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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?