Sunday, December 28, 2008

The House Doctor Moves to Hannibal

Ever have a favorite uncle, one you adored because he was cool and wasn’t like your other uncles who just talked about work all the time and wouldn’t let you make noises at his place? Or worse, didn’t talk to you at all and relegated you and your siblings to the “kid’s table” during holiday feasts? It made you aware of your 2nd class kid status and you thought this other uncle was WAY boring.

Likely, the favorite uncle was creative and lived a different lifestyle than your other uncles. His house was always full of cool stuff and cool projects he worked on. He threw fun parties and was full of tales.

This is how we’ve come to view our newest neighbor, BobYapp aka the House Doctor. He bought one of the coolest houses in Hannibal and is restoring everything in it the way they used to back in the “olden days” – with care and the intention of making it last a lifetime.

The Doctor makes a house call.

Bob’s even made a school out of his house and is teaching other people how to restore things the right way. The school is called the Belvedere School for Historic Restoration.

The Belvedere School for Historic Restoration,
just around the block from us.

Bob’s wife Pat is cool too and displays nice artwork on the walls of the house. I wish I could see her entire art collection and not just the pieces she shows.

Even their dogs are nice and want to play. They aren’t like other uncles’ dogs who are old and growl and might even bite you.

Gee, am I sounding like a kid gushing about her favorite uncle? I guess I am.

Bob and Pat Yapp and their dogs arrived in Hannibal the earlier part of 2007. Bob is an expert on home restoration, a master carpenter, and a furniture maker. He even had a radio show and a PBS show called “House Doctor” in the late 1990’s, hence his moniker forever after.

Bob and Pat chose Hannibal out of the many towns they scoured looking for a place to settle. Here are some of their reasons:

- Hannibal, with its numerous historic districts is a town that has a good preservation ethic and track record to go with it.

- Their love of the Mississippi River and the culture that surrounds it. Hannibal with its long river history & Mark Twain connection is the quintessential Mississippi river town. The town is also within a couple of car hours within a major city, Saint Louis.

- An affordable lifestyle with reasonable property taxes, low cost of living and affordable historic housing.

- Quality economic development with low unemployment and expanding factories.

- A city manager form of government with a part-time mayor as opposed to the strictly “good ole boy” type of government.

These sound like very good reasons to us for moving to and living in Hannibal.

Next Posts: The “Barn Raising” Plan and Getting Down to Business.

Meanwhile, treat yourself to Bob's book, About Your House published in 1997. This is not just a do-it-yourself book. You'll also be introduced Bob's pioneering philosophy behind restoring older houses and how this is an essential part of the green movement today.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Isn't downtown Hannibal beautiful when it snows?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Scaling a Big Green Monster

When I look at our green-scaled behemoth, I Imagine this chat taking place during the late 1940’s when those scales were installed…

“Holy mackerel, Mr. Spencer, I see that your house got itself torched. That charred area on the turret – lucky that got put out in time. Did your insurance rate go up?”

Evidence of a fire, as seen from the interior of the attic.

Mr. Spencer looks at his house and cringes at the unsightly scorch marring the once-gorgeous turret.

“Have you thought about using this new fire-proof siding everyone’s putting on their houses? It looks pretty spiffy."

Mr. Spencer ponders for a moment and admits to having noticed newer siding being installed on houses about town.

“Your neighbors are putting these asbestos-cement tiles on the sides of their houses and it makes them look brand new,” continued the hawker. “It’s fire-proof, termite-proof AND they even look like wood shingles! Dan up the street installed it on his house and the Simmons a block over did, too. They told me it’s real easy to install.”

Mr. Spencer studied his house as his young neighbor traipsed away. A few steps later, the neighbor stopped and turned to have his final say, "To tell you the truth Mr. Spencer, just knowing another fire could knock off a house just up the street from us gives me the heebie-geebies!”

The late 1940's and 1950's was a time of a huge construction boom, and this one spurred a big demand for asbestos-cement as siding and roofing material.

