This Old House

I cut through the city on my way back from dumping Baby in P-ville, coming up one of the bluff streets that leads to Clarke College. DNOS rented a house in the area back in our collective younger years. I wanted to check on the state of disrepair my dream house was in.

1921 Madison, Dubuque

I discovered the house at some point during my high school days when I took a wrong turn. It sat on the bluff of Madison Street, overlooking the downtown. A Queen Anne design I later discovered and I could feel the serendipity radiating. Turrets, semi-wrap around front porch with a double balcony in the back and a three-story carriage house/garage, stained glass and a wooden front door with crystal lead window. Inside, I’ve read recently, there are still original features put in by the man who built the house in 1893 like parquet wood floors, decorated tiles around the fireplaces and chandelier lights. The yard is small and the carriage house butts the bluff but the parking is off-street.

I loved that house and scouted it periodically over the last twenty-five years, but it was never up for sale. It passed through the family until the late nineties when a couple bought it with the intention of renovating it.

They haven’t.

The house steadily declined like houses do in old neighborhoods that once were home to the well off who moved west with the suburbs. When I tooled by this past week, it was an eyesore, peeling and pale.

I dragged Rob over to take photos for me. While we were there, the current owner came out and handed us a flyer assuming we were there to wait for the realtor.

“There’s someone coming at eleven to look at it,” he said.

But he wants about eighty thousand more than the property has been assessed at and according to the county web site, the guy is defaulting on the current property taxes.

“There’s nothing to do here but demolish it and build new,” Rob said. “You’d have to win the lottery to have money to rehab this place.”

There’s a sink hole under a corner of the carriage house that’s getting worse because the owner and the adjoining neighbor are suing each other to force the other to pay for fixing it.

“The bluff is unstable,” Rob said after a bit of research the night before. “You’d have to have experts come in and assess it and then drill holes to pour concrete in and shore it, provided they could find a way to anchor it to the bluff in the first place.”

After the owner left, I scooted carefully up the porch stairs (it’s jacked up to keep the turret from collapsing) and peered in. The inside is faded too but oozes turn of the century from 19 to 20.

“Well,” Rob said as we drove off, “if you win the powerball, you can buy it.”

The powerball was $103 million. I didn’t win. If I had, you’d have heard from me sooner.

When I was eighteen, I couldn’t leave Dubuque fast enough. Even ten or so years later, I couldn’t imagine moving back there. Now, however, I could see myself living – part-time anyway – there. There are three colleges. Colleges always need teachers, but they prefer cheap ones and we’d need another source of income because Uncle Sam would not smile at all on Rob working. Americans are very anti-foreigner unless they are tourists, but the “security” measures in play are slowly choking off that money source.

Thing is, I don’t miss the States in general, just Dubuque. I like western Canada. I like the fact that Canadians embody the idea of equality in a way Americans really never have. My mom pointed out the new “hood” that has cropped up in the lower bluff neighborhoods in the past few years. People fleeing from inner city Chicago in wake of the razing of the wretched public housing there. Iowa’s more generous welfare benefits and smaller cities appeal to them, but they aren’t interested in assimilating to the local lifestyle or values, bringing their old Cabrini Green ways with them.

Those people.

Canadians have a bit of the “those people” attitude, towards Muslims in particular, but they aren’t as cold where the problem of generational poverty is concerned.

My poor old dream house. Time to lay it to rest.

4 responses to “This Old House

  1. there was a queen anne from the 1880’s in the village where my high school is that went through a state of disrepair that broke the hearts of all of us who dreamed of living in a house with turrets and a wrap-around veranda… about 10 years after i graduated high school, a couple of attorneys bought it, restored it, and made it into their office. it was lovely…

    last time i drove by (about 2 years ago), it had become a dental office. and looked like hell… starting to decay again. these places are hard to maintain.

  2. In the suburbs of Cleveland where I grew up there was a new development called Indian Creek Estates. The houses were big and new and the people who lived in them were all rich. At least, that was my perception. I was 14 and lived in a small, beat up house. Now when I go back, the houses in Indian Creek seem much more modest than I remember. And they haven’t aged very well. Good thing I got out of that neighborhood.

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