Cedar Rapids Owner of Historic Home in Race to Make Repairs
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
Seeking a fresh start with her three sons after the death of her husband, Tamara Dallege never imagined the tumult that would accompany their move to a late Victorian home in southeast Cedar Rapids.
“I always loved this house,” said Dallege, who attended Coe College, and knew people who lived across the street from the home at 1403 Second Ave. SE. “We walked through and I fell in love with it.”
At the time she purchased the home in 2009, Dallege knew that the 1896 Josselyn and Taylor-designed house needed work, so she began planning improvements with the income she made as an artist, now working as a part-time art teacher at Grant Wood Elementary and as the owner of EASELy Distracted, providing art lessons and events.
The property, which includes an 1870s carriage house, had been on the market after the death in 2008 of previous owner Ray Westrom.
“I wish we could have met him,” Dallege said of Westrom, who was a collector and somewhat of a neighborhood celebrity. “Everyone has a story about Ray. Everyone knew him and loved him.”
The pink paints and carpet that were predominant in the home during Westrom’s time slowly gave way to reveal hardwood floors and other features of the once grand house.
Dallege and her sons, with the help of friends and other family members, worked on the interior as they could, which included major restoration of the kitchen to make the home liveable.
Dallege’s father was a builder and craftsman from the time he was 14 years old, constructing several houses in their hometown with family, then later working in Chicago suburbs on elaborate trim work.
“It was watching him that I learned about home repair and restoration,” Dallege said. “He passed away in 2011 from Parkinson’s and, although he wasn’t able to actually physically help, he has always been an inspiration in all we do.”
Dallege called her mother “the most organized woman I have ever known,” who has helped finish the interior of the home, driving an hour each way to assist, and Dallege’s fiance, Anthony Crawford, “has learned how to do everything,” she said, from plumbing repairs to fence-building.
As their work continued on the house, Dallege was caught off-guard when she was served last year with a notice from the city.
An anonymous complaint had been lodged against her, alleging that the home fell under a nuisance property ordinance.
Annette Lorenz, a Nuisance Property Abatement Coordinator for Cedar Rapids, said under the city’s Secure and Friendly Environments in Cedar Rapids program, anyone can anonymously file a complaint against anyone’s property.
The program, known as SAFE-CR, was implemented in October 2013 as a way for the city to address property maintenance or conduct issues, with the goal of reducing city-provided calls for service to properties with chronic problems.
Lorenz said property owners are initially given 35 days to address the issue.
Dallege said the complaint against the home was vague: “in disrepair.” No one inspected the roof, but based the need for a new roof on photos that city staff took from the street.
She was undergoing surgery last year and asked for more time, but was taken to civil court and was told the penalty for contempt of court – if the repairs aren’t made – could include jail time, which would jeopardize her teaching license.
A friend whose husband is an attorney was able to help her and get an extension on the time given to not only paint the full-three story home, but to roof the house and carriage house.
“These are painfully expensive repairs to have to do all at once, just because somebody complained,” Dallege said, citing the total estimate for paint and two roofs at $40,000. She questioned why her house was targeted with a complaint when other homes nearby have broken windows and structural issues that go unaddressed. The city won’t identify the complainant.
Development in the area is potentially the impetus behind the complaints, with her property targeted for an expansion project.
Led by Bob Grafton, a member of Save Cedar Rapids Heritage and the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, a team of volunteers with Habitat for Humanity’s “A Brush with Kindness” program has diligently worked on painting the exterior.
Dallege and her family and friends have been finishing the upper levels, which has been a challenge for her, given her fear of heights.
She qualified for an income-based grant of $4,500 from the city to help with the roof repair and has also borrowed money to pay for the remainder of the roofs, at a total estimated cost of $25,000. Dallege is now in a race against the clock, with an Aug. 14 deadline given by the city.
While she appreciates everyone who has stepped forward, the volunteer work and attention have put Dallege out of her comfort zone.
“I’m used to handling situations on my own,” she said, adding that “having all of the help is appreciated beyond words. It’s very humbling.”
Dallege hopes that the house will ultimately become a local historic landmark for Cedar Rapids, which would protect the home from demolition, even if the ownership changed.
“People have come to rally around this house,” she said. “Whether or not I’m living here, I really want this house to be here.”