Wellington Heights house restored as part of larger neighborhood effort
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
Liz Martin and Nathan Biehl had to move furniture out of a room in their duplex last year just to make space for a table to host Thanksgiving dinner.
That won’t be a problem this time.
The two are the blissful new owners of a home in Wellington Heights that was restored to its original grandeur under a program initiated in the southeast Cedar Rapids neighborhood by the Affordable Housing Network, Inc.
“I knew I wanted a house,” said Martin, who rented the upper floor of a home with Biehl just two blocks from the house they bought at 1603 Bever Ave. SE. “This was right on the way home from work, so I’d been watching it for six years.”
What she initially saw wasn’t encouraging.
Peeling paint, makeshift scaffolding constantly positioned outside and missing steps at the front entrance gave only a hint of what was hidden inside.
Joe Lock, executive director of the Affordable Housing Network, known as AHNI, said the interior was one of the more challenging cases the group has tackled.
Eight to nine Dumpsters were filled to clean the house of debris left by the previous owner, Lock and other AHNI representatives said during a presentation earlier this year to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.
The group intends to restore 100 houses – converting many back from rental apartments to single-family homes – in an 18-block area of Wellington Heights, part of a larger effort to strengthen the neighborhood, which has had a reputation for blight and crime. The Historic Preservation Commission awarded AHNI a stewardship award this year for its efforts.
Some of the homes are in a rent-to-own program, while others, like the house purchased by Martin and Biehl, were sold outright.
Cedar Rapids historian, Mark Stoffer Hunter, a member of the preservation commission and Save Cedar Rapids Heritage, said commission members initially worried that AHNI might demolish the home.
With its position on a high-profile corner of the block and unique arched entrance, the group encouraged AHNI to take the preservation route.
“They really went out of their way to preserve this house,” Stoffer Hunter said. “It’s a major improvement for the neighborhood.”
Earlier in its history, the house was one of the prominent buildings on the block.
Stoffer Hunter said the two-story, three bedroom house, built in 1919, originally was owned by the Hladky family, who operated a grocery store just down the street at what would become the Paul Engle Center, 1600 Fourth Ave. SE.
The Hladky family has a link to Martin’s employer, The Gazette, which for generations was owned by the family. A photojournalist, Martin, 30, said it was nice to realize the connection between her job and the original owners.
Biehl, 33, develops graphic designs for mobile phone applications from his in-home office, previously in an all-seasons porch at their former home, but now filling one of the upstairs bedrooms in their new house.
The two had looked at other houses, but quickly made an offer once they saw their new home.
“We saw it on a Saturday and made an offer on a Tuesday,” Martin said, adding that they didn’t meet with a mortgage lender until after they made the offer. “It’s the biggest impulse buy we’ve ever made.”
Built-in cabinetry in the dining room and elsewhere in the house; intact French doors and pocket doors; original glass doorknobs, a fireplace and oak hardwood floors were among the attractions.
Martin pointed out that even the original crown molding was preserved.
While the two have done some interior painting, the house was in prime condition in August when they moved in, with new plumbing, wiring and appliances. They also have ample room for their dining room table, giving them something more to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.
“It has so much charm,” Martin said. “We get all of the perks of having both an old and a new house.”
See more images from the home, and most recent statistics from the project, below:
Following are the latest statistics from the Affordable Housing Network’s Wellington Heights project, as of November 2014:
Transform & revitalize 18-block neighborhood plagued with blight, poverty and crime
Increase single-family homeownership through AHNI Homeownership Incubator Program (HIP)
Reduce density that is 275% more than balance of Cedar Rapids (city-data.com)
Of the 602 addresses in our catchment area:
AHNI to acquire 100+ addresses
Rehabilitate multifamily homes back to single-family homes wherever feasible
Major renovations include new bathrooms, kitchens, exterior work, Energy Star HVAC, appliances and windows
Collaborate with Habitat for Humanity to rehabilitate 40+ single-family exteriors