California man returns to Cedar Rapids to restore hilltop Victorian home
CEDAR RAPIDS – Mark Cardis remembers playing in the yard of the hilltop Victorian home, next door to his family’s house in northwest Cedar Rapids.
“I hit it with the wiffle ball, but I didn’t care back then,” said Cardis, who has since moved to San Diego.
He cares now.
Cardis, 46, has put his life in California on hold for the past year as he restores the 1876-built home at 1208 First Ave. NW.
“This house had been neglected for decades,” he said, noting that even support beams had been removed from the basement. “It was crumbling inside.”
Cardis won’t say how much money he has poured into the home, but the extensive improvements and his attention to detail are evident.
Every room has its own color scheme – mostly earth-tones or in wallpaper – which gives each area “its own spirit,” he said.
Cardis also is keeping the architecture authentic. Original hardwood floors have been restored as much as possible; wooden doors and windows have been stripped of layer upon layer of paint and refinished; and crown molding that was removed long ago has been painstakingly recreated.
The house is completely rewired and has new plumbing for its three bathrooms and kitchens. An awe-inspiring wraparound front porch was rebuilt, using original limestone as the base.
One fireplace that had decayed also was rebuilt, while another was restored. Light fixtures are not original to the house, but Cardis has been scouting for vintage looks to complement the period, along with other pieces, such as clawfoot tubs and a wood stove.
He has worked with several contractors, including Art Kollias, a neighbor who Cardis said has been essential to the restoration work and has dedicated nearly as much time to the project as Cardis.
“I thought he was crazy – still do,” Kollias said, only half-joking, as he recalled when Cardis told him about his plan to restore the home. “It was a big undertaking.”
Cardis calls the project his “gift to Cedar Rapids” and points to about a dozen Christmas trees placed in windows shortly after he purchased the house.
“I just wanted people to know the home was coming back to life,” he said.
People have noticed.
Bart and Melanie Frisk are among many friends and admirers who have stopped by to have a look.
The Shueyville couple toured the home when Cardis began working on it one year ago and again this December.
“It’s fabulous,” Melanie said.
The house, a Victorian with Italianate features, was built for wealthy businessman Henry V. Ferguson – vice-president of the Cedar Rapids & Marion Railway Co. – and later used as a home by Mayor Charles Huston, said Cedar Rapids historian Mark Stoffer Hunter.
“This was part of an attempt to build a mansion hill on the west side,” he said. “It’s a pretty important house.”
Huston apparently was a popular mayor, serving from 1901-1906; 1922-1924 and 1930-1932. A park was named after him in Cedar Rapids.
At age 91, Pauline Miller is happy to see the home she frequented as a child making a comeback. Her grandfather was Mayor Huston and Miller often would walk up the hill from St. Patrick’s School to wait at her grandparents’ home until her dad got off work at People’s Bank.
Even then, the house was divided into apartments, with her grandparents living on the main level.
“I have lots of fond memories being there,” Miller said.
Those include her grandmother, Minnie Huston, making oatmeal cookies in the kitchen and annual New Year’s dinners at the home.
“We always had goose,” she said of the special meals.
Miller provided Cardis with a copy of a photo of her grandparents and other family members on the front porch of the home.
Cardis said he would like to find more photos, particularly of the interior.
He remembers the home as an apartment building during his childhood. His mother, Donna Cardis, still owns the house next door.
It was Donna who alerted her son to the home being for sale. He and a business partner from California purchased the house in 2012.
Cardis, a former equipment operator who now manages properties in San Diego, said he eventually wants to live in the home, but might rent it out – two units are upstairs and one on the main floor – if the right tenants can be found.
Anyone who lives there would have to respect the home, he noted.
In the meantime, Cardis and his team, which includes his brother, Craig Cardis, and other family members in addition to contractors, are devoting their time to restoring the Victorian to the look of its glory days.
“She’s not neglected anymore,” Cardis said. “She’s the queen of the hill again.”