Monday, January 31, 2011


Today was the official first day of our rehab: after returning home from work we met with our General Contractor over at the Ugly Duckling for a final walk-through and to create a plan of action. We have 45 days to bring the Ugly Duckling up to par to pass the 4-point inspection for roof, electric, plumbing and HVAC required by our insurance, and fortunately our contractor team from Glory Homes Inc is optimistic that we will meet this deadline just fine (especially since we're shooting for 30 days max and have told the sub-contractors that ...heh).

We signed some more paperwork necessary for building permits and certificate of appropriateness since we're in a historic district, took some more pictures, scribbled on walls and mused over and pointed out original features and how to bring them back so that our Ugly Duckling can go from this

to this!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sold! Err ... Bought!

After 9 months of searching, touring, comparing listings, cleaning credit history and gnashing teeth while waiting we did it! We are officially home owners!

Our closing was as uneventful and anti-climatic as the day I went to my final interview for my permanent resident card aka "the Green Card": smooth sailing all around. No drawn drawbridge across the river, no trains, no traffic to keep us from getting to the title office in time for our appointment at 3pm, no hold ups, last minute demands or issues to stop us from finishing the last step. There were only 5 people involved in this courtesy closing: the three of us, our agent and the clerk of the title office. After signing the equivalent of a small tree in paper we were done and out of the office in hardly more than 30 minutes. Well, except for the keys. Essentially, we bought a house with a lock box which may or may not get removed by the seller's agent (and we still have an extra one that we ... ahem, found in the backyard the day after the first compressor had "walked off") and the keys to the house were in there and not at the title office.

We hugged our agent good-bye (which felt weird after spending so much time together during the past 8 months - maybe she'll take me along to house tours if I ask nicely?) and then drove over to the Ugly Duckling to tell her (yes, I consider our house a 'she') the good news and pick up our keys.

To me it feels like the house is holding her breath and I just can't wait to get started on all the projects we have planned for our little old house (see our Masterplan and moodboards for some of our ideas). So, here she is, our Ugly Duckling:

Welcome to the family!
We are looking forward to spending a lot of time with you!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Just a few more pages

... till the end of the chapter!

And just a few more pages until we start - finally ! - a brandnew chapter in our book going from "The long arduous annoying exasperating tiring frustrating exciting hunt for and purchase of a home" to "1001 exciting and not so exciting moments of rehabbing a historic home" followed closely by "The great mystery of paint colors, window treatments and decorative touches" - short and sweet, in a mere 17 hours we are going to become homeowners!
Today I ducked again into the library to learn more about our Ugly Duckling's history. Researching the more recent history isn't nearly as fun - the books are newer and cleaner lacking the charm and mystery of the rumpled pages of old books gilded with age and sadly, the entries aren't nearly as exciting. Professions aren't listed as regularly anymore, and the names in their contemporary familiarity ring less intriguing.

It's also kind of sad to learn that in its long history, the Ugly Duckling has never really been a long-term family home. Except for the Parnells who lived in the Ugly Duckling between 1941 and 1966 and Mrs Bertha Babcock who lived here from 1971 until 1984, the house passed from tenant to tenant with few of them staying much longer than 2 or 3 years at a time.

Hopefully we will be able to break that spell and give the Ugly Duckling its if not forever family at least a long-term family that will take care of it (funny, I think of the Ugly Duckling as 'her' most of the time even though she's not one of the Grand old ladies of Historic Springfield) and cherish it. And no, we have no plans on renaming the Ugly Duckling "George"!

Enough sappy babbling - more tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Of all places

"Why on earth would you move to Springfield?"

6 years ago when the lease for our 2-bedroom/1 bath apartment in a run-of-the-mill apartment complex was up for renewal and after many tours driving through Historic Springfield, hubby and I oohing and aaaahing over the beautiful old houses, we took the plunge and set our signatures under a rental contract for a humongous 3 bedroom/1 bath apartment in an almost 100 year old home overlooking an inner city park. Not only did we fall in love with our landlady who is just the sweetest but we knew the moment we set foot into the apartment, seeing the light-flooded airy rooms with the high ceilings and glossy hardwood floors, that this is how we wanted to live.
[A house in Historic Springfield - no, not ours]

Our friends weren't quite as excited. Frankly, most of them were utterly flabbergasted that we would consider moving into this neighborhood. You see, Springfield, as most urban core neighborhoods, looks back onto years of rough history and these times are not yet forgotten with most residents. Springfield carries somewhat of a reputation for being a rough, tough and tumble neighborhood and at some point this reputation did ring true. Then, gentrification began ...