Typical installation for asbestos-cement siding on a house.
From McCawley's, 1940

Asbestos. The word itself makes me nervous. It’s a hazardous material that can kill and who wants it on their home now?

The EPA banned this material in 1973 after it was determined it caused mesothelioma, lung-cancer, and pnemoconiosi when breathed in. Today, the production and use of the naturally-occuring, silicate fibers have been totally halted.

So what does someone do about a house that’s covered with the stuff?

One alternative voiced by a contractor was to leave it on. The reasoning being, the cement binds the asbestos which, if allowed to remain undisturbed, will not be released into the air where it can be breathed in. According to one misguided piece of contractor advice, aluminum siding can be installed directly onto it. Was he serious?

The other alternative was to take the siding off with precautions not to severely break or pulverize the material, and then dispose of it (tiles and felt lining) in a special lined dumpster. A contractor’s cost for the job? Easily upwards to $10,000 for the whole house.

So the house sat for awhile – a dinosaur with its ominous green scales lying in the yard next to our Chateau...

A big green dinosaur, for now.

Sometimes things happen – almost divine things – when you are searching for an answer to your current dilemmas. As usual, a call to the local preservation society yielded the best results.

Next Post – The House Doctor comes to Hannibal and makes a house call.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What’s the Matter With Illinois?

Since we haven’t lived in Hannibal for very long and admit to being totally ignorant about Illinois politics, we yearned to understand the politics of this state next door, particularly in light of Blagojevich’s cataclysmic exposure.

From this vintage postcard (1950's), one can see the Illinois state border
on the other side of
the Mississippi from Lover's Leap,
a familiar Hannibal landmark.

So we had a former classmate who now lives in Chicago (and has for nearly 30 years) explain it to us. Here’s his put:

“I have always thought Blago as being a slimey person. The Republicans weren't any better as we have George Ryan currently in prison. It's all about greed. Isn't it always?"

"Blago married into the political machine with his wife Patty. Her father, Richard Mell, was a influential Chicago alderman with powerful connections. It's funny that being a Democratic state Illinois has had mostly Republican governors.When the Ryan scandal came to light, it wasn't hard for a Democrat to win."

"When it comes to governors in this state, I have always voted third party. Rich Whitney who is a Green Party member and Cal Skinner who is a moderate Libertarian.We always seem to be able to vote for decent senators here but never good governors. There are always jokes floating around about the corruption that takes place in Illinois politics. I guess Blago was arrogant and stupid enough to think he could overtly flaunt his corruption without any repercussions."

"Our Lt Governor, Patrick Quinn seems like a decent person. He might be stepping in to replace Blago soon. There are all kinds of scenarios of what could happen. Balgo could be impeached, he could resign, he could be forcibally removed as being impaired to carry out his duties as governor or nothing could happen until a trial which could take some time. I personally see him out of office shortly as we have to get a new senator one way or another. If Quinn steps in he could nominate the senator or else we will have a primary election, and then a general election in the next couple of months."

"They estimate this would cost the state anywhere from 50 million to 90 million. Our state is already broke so this wouldn't help. Illinois is pathetic when it comes to spending. It is top heavy with government workers and pension plans. A lot of that has to do with being a political machine. What that means is the power people have friends or family (for whom they make up unnecessary positions) employed by either the counties or the state. Many of these people have six figure jobs with six figure pension plans. It adds up.”

This calls to mind the 2005 book by Thomas Frank, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Frank has become a well-known author and Wall Street Journal columnist, and is a Kansas-bred populist. In this book, Thomas examines in depth how Kansas, once home to farmers who marched against "money power," is now solidly Republican and hence have ignored their economic interests. It’s fascinating reading for those who not only care about what’s the matter with Kansas, but what’s the matter with America, too. Frank now has a new book out titled, “The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule”. In this book, Frank explores how the cult of market privatization ruined decades of government progress in this country.

All this has us wondering if politics in this country have always contained the seed of corruption, and if this seed has now come to full fruition.

