Category: House



Today marks 125 years since the building permit for my house was issued. Both the Omaha World-Herald and Omaha Bee reported on June 4, 1890 that Michael Lee, City Council president and owner of what was likely a brothel near the Union Stockyards, pulled a permit for this house the previous day. The address on permit is a little wonky, combining both Woolworth Street address and the address of the South 30th Ave. house whose lot my home was built on. Lee had purchased the house at 1242 S. 30th Ave a month before and tore down the carriage house to make room for a new home.

I suspect Lee built the house as an investment, and his investment went south quickly. By December of 1890, builders Francis Bailey and Ole Olson claimed a $659.80 lien on the house for failure to pay for construction and in July of 1891 Lee sold the home. A year later the new owners finally paid off Bailey and Olson.


Earlier this week, I (mostly) finished a ten-week-long renovation of the first floor of the house. There are still some more things on the long-term to-do list (strip and refinish the mantle, the pocket and interior doors; build transoms for above the interior doors; finish hanging the crown molding; buy new couches, etc.), but the bulk of the work is done.

Improvements shown in the slideshow above include: New paint on all the walls and trim, addition of picture rail and crown molding, rebuilding of the window seat under they bay window with oak flooring, two custom-built bookcases with lighting using black pipe and 1×12 wood salvaged from a barn near Wisner, Iowa, rewiring and adding decorative switches and plates to every light switch and power outlet, rewiring and rehanging the original chandelier that for the dining room, rewiring and hanging a chandelier purchased from the Johnston Funeral Home auction in the living room, new art work (including a collage of original plaster from the home) and the addition of a hand-painted “3060” on the transom above the front door.

These three rooms (the foyer, living room and dining room) mark the fourth in six months I’ve managed to refinish. Still, there’s a bathroom, a kitchen, a stairway and a couple of bedrooms that need attention. Plus a basement. And outside I need to build the front porch, realign/rebuild the garage and redo the roof and exterior paint. It’s never-ending, but worth the effort.

For a peek at how it looked before, click here.

After a few weeks of work, the my new home office is ready to use. Fresh paint, new drywall (in some spots), new crown molding, new picture rail, new light fixture, new switches and plates, new shades. I added an old door on rails to close off the bedroom. Liz found a sweet typewriting desk for a few dollars at a thrift shop and helped me pick out a couple new rugs. I picked up a new (to me) desk chair from The Humble Home to complete the look. There are still a few finishing touches that need to be completed: refinish the white door, build a transom above it and install molding on the curved part of the wall above the bay windows. But it’s pretty close.

Look at the middle of this post to see some pictures of the office at move-in a few years ago.

uring the summer, I wrote a little about working on the chimney of the new house with my dad. Namely, we pulled out a hundred pounds of debris that had built up over years of lack of use. Last week, Pops and I finished up the project by dropping a 6″-diameter aluminum flexpipe liner down the chimney. (According to my dad, the holder of all knowledge, natural gas exhaust is acidic and eats away at mortar, which explains all the eroded sand and lime we pulled out a few months ago. The liner is meant to protect further damage from occurring.) After installing the liner and creating a hood, we fired up the gas heater insert.

The house came with an old gas fireplace insert. There’s evidence the fireplace was likely originally coal-burning, so I’d always presumed the gas burner was from the 1950s or ’60s. But upon further investigation, it seems the coal fireplace was replaced in the 1910s or ’20s, not long (relatively) after the house was built in about 1890. The back of the insert has a torn, faded sticker that lists a number of patents from the mid 1910s. It also has a couple badges naming it the Humphrey Radiantfire No. 65. While Googling the relative likelihood of the contraption burning my house down or suffocating me with carbon monoxide, I came across a PDF of the ad above from a 1923 magazine ($40.75 from 1923 equates to roughly $550 today).