One by one dilapidated homes were bought and rehabbed restoring houses and the oak-lined streets of the historic district to their former glory (well, the ghost of their former glory - it will take many more years to get anywhere near Springfield's original beauty). Neighbors banded together, cleaned alleys and parks and worked toward turning the neighborhood around. When we moved in Springfield had already come a long long way, the shared love for those old houses bringing people from all walks of life together.

Is everything peachy-keen now? I'd be lying if I said it were :o) Springfield is, like its century-old houses, a work in progress but it's definitely well on its way. Sure there are still a few rough patches around, as an urban core neighborhood we experience homeless people roaming, break ins and our fair share of other inner city crime but this neighborhood has improved by leaps and bounds. I feel safe, I know my neighbors look out for us and we for them and I can't think of a tighter knit community.

"People come for the houses, and stay for the people."

People tend to fall in love with the charm of the historic homes but what sucks you really into the 'hood are the people. They come from all walks of life and are as diverse as you'd expect from an urban core neighborhood. And they -do- stuff: we have a Mommies group, a women's club, a community garden, an animal rescue group, a garden club, and, and, and.
We rope off an entire block for First Friday neighborhood parties and cart our children in groups of 20-30 around the neighborhood on hay rides for Halloween. Santa Claus rides through Historic Springfield on a fire truck, we have cook-offs and Dog Days in the Park, and so much more. Springfield never gets old![Truth be told, hubby and I toured a few houses outside of Springfield at the beginning of our house hunting adventure but every time we ended up realizing we were not willing to give up Springfield and all that it comes with.]

[Historic Springfield map: New Springfield is actually Brentwood - don't let it fool you ;o)
Historic Springfield has very clearly defined borders]

Soo, what's the deal with Springfield?

Historic Springfield is a small historic neighborhood in Jacksonville, FL, just north of the downtown core. The district contains 119 city blocks, an area just shy of a square mile, with approximately 1500 structures representing building styles such as wood frame vernacular structures, some examples of late 19th century revival and romantic styles, including Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and the Stick style. 20th century types include Prairie School, Bungalow, and Mediterranean. You can find the occasional brick pavers and granite curbstones, carriage stepping stones and wrought iron fences scattered throughout the neighborhood, hinting at the turn of the century origins in the shade of the large oak trees lining the streets. It was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1987. You can find the entry here

However, Springfield is best experienced than talked about. For us, hubby the city crawler and me the country gal, it's a fantastic compromise between living right smack in the middle of town while being surrounded by green.
I pulled up a couple of links, in case you'd like to see and read some more. It's getting late and the excitement over our closing on our own piece of Springfield on Friday is wearing me out for good :o)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sometimes you have to kiss a frog to get a Prince

I have jokingly said that I won't show Before pictures of the Ugly Duckling unless I have a few After to go with it, and well, truth be told, it's not really so much of a joke than the knowledge that a lot of people just have problems seeing the sheer potential in a house that is old and has been neglected for a number of years, not to mention vacant.

Houses need owners and this is especially true for historic homes. They are imbued with character and spirit but they need the love and care of an owner to show their full potential.

Yeah, I know, it's the cheesy infatuated ramblings of a historic house nut and while I might be biased (and I admit to it happily) I'll leave you with this video created by a neigbor that might convince you that while biased I might be right after all ;o)


[blogspot didn't let me embbed the video so here's an old-fashioned link]
Kiss a Frog - Get a Prince

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Breaking News!

We finally finally received the news: the city has agreed to a partial release of the lien and we should now be able to close on the Ugly Duckling on or before January 28th, 2011.

And there was much rejoicing in the house!

No, we aren't holding our breath (just skipping and squealing a little bit) because if we have learned anything throughout this entire house hunting adventure is that anything can happen anytime. I'm still signed up for an MLS mailer and keep a close eye on any movement on the market in our neighborhood. You never know ...