What were things like in Laura’s day?

Lover's Leap in earlier days of Mark Twain's beloved Hannibal.

Photo credits, Mentor Magazine 1924

I delved into my copy of “Mirror of Hannibal” for clues on what was expected of our politicians and how they may have governed. Written by Thomas Bacon, a local Hannibal lawyer, this book was a history and review of the commercial, business and industrial activities in Hannibal around 1905.

My findings could fill several blog posts. In reading the biographical abstracts given of the town’s civic and business leaders, one theme repeated itself over and over again – that of the personal character. Each biography was filled with assessments such as:

“He is a man of integrity, faithful to the trust imposed in him…”

“His business life has been one in which honor and integrity have long been manifest…”

“He has gained the esteem, respect and implicit confidence of the entire community…”

“He… has ever been known for his uprightness and sterling principles of character.”

The eulogies go on and on.

Obviously, our ancestors placed high premium on character, making it as important (if not more) as the businesses or professions they engaged in.

With character assassinations replacing character eulogies these days, it’s very difficult to gauge anyone’s character unless one has dealt with that person personally.

Has mass media actually made this task harder? Even to the point of contorting facts? It does seem that with all of the information we have at our feet, we are in no better position to select our politicians than were our ancestors who received their information through personal contact or word of mouth.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Final Glimpse of Laura’s Bonnet

Readers, Here are final closeup views of our roofing job on the Laura Hawkins house.

Here is Laura's new crown.

Here's what it looked like before the roofing job:

Didn't this look like the cone roof of an abode occupied by trolls or fairies as illustrated in children's storybooks? We hated to see this go (NOT!), but we feel the new roofing looks much more professional. The very tip of the cone has been sealed and will eventually be fitted for a cupola...

Moving eastward...

And looking toward the Mississippi...

Remember what it looked like before the job?

Here's the drop that would befall a less-than-watchful roofer:

Here's a closeup shot...

Here's a closeup of the original roof...

Even Laura's garage got the treatment:

Watch for my upcoming post on the “unveiling” of the Laura Hawkins house. This was a community effort that shed the home exterior’s green scales right down to its original clapboard, as built in 1897.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A New Bonnet for the Old Lady – Part II

The roofing job for the Laura Hawkins house continued on and off weather permitting. Here was the work in progress:

The worksite ...

A few final touches, and ...

Laura's crowing glory in now in place ...

A tourist's view of the job.

The rest of the roof is now in place.

Luckily, no one fell or suffered an injury. The only mishap was the loss of a $400 ladder taken from the worksite overnight. A few months earlier, another contractor had lost an entire slat of shingles on an area job, also in the dead of night. So, it pays to have insurance and it doubly pays to hire only insured contractors for expensive jobs like this. "This was one of the toughest roofing jobs we've had because of the pitch" said Mike. " Glad to have had you on the job, Mike.

Despite the incidents of property theft, help is on the way for our emerging and growing neighborhood. With more folks discovering Hannibal, neighborhood networks that look out for each other have expanded. In only one year alone, our neighborhood saw some forced evictions by the bank and new owners.

Property mishaps (which are generally par for the business) aside, we lucked out in a major way by dodging a freak hailstorm which hit Hannibal the month before our roofing job commenced. The storm created many claims for dented autos and damaged rooves in Hannibal. Our own roofing contractor, Mike turned down roughly 70 roofing jobs in this bonanza for roofing contractors in the area.

Here’s a U-Tube video showing the torrent. This was taken just west of the downtown area:

In our neighborhood, a small river of these globules made its way down our street.

With the installation of a new roof, we reached another milestone in the reconstruction of this Victorian home back to its original state and purpose. Like most Victorian homes, it was there to protect a family from the harshness of the world. Strict rules were laid down for this, meaning the house was to be kept neat and clean and to be a place where peace was preserved and order and comfort kept up.

Afternoon tea was a popular pastime in the homes
of proper Victorian women.