Indiana couple restoring historic home after condemnation
LOGANSPORT, Ind. (AP) — What’s the first step in saving a historic house that’s been condemned?
For Laina Molaski and Matt Sartori of Carmel, it was filling two 40-yard dumpsters of trash and junk from the old Greensfelder house at 806 E. Market St. in Logansport.
That wasn’t the planned first step, but it was what was necessary as they had to remove two refrigerators, two water heaters and a bandsaw, plus debris from squatters who lived in the attic for part of the two years the house lay vacant.
“If we ever do this again, we’re going to put an ad in for scrappers,” said Molaski.
The couple closed on the house Jan. 29, and they’re dividing restoration into initial projects, including repairing the porch so that the roof and the rest of the outside can be improved to the quality of the house’s well-preserved insides.
They also want to replace the lead plumbing (they only have one toilet and one faucet working), improve the HVAC system and add air conditioning (the furnace already needed replacing, said Sartori).
But for now they’re concentrating on remediating lead that’s the source of 16 lead dust violations and 14 lead paint violations that led to Cass County condemning the house.
“Our first goal is to get the house un-condemned,” she said.
So they spent much of February wrapping up the fireplaces, sinks and fixtures of the house for protection when the lead is removed.
Sartori said the state inspector has been extremely helpful in directing them in what to do.
“Quite the crazy undertaking,” Molaski said about the entire renovation.
However, it’s not hopeless.
“For as scary as the outside is, the inside is in good condition for a 100-year-old house,” she said.
An example of late Queen Anne/Early Edwardian Architecture, the interior has an encaustic tile dining room and period fireplaces, according to Paul Willham, Communications Director for Logansport Landmarks and an experienced renovator.
The 2016 Logansport Landmarks endangered buildings list listed the house’s Lincrusta wallpapers, inlaid mosaic and tile floors and inlaid, patterned hardwoods.
It also has original light fixtures and a beautiful staircase, and the house’s intricate tile work is intact, as are its pocket doors, said renovator George Petzel, who sold the house to Molaski and Sartori.
The interior is well-preserved because the couple isn’t the first to try to renovate the house.
In 2016, Eric and Tia Justice had moved in and began restoration attempts, focusing on the inside.
However, the Justice family was forced to move out after the county condemned the building around the end of the last decade and said they couldn’t stay there with children because of the lead.
This will be Sartori and Molaski’s first time renovating a property, and it’s a major renovation compared to many houses.
But the Greensfelder mansion had all that they desired.
“We are close to being empty nesters,” Molaski said.
They had always wanted to get away from the city (Indianapolis, which Carmel is a suburb of) and return to a small town like the ones they grew up in.
She originally came from Michigan, and he started life in Wisconsin.
“I love old houses. My mom was in antiques forever – and still is,” Santori said. “I wanted something like this, in a small town like this.”
They’re both into history but also have no renovation background except for his familiarity with antiques through his mother,
“The truth is, it’s scary that I don’t have any (experience),” he said.
Petzel, a house restorer who’d bought the Greensfelder place at a tax auction in December 2020, saw the couple as the best possible new owners.
He realized after buying it that the house required more work than his MGP Acquisitions LLC could do while not in town, but he was looking for someone who’d want to restore it.
One previous buyer never showed for closing, another wanted to renovate but not retain the character and a third wasn’t open about his plans.
However, Molaski and Sartori had already spoken to local preservation sources, and Petzel checked into their backgrounds.
“Everything about them seemed to be a perfect fit for a home restoration that will certainly be more of a journey than a project,” he stated by email.
They bought the house for $40,000, and Willham estimates that it will take $150,000 to $200,000 to renovate the place, possibly more for a museum-level renovation.
Molaski said, “Luckily, we have jobs that are remote, so we have the flexibility.”
She’s an English professor and a writer of romances and mysteries, while he’s a web developer.
She has been able to be there on a regular basis, and he had Wi-Fi put in early on so he could be there and work.
“Our goal is to keep as much of the aesthetic and history that we can while making it a modern living space,” he said.
“We’re very fortunate that a lot of the hardware remains,” she said.
They’re only missing a few heating grates, and the old radiators are still there, just not functional.
The kitchen doesn’t have anything original to save because it’s all modernized, she said.
For period features they want to keep and upgrade, they’ve found things around the property like extra tiles in the attic, she said.
Other things they’ve found include old window weights (counterbalances hidden in the window frames that allowed windows to be easily opened by a pulley system) and a newspaper article from 1904 about the Greensfelders having guests over.
In the basement, there are wood beds in cramped quarters that were for servants.
In that room’s corner, the couple found the top of a wooden crate from Italy and addressed to the Greensfelders at the house.
They’re keeping the old radiators, even if they’re no longer needed.
On the bedroom walls are some writings that were under the wallpaper, listing the occupants and one stating “Florence Greenfelder, April 19th, 1904, Eighth St, 5B grade school.”
Sartori and Molaski are hiring contractors for major work, and during a Feb. 26 walk through the house, a structural engineer let them know that the slate roof was likely not salvageable.
There was a gap at the decorative ridge where snow came in, and the concern is what damage it did between the slate and the decking, Sartori said.
“The verdict is the slate’s too far gone, which we kind of figured,” he said after conferring with the engineer. “It’s too expensive to replace.”
When they first got here, they advertised for help from the Indianapolis Craigslist because they didn’t have any connections here.
Since arriving, they’ve found everyone to be very friendly, they said.
They also have the help of the family.
Caden Molaski, her 19-year-old son, has helped with the demolition and cleaning procedures.
“A lot of work, and they’re making me do a lot of it,” he said.
He and their other children will have rooms in the house when it’s done.
Before anyone sees outside improvements, though, there’s a lot of work to be done.
“To sum it up, things are happening, and it’ll start inside and go into outside,” Sartori said.
It might’ve been different if they’d bought it in summer, she added.
They’re also looking for photos of the house in its earlier days, although searches by them, Cass County Historian Thelma Conrad, other historians, Willham and the newspaper have not yielded results.