, my body was locked in place. I could not move anything but my arms. I was scared. After a few minutes, I sorta pushed myself out of the car, and was now on two legs but locked into a fully bent-over position. I could not straighten. So I hobbled over to the house, bent.

It took twenty minutes to stand erect again.

This freaked me out, for it was absolute proof that I was no longer…young.

I loath admitting this to myself.

Last week I turned, gulp, fifty-nine. Gee, suddenly fifty-seven sounds young! And I am aware, with a great deal of reluctance, that things are even harder now than when I purchased the house. It is like with each passing week I can feel just a tiny bit more energy drain away. Never to return.

This freaks me out.

What will it be like in two years? How about when I am sixty-five? And seventy?

I have taken on a project which will require more energy and stamina than anything in my life, at the precise time my body is experiencing an inexorable decline.

This, too, is a new awareness.

 

THOUGHT FOUR

Another aspect of my resistance is doubt. I can see setting up the whole Go Fund Me, and then…nothing. Or not much.

Life however has often surprised me. It helps, I find, to be open to surprise.

 

THOUGHT FIVE

What will happen to the Cross House after me? I am planning to live out my life in the house, so this means I have thirty-three years to get the place finished (I am going to die at ninety-two).

I am old enough however to know that life loves nothing better than throwing out curve balls. So, maybe I will be out of the house in five years for reasons unforeseen now? Like maybe I fall in love and run away to spend my remaining years on a tropical island?

Post-Ross, what will happen to the house? I have seen plenty of beautifully restored houses, when, after being sold by the crazy nuts who lavished much time and money on them, begin an instant decline under new owners who did not have anywhere near the passion or funds or skills or all three. I have seen beautifully restored house look like hell within a decade or two under new owner(s).

This thought scares me to no end regarding the Cross House.

My thought has been to somehow create a trust to protect the house (and carriage house). I have no heirs, so do not need to leave my estate to children. Perhaps the house could be donated to the state? Emporia now has two house museums. Would a third be a good idea? Perhaps the house could become a high-end B&B and events center, operated by a trust? This way the house might well be able to pay for its continued maintenance, and would be available for people to enjoy. This idea pleases me to no end.

With a successful Go Fund Me endeavor, saving the Cross House for the future would become a community effort rather than a personal effort. A successful Go Fund Me endeavor would mean that many many many people took a stake in the future of the house. And this, this, will likely really push me over the edge of resistance.

Perhaps resistance is, indeed, futile?

 

AND SO

All these thoughts, coupled with Carla’s question, have caused me to rethink my resistance to the idea of a Go Fund Me link.

And I would enjoy learning your thoughts on the matter.

If I do add a Go Fund Me link, should it be specific, rather than just a general request for funding?

 

IDEA #1

If I could wave a small magic wand (a wand which would only grant one limited request) I would without hesitation wish that the entire exterior of the Cross House was painted. This would make a HUGE difference and would help boost the entire neighborhood.

To date, I am the one painting the exterior. The big push for 2016 is to get the highly visible north facade painted, and I look forward to the work.

But…but…what if painting the other two facades (east and south) could be funded? How much would this cost? And, of course, how much would it cost to do it, well, right?

How much? $20K? $40K? I do not know. And, could I even find a painter willing to be, ah, crazy meticulous?

Assuming a cost could be determined, and assuming a deliciously compulsive painter could be found, does this seem an ideal Go Fund Project? The results would be incredibly visual, and obvious to anybody who drove or walked by the house. And what a bunch of great blog posts!

I have been painting the house myself to, yes, save money. More importantly however, I want to do this work because nothing, nothing helps better acquaint an owner with their old house then by crawling over every inch of the exterior. One sees every crack, crumbling piece of brickwork, eroded roof flashing, and rotted siding.

So, there is a part of me which is reluctant to hire out this vital task. I would love to paint it all myself, but just cannot afford to take time away from my business. So, the work happens s l o w l y. I also worry that a truely fussy painter cannot be found. But maybe the Go Fund Me would fund me to paint. Then I could afford to scale down my demanding business, and spend a lot more time up scaffolding.

 

IDEA #2

Let’s say that funding the painting worked. If so, I would dust off the small magic wand and then wish for glorious landscaping. With the exterior finished, the crowning touch would be to surround the house with lush green lawns, some privacy fences (there is ZERO privacy on the highly visible lot), some fountains to drown out the traffic on adjacent Highway 50, and plenty of flowers. The effect would be WOW.

What thrills me about this double-whammey visual (completed exterior + lush oasis) is the effect it would have on the neighborhood, and on countless people driving or walking by.

And on me!