So, this rig is probably a hundred years old or so, but I wasn’t too surprised when it worked. It’s in gorgeous shape, and there’s just nothing to go wrong with the mechanics: it’s ten simple gas burners that heat up a thick ceramic plate until it glows orange, which radiates heat out across the room. Which, on a chilly, windy morning like the one today in Omaha, is just about perfect.

finally done unpacking. Mostly. Really, I’m in pretty good shape. The basement still has a few boxes that need to be taken care of, and the floor down there needs to be cleaned. And its spider population should probably be checked. But aside from that, and a stack of empty boxes in the garage, I’m settled in. So, after posting some pictures during the height of my living-out-of-boxes misery, here are some post-unpacking pictures to give you a better idea of the type of place I bought. There’s still a lot of work to be done: painting walls, stripping woodwork, finding window dressings. But it’s getting there. I’ll let the photos do the talking:

ow cool is that? While aimlessly Googling information on my most recent obsession house, I came across the 1940 census, whose 72-year embargo ended this spring. With a little luck and determination, sure enough, I was able to find who was living in my house for its Golden Jubilee. And the results were something of a surprise to me.

I’ve suspected for a while that the house was a rental at some point in its life because of code-complying modifications like the sealed transom windows above the bedroom doors. And the sixteenth United State Census confirmed my suspicion. But I’m a little surprised to learn that in 1940, the house was rented by two families. I really don’t know how it could have been split up (however, given the difference in rent, one family may have been renting only a bedroom or two). There’s no indication that the house was split and then restored to a single-family dwelling.

The first family listed on the schedule is 37-year-old Floyd Nowland, his 34-year-old wife Lillian and their eight-year-old son, Edward. Dad worked 50 hours a week as a bartender. Mom raised Edward, who was in the second grade. Floyd quit school after the 8th grade, and Lillian made it through junior year. They paid their $18 rent ($295 today) rent with Floyd’s $1,100 ($18,000) a year income.

The Nowlands apparently lived with the Rolfs. Adelma was a 32-year-old divorcée with two kids: Lynne, an eight-year-old second-grader and John, 6. They payed $35 ($570) in rent, compared to the Nowlands’ $18. Adelma probably had a college degree, presumably in architecture, and worked 50 hours a week in a park, I think (the cursive is tough to read) for most of the previous year, earning $1,050 ($17,200).

I’m quite aware of how geeky this is, but I get a kick out of it. I think it’s interesting to see how these people lived, and would love to know more (like how Adelma raised two kids on a small salary, nearly half of which she put into rent). But the total rent of about 850 of today’s dollars rings true.

Pretty cool to see. Take a look for yourself:

I know the image above is too small to read. Click on it for a full-sized version that is only negligibly easier to decipher.

y two weeks off from work have wound down, and while I was able to get done refinishing my floors and my stuff moved from the apartment into the house, I was not able to do any unpacking. And it may be a week or two before I can. In the mean time, expect more cursing out of me. I hate living out of boxes.

But, like I said, the floors were wrapped up. While refinishing floors is hard work, I wouldn’t consider much of the process to be hard. This is what I did: (and by “what I did,” I mean, “what my dad, Joe M., Ben S., Ben V., Dan J. and I did.”):

:: pulled up the carpet and pad
:: removed all the tack board
:: removed all the staples holding down the pad
:: vacuumed the floor
:: sanded the floor with 25-grit sandpaper
:: sanded the floor with 60-grit sandpaper
:: sanded the floor with 80-grit sandpaper
:: vacuumed the floor
:: cleaned floor with mineral spirits
:: put down a coat of stain
:: put down a second coat of stain
:: cleaned floor with mineral spirits
:: put down first coat of varnish
:: lightly sanded floor with 220-grit paper
:: vacuumed floor
:: cleaned floor with tack cloth
:: cleaned floor with mineral spirits
:: put down second coat of varnish
:: lightly sanded floor with 220-grit paper
:: vacuumed floor
:: cleaned floor with tack cloth
:: cleaned floor with mineral spirits
:: put down third coat of varnish
:: lightly sanded floor with 220-grit paper
:: vacuumed floor
:: cleaned floor with tack cloth
:: cleaned floor with mineral spirits
:: put down fourth coat of varnish

After all that, though, they’re done and look great.

After completing the floor project, I had only a couple days to move out of my old apartment before the lease ran out (and before I ran to Chicago for a couple of days to catch some baseball). During the few weeks leading up to the move, I’d had Wednesday the 27th in my mind as my targeted move date. Of course, though, moving in June in Nebraska is never a good idea.

With the help of a group of great friends and family (again), along with a 26-foot U-Haul truck, I was able to move in the comfort of Tuesday’s 92-degree heat with 178-percent humidity.

