From the front, Donna' Winfield's house in Davenport's historic Gold Coast neighborhood looks great.
It's painted in a two-tone, light-green/dark-green color scheme, accented with black trim, and is embellished with numerous architectural details.
Look closely and you'll see fish scale shingles filling out the attic peak, a "swooped" roofline sitting atop a window with 36 panes of beveled glass and a bump-out on the second floor with rounded boards.
Walk to the sides and back, though, and it's an all together different story.
Not only are these areas unpainted, but glass is missing from windows and trim is rotting. Inside is worse. There are holes in the floors, almost no plaster, missing walls, no working mechanical systems and lots of evidence of racoon habitation.
This once-grand house built in 1898 had already been turned into apartments by 1924, and it has been vacant for more than the past 30 years. It's rough.
But, it is on its way to being rebuilt by Winfield, a Davenport native who lived most of her adult life in Texas where she was an attorney, including a district attorney for the county in which she lived and a juvenile court judge.
About 10 years ago Winfield came back to the Quad-Cities to care for her parents, and fell in love with the Gold Coast, the area of Davenport described as "Five to Nine, Ripley to Vine."
But why? Why pour so much money into this wreck of a house?
Asked that question, Winfield gazes up, blinks, quivers a bit, and thinks, searching for the right words to express what she feels about this property.
"Because it's worth it!" she finally exclaims. "It's part of our neighborhood, our history, our community. (Think of) the effort it took to build this magnificent home, and it deserves to be saved. It's still standing!"
Big job, and it didn't start immediately
But even Winfield had doubts when she first saw photos of the house on the website of the Gateway Redevelopment Group, a nonprofit started by Jack Haberman and his wife Marion Meginnis and others to try to save abandoned properties in the neighborhood.
"I thought, 'C'mon people, not every house should be saved,'" she said. "It was decrepit, unwanted."
And she didn't give it much more thought until one day when she was driving up West 6th Street with her nephew and something caught her eye. It was the house. "I said, 'Stop the car, stop the car,'" she said.
The photos on the Gateway site did not "register the scale of the property" or convey what it must have looked like when it was built as a home for Frank W. Mueller, president of Mueller Lumber Co., a long-time Davenport business founded by his father.
She decided to buy the house, but did not plunge in with reconstruction right away.
Her first purchase in the Gold Coast was in August 2011 of a home on West 8th Street that was in foreclosure. She bought it to turn into her "forever home."
She bought the Mueller house in January of 2012 and essentially mothballed it while working on her "forever home."
Then in May of 2014, she bought another foreclosure, also on West 8th, because it had been a 'crack house,' and she "wanted everything around me to be better."
"I purchased it to make the neighborhood better," she said. She sold it in 2017, so it is now an owner-occupied house with a family that put out decorations at Halloween.
"This is why you refurbish," she said, referring to the attracting of families to the neighborhood. "It's very gratifying."
Progress so far; what's next
Although the Mueller still looks very rough, much progress has been made, beginning with a new roof. That work included a mostly new support structure of rafters and sheathing, and a return to the original roof line by removing three dormers that were added during the time the home was apartments.
Work also was done in the basement, which Winfield hopes can be a living space within six months. All questionable supporting beams have been reinforced with new lumber, the floor is relatively new concrete and there is a rough-in for a bathroom. Add to that some kitchen equipment, and the space would be livable.
Reconstructing the sides of the home won't be too difficult; "the rear is where the majority of money will be spent," Winfield said. Rotted clapboard, windows, soffits and facia will all need to be replaced.
"I really don't want to share this home with animals," she said of the holes that currently allow critters to get inside.
In addition, she wants to rebuild two balconies.
Once the exterior is secure, Winfield will turn her attention to the interior. At present, there is not a great deal to work with; the effort will be like starting from scratch.
Because the home was divided into apartments — as many as 11 at one time, Haberman said — original walls were removed and new were built. Winfield expects to create her own floor plan.
An exciting aspect of the house to Winfield is that there is a three-story turret in the back (most turrets are in the front) and the top cone has a window. What a great place for a reading room, looking south to the Mississippi River, she said.
While there is a lot of architectural detail on the exterior, the interior has been mostly stripped, save for one flight of the original staircase, two sets of pocket doors and several originally trimmed windows. Winfield expects to reinstall "charm" by purchasing architectural salvage such a fireplace mantel and doors.
Neighborhood, Winfield rejoice
As for Haberman, Meginnis and others in the Gateway group, they couldn't be happier.
Over the past decade, they have tried without success to interest other buyers in the home, to the point of offering help with applications for city rehab money and state and federal historic preservation tax credits that rebate 25% of allowable construction costs.
One of the reasons the home is so important is that it is on a block with three other intact mansions. To have one fall through neglect would change the entire character of the street.
The last time someone tried to restore the home was in 1990, but the project became to big for them. Winfield bought it for the amount of back taxes.
While working at the home over the past three years, she'd often get overwhelmed at the amount of work that needs to be done and the amount of money it will take.
"But something about the last few weeks, with the windows and the basement, I've crossed that hurdle, and I can say, 'Here's what we're going to do next," she said.
"It's going to come back to life, and will be my primary residence at some point," she said. "I love this home and I'm excited about every aspect of it."
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