The impact of the house fully painted in its original colors, with its forty stained-glass windows (being restored as part of the Heritage Grant) glittering like jewels at night, and all surrounded by verdant landscaping, will be extraordinary and miraculous and emotional. Of this I have zero doubt.

 

IDEA #3

Another highly costly project will be to get the house tight so it can be efficiently heated and cooled. I did a blog post on this, and this could easily cost $20K. This issue is the main reason why I cannot move into the house (a desperate desire). But, I cannot imagine that this would proved fundable. It just ain’t…sexy. I would be ecstatic to be proved wrong.

 

IDEA #4

The above ideas are costly projects. Maybe small projects would be better?

  • Recreate The Dumbwaiter!
  • Sand and varnish the parlor floor!
  • A pair of gas/electric sconces for the parlor!
  • Restore the encaustic tile vestibule floor!
  • Recreate a section of porch lattice!
  • Recreate the lost hexagon tower finial!

Well, such a list could be very very very long!

 

IDEA #5

The poor carriage house sits, almost abandoned.

I had a tenant for it, so stopped work on the Cross House last summer and diverted all my attention to the carriage house.

Then the tenant decided not to move.

I stopped all the work, and resumed working on the Cross House. And by painting its north facade this year, I will not have any time to work on the poor carriage house.

But to dust off the small magic wand, wouldn’t it be great if the exterior of the carriage house could be completed, too?

 

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The Cross House sits on a very prominent corner, and smack against Highway 50 (just to the left). This is the main facade, facing west, toward Union Street. I was able to fully paint it, and restore/recreate all twelve porch columns, in 2014. The colors are original.

 

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The highly visible north facade facing Highway 50. The big push this year will be to get all this painted. My heart kinda stops when picturing myself at the tippy-top of the high gable.

 

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This is the rear of the house, facing east. It, too, is highly visible to drivers on the highway heading east.

 

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The south facade, right side. While not as visible as the other three facades, it is nonetheless prominent.

 

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The south facade, left side.

 

524 Union, 1894, by Charles W. Squires. This is the carriage house to the adjacent Cross House. 524 is looking a bit tattered as the decaying circa-1915 front porch was shorn off by me a few months ago. The whole second floor in the image (save the rectangular dormer middle in about the middle) ir from 1894. All that you see on the first floor is from the circa-1915 renovation, when the carriage house was moved a bit to the west, placed on a full basement, and its barn-like main level rebuilt as a proper home.
The poor carriage house.

 

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I’m wishing, wishing, for the house I love…

 

AN UPDATE!!!!!!!!!!!!

18 Responses to What do you think about a…GO FUND ME for the Cross House?

  1. I think if you did decide to do some crowdfunding (which to me seems like a good idea), you might want to do one round that is just the painting to get it started. Then if that goes well and that part of the project is completed, you could move on and do another round of fundraising with another specific project in mind.

    That way it is not such a nebulous and general thing, but rather provides something that both your supporters and you can get excited about. Breaking it down into smaller projects, especially those like the painting which is highly visible and will get people interested in the results (especially local people who can see the house), might make each step more manageable and ultimately more fundable as well, as folks could donate a little to the painting, then down the road donate a little more to the future projects. Just a thought. I say go for it.

  2. Ross, considering your following, I think the Go-Fund-Me idea is certainly viable, especially if specific to the exterior painting initially. I’m sure it is with much hesitance you even float this approach, but I say “go for it!” What have you got to lose? I hope it’s not pride, because lord knows you have everything to be proud of simply by loving and caring enough for the house to buy it in the first place. And setting it up in a trust for the future is an excellent idea as well.

  3. I am in. I always wanted to contribute toward the stained-glass windows. My weakness. Smaller projects and then the results would really work. Live in the moment. The time is ready for now. It is not just Ross and the Cross House, we are many that care and want to be “in”. Take care.

  4. I think it’s a great idea and I agree with painting the exterior. As for landscaping, in Virginia, the garden clubs used to restore the gardens of historic properties. Maybe something similar will happen, once the exterior is finished.

  5. Oh Ross! I so wish I could help you. If by some miracle, I come into some big money, I promise I would just give you the money to get some of these projects done. I love the Cross House! In the mean time I will donate what I can to your Fund Me page. I have another idea for you. Aside from the money aspect, it sounds like time is a problem too. What do you think about having a work weekend where those of us who follow the blog or on OHD, converge on the Cross house for the weekend and get some of this work done? Darlin’ I think it’s a fabulous idea! We might not get a lot done, but we could certainly get some of it done. Now now Ross I know you’re picky about the house, but some of us, like myself, are very detail oriented too. If it were planned out, you could figure out what project would be best for each person based on their talents. I definitely would be willing to drive out to Emporia for a work weekend. As long as it was planned in advance so I could take a couple days vacation from work. I’m 52 by the way, so I DO understand the decline in energy.

