On my first foray into Old North St. Louis -- New Year's Day 1999, a sunny day with fresh snow on the ground -- I came across this beautiful old building at 3210 19th Street. Like so many others on that trip, I photographed it without much noting where it was.
Four years later, my familiarity with the area was increasing, and I rediscovered what I thought was the same building. As it turned out, 3210 was long gone -- but its identical twin at 3202 remained, and seemingly was having some work done to it. So I began checking up on it... until eventually, I got to meet the present owner, a one-woman force for good named Barb who is slowly working through the renovation of the entire hulking building.
Of the house and its vanished twin, Barb writes:
"The houses are identical because they were built by the same guy, August Kayser or Kaiser. He started at the corner in 1895 and build 4 in a row over the next 15 years. Mine was second, and was started in 1896. The architect's last name was Knute, (from the index-card record of the building permit at city hall.) On the undersides of my slate mantels, the name KAYSER is written in black paint -- KAYSER, North Down, says the downstairs mantel on the north side.
"You have pics of 2 of his houses. The others, 3200 and 3206-8 are sadly long gone. 3206-08 disappeared before 1984, 3200 went in a fire a couple of years before your first pic. The south side of my house on the inside was covered with soot, and there are still some marks left here and there if you know where to look.
"When August built the houses, he lived at 1900 Palm across the street. He was the oldest brother in a bunch of butchers that came over from southern Germany. He had a butcher shop nearby, another brother had a different shop, and his youngest brother opened a tannery. The Kaysers did pretty well and eventually moved into chi-chi Hyde Park, nearer the Holy Trinity church. They were known there, donated money, etc. I haven't had time to get into church records, but I keep hoping to find a picture of August..."
January 1999: 3210-12 N. 19th Street - abandoned, boarded up, and burnt. It was destroyed shortly after this photo.
January 2003: 3202-04 N. 19th Street, in the early stages of a partial renovation.
May 2004: A year later, the renovation halted. Two street level windows were boarded up..
A String of Troubles
"I have long been a fan of your website. Back when I lived in Clifton Heights in South City, it got me interested in the near north side. So when my southside neighborhood started topping out the real estate market, I decided to sell my southside rehab and move north. I ended up buying 3202-3204 19th St. Here is the story.
"I stumbled across the house in late 2004. It took me nearly a year to get financing together. Many had tried before, but the biggest problems were that the house was COMPLETELY off the grid, including no sewer service, no gas service, no electrical, no water service, etc. Not just turned off, but GONE. The sewer was the biggest problem for the lender, since the Kaysers had dug their own "private sewer" which connected the row outhouses behind the 4 buildings to the sewer in the alley. All the properties were still under one owner in the 50's when MSD took over, so MSD did not take ownership of this sewer. When I brought this problem to MSD, to get the "private sewer" repaired up to the point that my property line would start, so I could build out a 20 foot lateral just to my property line and meet some public service, they declined.
"So I went to the Missouri Historical Society, and found an 1880 map that showed a "private alley" behind where the house was going to be built. I took that to the street department, and the lovely Wally Hose decided to help me save the building. The street department repaired the private sewer under the logic that it was under an alley and not on my property, so they did it with the city's sewer lateral insurance. In order to get a loan I actually had to get the city comptroller to sign off on this plan, and I have a lovely "to whom it may concern" letter from Wally promising to fix the sewer as soon as the house had a toilet which could be shown to be not working.
"The second problem is that the house is a multi-family, and lenders don't want to lend on multifamilies in our neighborhood. So I needed to turn it into a single family to buy it. The problem was that it is too big for a single family, and I could not afford to do it all at once, since if you buy an uninhabitable building the city is a lot harder on you than if you start with something you can already live in. So at the urging of a creative mortgage broker, Rick Horn, I decided to undertake to subdivide it into two houses, which I had to do before I bought it. I.e., I had to get the seller to subdivide. However, this costs money -- surveyors, all sorts of city fees and also I had to prove that it had complete and sufficient fire separation. There is a complete brick firewall between the two sides, which is so big you can see it from satellite photos, but this was not enough for the city. I ended up having to pull 2 $88 permits from the city, one for each side, so an inspector could come out and see both sides. I had to add 10 or so rows of bricks to the top of the firewall to meet new code. Of course, all the city provided for my money was a single drive-by!
"The third problem was insurance. Since there was a fire that went through the roof, and the water damage then went straight down, I had about 20% of the joists on each floor that had fallen out of pocket. Some moron wrote in a report that there was "imminent danger of collapse" and I could not get builder's risk. Each insurer backs up to the same underwriter, Zurich, and they had that report and just refused, and there is basically no other underwriter. So I came up with a plan to shore up all the cut-off joists with a big header on each floor, and support the whole structure with a "tree" up the middle, and got a new engineers report sent to Zurich, and I still had to call their legal counsel and ask to set up a meeting with me, my (fictitious) lawyer and their lawyer before they finally re-reviewed. Builder's risk for half the building then cost me $5600 for one year.
"Finally I was able to get it subdivided. I had spent about $7500 on the place before I was ready to close, not counting my time. Then in July, my lender backed out, and I, like Michael and Claire, had to start again with a different lender. I had sold my house in Clifton Heights by then, and had to spend about 30K in cash on the place to bring it up to a standard required by my second lender. Note I still did not OWN the place I was sinking all my cash into. I finally got a rehab loan for the south side only and own the north side free and clear. I had the seller put the whole asking price on the south, and bought the north side for a dollar.
"So I actually own both sides of the building. I closed Oct 26, 2005 and moved in Xmas day, many many long days before the plumbing was in (many thanks to White Castle and Crown Candy for letting me use their facilities!). The electricity came on in December, plumbing in February and gas in March. I didn't get trash service from the city till April. I took something like 20 tons of trash out of the building, including lowering both basement floors by 18 inches of decaying organic and probably human muck. I knew I hit bottom when the shovel finally struck pavers.
"Since I had a 203k loan (loan of last resort when your credit is good but your neighborhood is redlined) I was forced to do all sorts of stupid interior stuff required by HUD ("one working heat vent in each room") instead of starting on the exterior like a normal person would. But, I also did all the demo and hard infrastructure work for the north side, since after subdividing, I was required to do 2 of each utility -- 2 laterals, 2 gas, 2 water services, 2 electrical drops, etc.
"In addition, in July before I was able to close, some people came with axes, broke in the back, ran up to the upstairs dormers, axed through the dormer walls from the inside through the plaster, decking and slate of the mansard front, to steal the last bits of copper gutter still hanging on. I ended up having to factor in 56 feet of cornice-style reproduction gutter and another 5K worth of slate repair.
"The historic tax credits are the only thing that make this project a break-even proposition, but they require you to spend all the money up front before you get the credit later. The cornice and historic windows make the work slower and more expensive, but it is worth it for the final effect.
"I unexpectedly had to have major surgery in December and wasn't able to lift anything more than a small cat for 3 months, and am just now able to say, so I started employing a bunch of local semi-homeless kids to do all sorts of things. They have zero skills, and I have quite a few, but could not "show" only "tell", so we have all learned to be patient and kind to each other, and they have learned to tell a nail from a screw and know which tool goes with which, etc.
" Then I was laid off in May, so had to stop doing anything requiring materials and just started painting, painting, painting all summer. Now I am back at work and once I am caught up on the bills will be able to spend a bit more. Once I have all the windows back up in the front, my next project will be to put up scaffolding across the front and strip the paint off the slate and repair the upper cornices.
September 2006: Progress has resumed! The sidewalk is restored, and the house has new windows and restored front doors.
November 2006: Mullions are installed on the lower windows.