I'm not sure how much comfort it is for you out there still at the beginning of a house hunt or maybe even just toying with the thought of maybe someday buying your own home that our real estate agent assured me that we "got to see it all" so far and that she feels sorry for all the hassle we've been going through (fortunately with her by our side - I'm sure I'd have lost it entirely by now if it weren't for her levelheaded assurances and advice). HGTV certainly shows this whole process in a very rose-colored light (or would that be Honeysuckle for those paint aficionados?) and these days I have a hard time watching "House Hunters" without resorting to cat calls, snorts and snarky comments aimed at the screen peanut-gallery-style.

I can only imagine the reactions if we'd tried to wait out the seller's response over a cup of coffee at "Three Layers", the bestest place for a cup of coffee and some wicked good pie (or a glass of wine) in the 'hood. Heh, they'd be charging us rent by now!

Anyways, the later the evening, the longer my sentences so that's it for tonight! If all goes well I'll finally get to show off the Ugly Duckling in all its filthy, dirty, neglected glory in a little more than a week and get started on those "before" and "after" shots!

I'm done waiting - Are we there yet?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Running circles

"Holding pattern" is the new black this season.

Sorry I haven't been blog-productive these past couple of days but the rainy grey [greige?] weather combined with the endless waiting game had me in a real slump this weekend. I spent lots of it on the couch, my nose buried in a book and my free hand balancing a cup of tea in my beautiful beautiful Oresund mug [I love it! It fits perfectly into the curve of your hands and I adore the blue color with the speckled rustic white and happy yellow] or playing boardgames with my 2 men.

So, what's new in the house buying business?

Not much, unfortunately. Today we finalized our home owner's insurance. I know, how exciting! We went with yet another neighborhood recommendation and weren't let down at all. Our insurance guy was incredibly helpful and very very quick to respond to our questions and requests throughout the entire process.
No news from the city yet.

9 days until closing ... theoretically. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Something bigger than google maps

Much much bigger, in fact. And much more fun, although I must confess I love google maps street view feature.So we enjoyed another Thursday at the library downtown. This time I trekked out with the munchkin and three of his neighborhood buddies and while they enjoyed the afternoon kids program, I ducked into the Florida collections for some quality time with a few maps I'd wanted to check out ever since I heard of them.
The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
Then created as a tool used by insurance companies and fire departments to assess the risk of fire for neighborhoods and properties, they are now a great tool in your research of your property's history. You can find out whether your house changed shape (a porch added or enclosed, an addition built, etc.), if it had outdoor buildings at some point (a garage, a shed, a carriage house, etc.) and what the surrounding neighborhood looked like.
Our library has actually digitalized a great deal of the Sanborn maps (check it out here) but unfortunately not enough to show the street with the Ugly Duckling. So off I went to wrestle the maps in person.
And wrestle them, I did. Boy, they look nothing they today's AAA maps! Nothing at all.

(Meet the Sanborn Map Collection - yes, they are that tall)

(Loooove those rumpled looking yellowed pages)

(Yep, that's my hand. You need two of these to carry one of the maps)

The librarians working the special collections upstairs are always incredibly helpful and nice and I feel quite at home up there. So while they put out the call to find the librarian who could answer my question on how these maps are set up, I decided to simply try my luck.
I'm a very visual person and a hands-on approach usually works much better for me than listening to or reading instructions of any sort. 3 misses later, I scored my first map with the right street. Woot! Granted, waiting for the librarian to point me to the right map would have been a little easier on my back and kept me from toting 3 heavy (40-50lbs is my guess) maps back and forth between their shelf and the table that's big enough to hold them.

(Our neighborhood in 2924 - the different colors indicate building material (pink is brick, yellow is wood frame, etc.)

So, there you go. That's how you find out if and how your house changed shape. We were able to go back to 1924 and confirm that the utility room with outside-access only had been a porch in the early years (the drywalled-over window was a dead give-away too, heh) . I was surprised that that was pretty much the only area that was enclosed and added to the structure at some point, even though I still think that the upstairs kitchen/future master bathroom was an open porch. I'm sure future demo will help us solve that riddle.
Way back there was a tiny garage in the Ugly Duckling's backyard but other than that, it has stayed in a rather unaltered state. And if we have any say in it, it'll remain on the map for a number of years to come :o)

Thursday, January 13, 2011


The year was 1915.

Woodrow Wilson was President.
World War I, then known as the "Great War" was
in full swing in Europe, though the United States
would remain neutral for just a little longer.