    • Ditto. Not only to what Lynn has said about many of us being willing to volunteer to give some help, but I think specific projects are a way to go on the GoFundMe site, plus Cindi’s thought about garden clubs taking some of this on is wonderful! I’m sure they would allow you creative control while being able to make good recommendations!

      Now, i do hope you are giving yourself some “self care” through all of this! This post actually makes me more concerned for Ross than the house! ! Working yourself to an early grave would be tragic for the house, so please take care! (I think the Rec Center there has yoga classes!! 🙂

  6. I love the idea of a go fund me page! My husband raise over $2000 for an injured dog whose owner had cancer so they do work and the Cross house is a wonderful cause!

    But my main reason for commenting is that if your tenant backed out, why don’t you move into the carriage house? If you have it almost complete then you would be on site for protection, save on gas traveling and with what has been completed at the Cross House would it now accommodate your business?

    Just a thought…I’m sure you have had…but sometimes hearing it from someone else makes you think differently.

  7. Ross, it is early days yet to decide how to protect the Cross House into posterity. As you contemplate it, I suggest you NOT consider a municipal/state donation. Carla Minosh’s cautionary tale of the failed Wilcox-Parker Mansion donation to Meridien CT describes one of many ways governments can be poor stewards. A donation of a historic preservation easement to an active tax-exempt historic preservation group or a SHIPO can protect important exterior and interior elements, in some cases get you a tax deduction, and bind all subsequent owners. Setting up a trust to run the place is probably too restrictive because the enterprise is too small to weather major financial challenges–if there were an American equivalent of the UK Landmark Trust (q.v.) where similar historic properties were bundled and managed, that might be or become feasible. I’d donate an easement and let your amazing life continue its course for future decisions on the Cross House–it obviously has a powerful tutelary spirit. And who knows–worthy heirs may yet appear!

    • I agree with the facade easement. That way, you could set up a non-profit to look after the exterior, and then donations might be tax deductible! Just a thought.

  8. I think that a trust or foundation are a wonderful idea, but take a cue from the disaster that is now the Duke Foundation, be VERY explicit. The Foundation let Doris Duke’s house go to rot and now they are claiming it needs to come down. It is a waste and a sad, sad situation. She was the richest woman in the world when she died and now the Foundation is using her money for what they are “interpreting” she wanted it used for.

  9. I’m in! I’ve wanted to be part of your efforts from the very first time I read your blog. I would be thrilled to be part of the community that values the Cross House and helps bring it back to life.

    I also like Lynn’s idea of a work day. I’ve got plenty of experience scraping, and I wouldn’t mind putting in a couple hours to prep an area for you to paint. Or if you want to stay in charge of the painting, why not have a group help clean up the grounds?

  10. I agree that you’d need to think long and hard about making it a public museum. This mansion was deeded to Philadelphia and the city almost demolished it to sell the land it until the historical society stepped in. It turns out that the deed had a clause that ownership would revert to the Episcopal Church if the city couldn’t maintain the property, and so the historical society came forward, took the city to court and determined that the city’s property rights would indeed be void if they tried to resell the land, and ultimately they pulled off a restoration that leaves it open to the public and available to rent for weddings. A trust, if enough people are interested in running it, would be a good option.

  11. go for the funding. many many extremely stupid and undeserving ideas have made thousands this way.
    in the meantime, stop whining you old geezer. i think i remember being 59 and 60 but i’m not sure, it wss so long ago. this summer i will turn 70 and last summer i fell into a new career. i have always gardened and before i lost my property did an organic veggie business with CSA’s (community sponsored agriculture) and while doing that worked for Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association doing mowing, gardens and landscaping. Last summer through another of my part time jobs, i fell into doing flower gardens for an ever increasing list of customers and they all want me back this coming summer. Why? because what i charge an hour which seems like a lot to me is about 1/5 of what they are used to paying for the same work. that and the fact that i love to work at what i love to work at so i don’t take breaks, lunch hours and work 10-12 hours a day and then go back to MOFGA and work til dark on the gardens there. if i didn’t have this new found wealth, i’d come out and set up a tent and do all the stuff you need done. living in a 180 year old house for 35 years, i got pretty good at painting, plumbing, electricity, carpentry and i do stained glass.
    So, suck it up, go to a gym (like I do) and get some exercise and you’ll be good to go for another 30 years. and if you do get funding, rent a bucket truck. the chinese may do all right with that flimsy scaffolding but i worry about you up on that south wall. just don’t step back to admire your work.

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