Saturday, February 04, 2012

A pied-a-terre in Osceola?

So I’m sitting here this morning trying to decide if it’s practical to rent a pied-a-terre in Osceola, 25 miles to the west, while maintaining the principal residence here in Chariton.

It’s a tough question, but the absence of money and the fact I’m a less than enthusiastic housekeeper barely able to keep up with one set of rooms probably will be decisive.

Still, it’s tempting after taking a look early yesterday at the six soaring light-filled apartments in Osceola’s newly renovated Cornerstone Suites. Four of the six have been rented and tenants are due to start moving in later this month.

Four us had driven over to look first-hand at one of the best recent examples of preservation-based recycling of an historic building in southern Iowa. This is a building that during 2008 was placed on Preservation Iowa's list of most endangered buildings, keep in mind. It looked like this (source Wikipedia) then:

Known previously as the Masonic Building or Burrows Block, the three-story structure was built during 1872 at the northeast corner of Osceola's square by A.H. Burrows, a banker. Although an oriental restaurant now occupies both ground-floor store fronts, the north front traditionally was a bank and the south, a hardware store. Osceola Lodge No. 77 A.F.&A.M. owned the third floor, where its social and ceremonial rooms were located. The second was intended to house offices.

Although built of brick, a heavy coat of stucco was applied nearly a century ago and remains. The elegant cast caps on its 32 long second- and third-story windows may be the structure's most distinctive exterior feature.

I've driven by this building many times over the years thinking, wow --- that's almost a gonner. Many years ago, the second and third floors were abandoned, heat and utilities disconnected. Windows had broken and the northeast corner of the structure was threatening to fall into the street below. Pigeons were roosting on the cast iron chandeliers of the old Masonic rooms.

Determined Osceola residents, however, acquired the top two floors and arranged to have the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building currently has two owners --- top two floors in the hands of the Osceola Chamber-Main Street organization; the first-floor commercial area, a private party. The envelope of the building, exterior, roof, etc., is moving into a joint management covenant.

The restoration and redevelopment project was coordinated by Koester Preservation, headquartered in Grimes. Total cost: $2.2 million, funded almost entirely by grants and tax credits.

Our tour guide Friday morning was Lacey Nish, Chamber-Main Street director and this, the entrance we used --- stairs rising to the second floor from doubled street-level doors in their original location. A further flight of stairs leads on to the third floor. This is not the only entrance, however. The building shares an elevator with the three-story Clarke County-owned building to the south, so those who prefer not to climb stairs don't have to. This elevator entrance, leading into a foyer where mailboxes are located, faces the square.

Because the building's interior was reconfigured and restored within Department of Interior guidelines, as much of the original fabric of the building as possible was retained --- the floors and doors are original, as is most of the plasterwork. Windows are new because the originals were rotted beyond repair, but historically correct and acquired locally.

Each floor contains two one-bedroom apartments ($750 per month with utilities extra) and one two-bedroom apartment ($850 per month).

This is the main room of the second floor's two-bedroom apartment, located in the building's northwest corner. Each apartment has its own furnace and air conditioning unit (condenser on the roof) as well as fully-equipped kitchen and washer and dryer.

In this apartment, the two bedrooms (one of which, below) and bath are located off a long halway leading to the entrance door.

On the third floor, extremely high ceilings allowed for loft bedrooms, which add a good deal of interest to the living space. Here's the principal room in one of the third-floor one-bedroom apartments. The stair leads to the loft bedroom over the bathroom and a "bonus area" just inside the entrance door that could be used as a compact study. That's Lacey at right.

The most impressive apartment in Cornerstone is the two-bedroom on the third floor, which offers a bird's eye view of the Osceola square through six tall windows (all of the windows are equipped with roller shades) and has been fitted into the original Masonic ceremonial room. It is approached through this commons area which also offers access to the elevator, at left.

The grand stair leads to the loft bedroom over the first-floor bedroom as well as bathroom and storage closets.

Original cast iron chandeliers, once pigeon roosts, now light full-height areas within the apartment. Note, too, the original pressed tin cornice preserved throughout this apartment.This apartment was snapped up soon after it became available.

These are wonderful spaces, and I'm ready to move in --- but not your conventional apartments. Closet space is generous, but storage space isn't --- so living here would require a degree of discipline. Which is why I'd need to keep the house for all my junk.

Maybe just thinking about living here will inspire me to do something about all that aforementioned junk, however.

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