The RMS Lusitania, a Cunard ocean liner turned
auxiliary cruiser at the beginning of the war, was sunk by a
torpedo fired from the German subamrine u-20 just off the coast
of Ireland - an incident that sparked arguments until this day.
A little closer to home, the Mexican Revolution was ongoing.
In the US, the struggle for women's right to vote was at its peak.

The automobile was rapidly becoming a common means of transportation.
For entertainment, Americans went to the theater to see Vaudeville
shows and silent movies. If they opted for an evening at home, there were
many musical selections available for the acoustic disc phonograph, which was now a fixture of many American living rooms.
In January, the first transcontinental phone call is made.

And construction began on the Ugly Duckling.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Not much else is new

If you thought waiting for Christmas was bad, you have never had to wait for your closing date. It's grating on my nerves, it's making me itch and twitch and I'm starting to leave a circle-shaped path in our livingroom rug near the phone from running cirles waiting for -the- call.

To no avail.

We'[re still up in the air while the city is taking their time with the partial release of the lien without which we can't progress. We're now tentatively scheduled for closing on the 28th of January and I'll be sure to keep you uptodate on any developments in that regard.

Speaking of updates and developments, the bank came back with a rather generous replacement value for the stolen compressors and furnace and will adjust the purchase price accordingly. Wow! If we wait any longer and have any more mishaps along the way, we might get the house for free ...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Don't know much about history

What a wonderful world this could be ... if everybody had a rocking main library like ours :o)

Like every Thursday we trekked out to our main library downtown right after school yesterday, and while the munchkin enjoyed the awesome afternoon program in the children's department I sneaked ...snuck ... well, hurried upstairs into the Florida collection for some geeky house history research fun. And this time I brought my point and shoot camera along!

So here's the lovely view of the shelves that hold the city directories (think "phone directory/ white pages" even if in the beginning there weren't any or many phone numbers) - your first stop for quick and easy research of the who is who in your house's past:

Their covers might look different (ranging from green Naga hide to faded red hardcover and everything in between) and their individual parts can be arranged slightly different but it all boils down to
  1. street directory (usually found in the front in the early publications and in the back of the more recent ones and printed on colored paper)
  2. name directory
  3. glossary, etc.
Meet city directory 1967

(Don't be fooled - this book weighs almost as much as your firstborn)

So, armed with your address you want to look up you find those colored pages with the street directory. Note that if your street doesn't have a name but is an actual number like say, 3rd St, you will discover that at the beginning of the 19th century these were spelled out so you'll have to look under "T" for Third St. In more recent years, numbered streets are listed by number in order before "A".

Word to the wise: You don't want to start nilly-willy looking up years. Tracking past owners/occupants of the Ugly Duckling was very straightforward and easy and the biggest 'problem' are simply missing years of city directories. When I tried the same for the Triplex (remember this one here), picking a random date sometime between the year it was built and today I couldn't find the house number in the street directory anymore! It had vanished! When I finally backtracked year by year I discovered that at some point the entire street had been re-numbered and that what is today house number 1832 was house number 2032 50 years earlier. So while sometimes you might be able to look up the first occupant/owner right off the bat, if you can't, start at the beginning and track back year by year toward the year it was built to solve the mystery :o)

Anyways, back to our city directory. Find the colored pages for the street directory and hunt down your address

(Don't forget to enjoy the ads in the margins!)

Woot! You found a name! Easy, peasy! Before running off to run it through the Census, however, you can squeeze just a teeny tiny bit more information from those city directories. Go into reverse and look up the name in the name directory part of the book.

(A glimpse into life in 1967: a clerk, a retiree, a saleswoman, a waitress at
Lee's & Eddie;s Restaurant, a clerk at Blue Cross-Blue Shield, a maid, a widow ...)

If you're lucky you'll find the name of the spouse or whether the spouse passed away (and what his name was). You can also occasionally find information about the profession or even the place of work - little bits of information that help you piece together the history of just who your house was home to in past years.

There you have it! That wasn't so bad, was it? I have to admit I was sneaky. I spent all of 10 minutes with the city directories this time because I was busy with some humongous maps - I'll tell you all about it in my next blog entry!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Lien on me

Remember that lien thing I mentioned in passing in this post?