Despite all the free help, there were still labor costs associated with the floors and move.

The first morning I woke up in the new place, this is what one of my bedroom doors looked like.

now slightly past the half-way point of refinishing the floors. Monday my dad and I spent the day pulling up all the old carpet, pads, tack boards and more staples than I care to think about. Which was the easy job. I saddled my dad with the task of pulling up all the tack boards. You know, the little boards with a million little nails in them that are nailed down using bigger nails so the little nails can keep the carpet in place. The ones that splinter into a million slivers every time you try to yank it up. Thanks, dad. You deal with the sharp stuff and tetanus. Hand me the pliers. I’ll gladly go staple hunting.

I took Tuesday off from the floor to handle painting a couple ceilings. So, of course, this happened.

The master bedroom was a patchwork of various shades of white painted during various decades, so I wanted to slap on a couple of coats of paint to cover it up. And a spare bedroom had a crack in the ceiling, so I thought it was a good time to fix and paint it. Oh, and the original color was less-than-great. And, as is apparent by my self portrait, I don’t really know what I’m doing. So when what I was expecting would be a morning-long project still wasn’t finished as night fell, I called in the professional: Ben S. Just look at that technique:

Within about 30 minutes, he put on a second coat in the master bedroom (whose first coat took me a couple hours, easily).

Wednesday marked the start of the hardwood refinishing project in earnest. Some 1200 square feet of floors needed to be sanded. Again, I called in the pro: my dad. For about 13 hours, with few breaks, he stood behind this giant, vibrating machine and ground away a century of paint, stain and varnish. For half a day, he drove this beast:

Me, I used this:

And let me tell you: it ruined me. I bet I only used it for about eight hours to clean up all the edges. But it still ruined me. My knees and hips and lower back were as sore as they’ve been in years. My dad? He woke me the Thursday morning before 8:00 with a text telling me he’d returned the rented sander and was on his way to out to my parents cabin so he can continue rebuilding it. This is what my dad does.

To give you an idea of the improvement all his hard work (and what little I did) made, here’s a before-and-after look:

I took much of Thursday off to take care of some computer work. But with Ben’s encouragement, I decided to make one big push in the evening to try to finish painting the pink ceiling and paint the poorly finished ceiling in the living room. AND put down a coat of stain on all the freshly-sanded. With his and Dan J.’s help, I was able to accomplish just that. Which I’m ecstatic about.

As the stain takes 24 hours to dry, the three of us are using our downtime to build a fence in Dan’s back yard this morning. After that, I’ll snap some after-staining pictures to post with sarcastic captions later.

y very accommodating handyman father has been tricked agreed to help me for the next couple weeks as I take time off work to fix up my house. The priorities, before I move furniture into the place, are to pull up the carpet and refinish the hardwood floors, and to get the fireplace/chimney operational again. So today we started what is sure to be the very long project (which I will laboriously document here — when I feel like it) of rehabbing my house by climbing up on the flat roof to peer down the chimney and see what my home inspector meant in his report when he said it was capped and filled with sand.

Luckily, my fear of a 12″x24″ 24-foot column of sand was unfounded. Instead, apparently, the previous owners (who lived there for 43 years) had stopped using the fireplace, so a bunch of leaves and debris had fallen into the chimney. Add that to years of prior use of gas and coal (which, according to my pops, eats away at mortar), and there was some 150 pounds of sand and fine mortar and broken bricks and leaves piled up behind the flue.

After a few hours of digging and prying (and a year or two taken off our lives on account of lime inhalation), we were able to get it all cleared out. Next step: drop a liner down the chimney and start on the floors.

closed on my first house yesterday. It’s an 1890(ish), Victorian(ish) row(ish) house looking out over the north end of Hanscom Park. The east wall of the house has only one window, on the second story. Given the structure’s general aesthetic and flat roof, I suspect 120 or so years ago, the builders expected to add at least one more home to the side of the building.

I’ll post more pictures in the coming weeks and months as I fix the place up (pull up carpet, refinish floors and rip off the big refrigerator box that currently passes as an enclosed front porch). Until then, I’m knee-deep in packing up the old place.

3060 Woolworth Ave. Omaha, NE 68105 | 402-517-1228 | © 2012-2019 Hanscom Park Studio
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