Our original install date was set for November 30th, 2016. At the time we scheduled it, Window World asked, “If we have an earlier appointment opportunity, would you like it?”
And when they called on November 10th and asked if I would like them to reschedule the installation to the 11th, I jumped at the chance. Windows installed earlier than expected? That sounded great to me!
And at 10:30, they arrived, their truck full of windows.
Seeing them there, waiting to be unwrapped and installed was exciting. In some ways, it feels as if we have made so little progress on The Cottage, even though we have spent hundreds of hours there. Progress is often done at a crawl.
Until you have huge leaps forward, like the painting and the windows.
These big leaps forward give us juice to move forward on the smaller, no-so-obvious things like wiring, plumbing, insulation and more.
The windows guys got to work pulling out the old windows. The two windows in the center of the photo above were going to be made into one single window. It saved us a couple of hundred dollars by just having it be one window instead of two.
The windows came with an aluminum wrap which would cover the wood surrounding the window. This meant we would spend less time having to maintain the paint or the wood and hopefully not have to worry about wood rot or leaks.
Stepping back and looking at everything, I have to acknowledge, in the past three months there has been an extraordinary amount of work done on this house!
Progress! And just for perspective, this is how the side of the house looked when we first bought it…
The front porch in this 1940 photo is identical to the sagging, warped, and listing one that we ended up removing. If it was original to the house, it was close to 100 years old. It had a good run, but it was time for something new!
For a couple of weeks we got by with a gangplank as Jay figured out just where the posts would go, dug the holes, and built the framework. Now that the floor is on, she will be working on the columns and railing. We are envisioning a Craftsman-like feel and appearance.
And the first weekend in November had us hosting a painting party. We knew the weather wouldn’t hold forever and we were desperate to get some help painting the house so that it didn’t continue to get code violations from the city for peeling paint.
The new color turned a plain white house into something rather spectacular…
I was amazed at how many people saw it and said, “That is a gorgeous color!”
We still had some painting left at the end of the day, but wow, we could not have done it without help. Thanks to some rather awesome friends and family, we were able to knock this out and give this old girl a real facelift.
The day after the painting party, I found myself gravitating towards the back of The Cottage. A sharp incline has made accessing the back of The Cottage difficult and sometimes rather dangerous. The day before, a neighbor had come by and reminded me that she had some concrete blocks if I still wanted them.
I walked them over six at a time in our wheelbarrow and began to cut into the hillside with my shovel. Between the shovel and a level, I was able to place the concrete blocks into place.
In six months to a year, I will return to it, lay down some pea gravel and sand and re-seat them. For now, they will help shape the earth, making my job easier next year.
I also planted a few iris. The plan is to absolutely FILL the hillside with perennial iris, daylilies, tulips and more. They will help control erosion and provide a profusion of blooms from early spring to late fall.
I fought it, I really did. I liked the solid feel of lath and plaster and it seemed like such a huge job to pull it all out. And how would we dispose of it? The argument lasted for over a year before I finally capitulated. My husband Dave had made his case. We needed to:
Install all new electric wiring
Install new plumbing
Re-engineer HVAC to modern standards
Insulate all walls
The plaster had to go.
And so I set the date. My daughter Em would be gone for two weeks visiting family in San Francisco. It was the perfect time for me to focus on demo’ing as much of the inside of The Cottage as I could.
The first three or four days was all me – Dave was working his new job – Dee (my eldest) was busy prepping for her first semester at UMKC. It got dirty, messy and cluttered real quick.
We went back and forth about renting a dumpster. The prices were coming in at around $500 for one to be delivered and then picked up later. The problem with having a dumpster is that, once folks in the area know you have a dumpster, they are more than happy to help you fill it up!
I was afraid that we would rent it, turn around twice, and have a dumpster filled with other folks’ trash.
Our neighbors offered to loan us their pickup truck and we gratefully accepted.
A pickup load, depending on how full we got it, and what all we were putting into it, cost anywhere from $25-$45 to dump. On a Saturday, with three of us working as fast as we could, we could manage to load, move, and dump three loads before the place shut down at noon.
Over the next two months, we would make around 20 trips to the dump. All in all, it cost us slightly more than the rental and dump fee of one dumpster would have cost. Even if we didn’t have to compete with neighbors to load up the dumpster, we had over 12 tons of lath, plaster, and other debris that we removed from The Cottage.
Once we were done, all the walls, and even the ceilings, were plaster and lath-free. The floors were cleared and the house was as empty as we could make it.
It was now time to turn our sights to other tasks. Wiring, the plumbing rough-in, and the front porch were next on the list.
The long answer is that we promised to fix it up and spend at least $17,000 on it. There were also some fees we had to pay. All in all, we spent $144.50 for the house and the fees necessary to register it in our names.
This is not a normal thing. We just were incredibly lucky. Call it a perfect storm of events:
Our home is within eyesight of The Cottage and it is just 25 feet away from the end of our property.
My husband is the neighborhood association president, so we were well-known in the neighborhood (this helps since all Land Bank applicants are reviewed and checked to be sure they are in good standing and live in the area)
Another neighbor was concerned about a tree in the back of The Cottage and had called Land Bank repeatedly requesting it be cut down. It is an old cottonwood tree that still has plenty of years left in it according to an arborist who checked on it for us.
Land Bank, a repository for vacant land and abandoned houses, is overburdened and underfunded. Thanks to urban flight in the 80s and 90s – this area is still underfunded and houses are decaying faster than people can move in and fix them. The economic downturn in 2008 was especially hard on Kansas City and many people suddenly found themselves upside down in their real estate investments. Many simply closed the doors of their houses and walked away.
All of these combined to make it possible for us to offer just $25 on a house and have it accepted.
And now that we were owners of a $25, 900 square foot house, we had to figure out what to do with it.
We began by cutting down some opportunistic trees outside that were a) giving the raccoons easy access to the attic and b) causing significant damage to the roof and foundation. We also needed to take down to trees on the property line in order for KCP&L to be okay with running a new line from the pole to the house.
We then set about cleaning up the inside of the house. We went through the massive amount of debris and found some amazing discoveries, including two Civil War bayonets, hundreds of 30s and 40s era science magazines, Depression-era glassware, 1910 and 1918 wheat pennies, a Civil War button, an entire set of 1900 Encyclopedia Britannica, and more.
And then there were the lovely hardwood floors beneath the linoleum in the back bedroom, kitchen and hallway.
We also dug down, removing the carpet to discover hardwood floors in reasonable condition underneath…
We found quite a few of the original sci-fi greats, including Lester Del Rey, who later founded Del Rey Books.
With the trees cleared, we were able to install a new electrical box.
We now had power to The Cottage and had invested around $3,000 total for the box and getting the place cleaned out.
And that’s where we were stalled. We tried getting loans and funding – but there weren’t any to be had. So we were kind of stuck. We didn’t have enough in funds to move forward and we still didn’t have a vision for what we wanted to do with it.
Abandoned and unoccupied for more than a decade, here are the photos from our first look inside of The Cottage. At that time, all we knew was that a Nadine Burnworth had been the last resident to live there. After she was taken away to a nursing home sometime in 2003, the house had been boarded up.
Unfortunately, it did not stay that way. Metal scrappers repeatedly broke into it, removing anything of value and leaving a mess behind. The house slowly decayed. Eventually, raccoons, squirrels, and other creatures moved in. It was a mess!
Boy oh boy, we had our work cut out for us.
We thought about it for a month or two. And then we made an offer…