Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Zillow game

This obsession involving old houses I've mentioned, but never the Zillow game, a pastime akin to the addictions of nearer-than-I'd-like contemporaries who haul their walkers and portable oxygen over to that casino at Osceola, hobble down the ramp and fritter their Social Security checks away. With Zillow, thankfully, it's only time that's frittered --- and it's all done in the comfort of home. There is no buffet, however.

To play it, call up Zillow, an online real estate database that's been around since 2005, and decide what you're looking for. Usually I want vintage property close to home (this is voyeurism, remember; I have no money), so after I type in "Iowa" following "Find Homes" and hit the search button, the stalking begins. Find "More Filters" in the new window and expand it to narrow the search.

The Barrows House, ca. 1930

You can enter dates under "Year Built" --- 1850-1860 generates a few hits in Iowa; 1850-1890 far more. Or you can enter "Keywords." Partial to "Second Empire" and "Italianate" styles, I try those sometimes. "Historic" is interesting in part because of just what some Realtors consider historic. "Mansion" turns up a few. Be innovative. Experiment.


My find of the day, using "1850-1860" to search, is the E. S. Barrows Mansion in Davenport, one of Iowa's Mississippi River towns, priced at a mere $229,000. I like it for all sorts of reasons. Built in 1856, it's Greek Revial --- the portico is original equipment, pillars reportedly hauled upriver on a steamboat. Greek Revival is rare in Iowa. The walls, laid from stone quarried nearby, are 22 inches thick.

It's also a salvaged home, snatched back from the brink of demolition in the late 1980s and 1990s and carefully (and expensively) restored. That's a positive thing. I also like the restrained interiors within those vintage walls.

The location may not be that great --- at the intersection of East 6th Street and Pershing Avenue, with downtown Davenport between house and river. But It's high (flood-proof, and quite a bit of Davenport isn't) and has sweeping views.

The house was built by Dr. Egbert Storrs Barrows, the first physician to establish a practice in the Quad-Cities, arriving in Iowa during 1836 after service as a U.S. Army surgeon during the Seminole War.

Storrs died in the home at age 93, during March of 1892, after breaking a hip and rather famously was buried in a tamper-proof iron container in Oakdale Cemetery ---not afraid of death, but leery of body-statchers. An inscription on his monument according to a contemporary newspaper report: "All who sleep here still exist as material constituents of the universe. Hope may, but belief should not transcend experience."

By the 1920s, the home had been divided into apartments and its stonework encased in stucco. Deterioration had accelerated by mid-century and by the 1970s, it was a wreck, selling at one point for $4,500 in back taxes according to a Quad-City Times article.

Lolita Bauer purchased the place during the 1980s when condemnation and demolition were possibilities and invested years and a modest fortune in its renovation. She apparently is principally responsible for the way it looks to day.

Hoping to recoup her investment and move on to a less extensive renovation project, she offered it for sale during 1995 for $340,000.  In 2002, it was being considered as the site for an African-American heritage center, but that didn't work out.

According to online accounts, old house has been the home of David Leo and Andrew Patterson since 2009. Now, it can be yours.

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