Our city has some weird regulations when it comes to liens, it seems. (Although if you ask me it's less of a weird lien regulation thing, than a simple screw-up in a city department. None of the paperwork we looked at makes sense) This lien is actually not -for- our Ugly Duckling but for another property that at some point belonged to the same owner. Then that owner lost the Ugly Duckling in foreclosure and accumulated liens on the other property. Our city then happily slapped a shared tag on both properties - maybe to up their chances at one day getting their money? (And if that doesn't make any sense to you - join the club! I'm trying to follow the train of thought behind this but, boy, it escapes me entirely)

Yeah, well, and now that one's come back to bite us in our rear ends for a little longer because unfortunately you cannot close a deal on a property if there are any liens and/or back taxes on it. We have filed for a partial release but both our bank and our real estate agent recommended we push back our closing date a bit to give the city a bit more time to respond.

Grrrr ...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

DIYDiva to the rescue

When I first discovered the world of home decorating and home renovating blogs I was (and still am) amazed by the creativity, skill and talent all around me. Enthused and inspired I started to tackle project after project turning our ho-hum rental into a much cozier nest than it had been before 'meeting' all of these fantastic women and men. Then we embarked on our adventure to find our own fixer-upper to love on and I love bumbling about the blogs learning about other's trials and triumphs.

Then I discovered blog giveaways and fab freebies and while I'm usually too shy to participate in these (plus I usually never win anything that's lottery-style) I did gather all my courage and left a "me, me, me" entry at Kit's blog when she had her True Value Give Away last week.
And I won! Little me won!

So here's a big THANK YOU to Kit for hosting the give away and to True Value for generously providing gift cards to DIY crazy bloggers :o) You are so very appriciated and the gift card will sure come in handy ... soon! *keeps fingers crossed*

Monday, January 3, 2011

Stove Pipe Dreams - The kitchen

The biggest project we need to tackle, aside from updating plumbing and electric, hvac system and the repairs to the floor, is the installation of a kitchen for the Ugly Duckling.

The room measures a solid 11'x12', in no way huge but not teeny either. It has a window to the backyard, a door to the future mudroom/laundry area and a walk-through to a teeny hallway with an archway to the dining room. While I'm NOT a fan of open-living concepts and prefer my kitchen to be its own separate room, I still wanted it to feel open and airy with clean contemporary lines, yet a twist of classic details to fit into a historic home.

So, here is my kitchen wish list

- white shaker-style cabinets
- dark butcher-block counter tops
- wood floors (hopefully we can preserve the original floors under the gross linoleum)
- either library pulls or some sleek brushed nickel handles
- either white wainscoting with yellow or apple green on the walls or just paint and a white subway tile backsplash around stove and sink
- open shelves instead of upper cabinets above the sink area
- farmhouse sink

Using a cabinet planner I came up with this first draft for our kitchen:
You're peeking into the kitchen from the laundry-mudroom. There's the window to the backyard on the right and across the room to the left you see the walk-through to the diningroom. Straight ahead is the wall with room for the range and over-the-range microwave. Counterspace is sacred, oh yes, it is! To the left is the sink and dishwasher side of the kitchen which will get two rows of open shelves (which are not part of the program so I can't include them. Just like bin pulls and a farmhouse There's room for a cute little bistro set in front of the window for a small eat-in nook.

Then a thought hit me. Maybe I should do a little research and see what style kitchen would have been in this house when it was build? You know, just to see if that was something that we could combine with our modern creature comforts and aesthetics to a harmonious, albeit slightly anachronistic combination, what with stainless steel appliances and such? Just cause we're like that. So I used my trusty search engine and here's what we found ...

Welcome to the 1910s

If you look closely the cabinets resemble shaker-style cabinets and are clearly white. I love the hutch on the left side. Open shelving, big white sink - a really cute kitchen even though the individual furniture pieces, open cabinet doors (Looks like she's got a hubby who leaves them open all the time!?!?) and the random accessories (Miniature rocking chair? Huh?) make it look a little cluttered.

Welcome to the 1920s!

Hellooooo darling! White shaker-style cabinets, bin pulls, open shelves and a big white sink. Check, check, check and check again! Interesting to see an actual patterned rug in the middle of the kitchen and I wonder what that little R2-D2 shaped thing is underneath the sink ...

Looks like we're right on the money when it comes to rehabbing our house with a kitchen that is both contemporary and close to historically appropriate for our little Ugly Duckling :o)

2 more weeks 'till closing!