The early stages of this rehab have me working in circles; I feel like I've been bouncing back and forth between yard work and basement cleanup, both of which have to get balanced with my wallet, my available time, and regular homeowner/life responsibilities (and some golf, and hiking with the dogs). But for now, big picture, the basement is what I'm focused on.
Why? In short, mice. This house was loaded with 'em. Like, over a dozen dead ones in the basement ceiling. As not exciting as basement rehab can be, what's indescribably less exciting is spending an evening on the computer in the bedroom (joined by the dogs, of course, because we're sorta like Bert and Ernie levels of inseperable), walking to the front of the house to turn off the lights and TV because it's time to go to sleep, and seeing a little squirmy rodent mousing its way across the floor, heading from where it just took a big mouse dump under my bag of hockey gear to the hole in the wall near a fireplace so it can retreat back to its little mouse kingdom in the basement.
Yada yada yada, sealing up the basement - where the mice are entering the house - became priorities 1 through 842. Unfortunately, that meant doing a little more basement demo so I could get to all the spots the mice may be entering. That meant getting another dumpster, and that, subsequently, meant filling 'er up. On the docket for that were the last plaster ceiling in the rear of the basement and the goofy wood floor in the basement's front room.
The plaster ceiling demo was pretty uneventful. So was the basement floor demo.
I knew the plaster ceiling was original, based on the square cut nails used to hang the lath. I wasn't sure about the basement floor, but I knew that it was lauan on top of peel and stick tile on top of some sort of sheet good (linoleum, most likely) on top of tongue and groove pine on top of 2x4 flat framing on top of concrete. None of it came up without a fight.
As it turns out, the wood floor in the basement was NOT original (again, based on the nails used to fasten the boards). Why was it installed? My best guess is that the dentist that lived here in the 20s, who presumably used the basement's front room for his dental practice, did some remodeling and had the wood floor installed as a means of formalizing the space. Otherwise, it makes zero sense; the concrete underneath it is in perfect condition.
During the floor demo, I was hoping to find something of interest.
I didn't, really. But in the midst of randomly picking up a handful of crap that was in the way of my pry bar I noticed a super small sliver of what appeared to be newspaper. I don't know how in the world I spotted it among all the debris, but I guess if you do this sort of nonsense enough your eyes get decent at quickly identifying the trash from the non-trash. Likewise, I don't have any idea how the newspaper got there or where it came from, but it was definitely underneath the wood floor.
Anyhow, this is what I found:
No date. No newspaper title (after doing some homework, I'm not even sure it's newspaper; it may be more like an old school version of the junk mail that comes with all the little ads in it, or maybe a page of a catalog).
As far as finds go, this isn't too remarkable. It's inconsequential, really.
The little portion of the ad that's still intact is headlined "Men's $4.95 Leatherette Sheeplined Coats", and the verbiage beneath the headline says "Sheeplined Coat with heavy pelt. Wombatine collar. Four-pocket style. Storm wristlets. All-around belted. Sizes 36-46. Nugent's-Basement". Apparently, the store had some sorta sale day and on the sale day, the coat was knocked down to $3.90.
As far as local department stores go, I'd never heard of "Nugent's", and based on the prices of things, I figured it had to be pretty old; that was enough for me to want to do a little learnin'.
I did my best to look through old newspapers to see if I could find that exact ad in one of the local papers of the time, but the search was fruitless. That was disappointing, but similar ads indicate that this one dates to around 1930.
So...who or what was "Nugent's"?!
Nugent's was a dry goods store founded in 1869 in Mount Vernon, IL by a Canadian immigrant named Byron Nugent. He and the store moved to St. Louis in 1873. As the business grew, Byron relocated the store a couple times before settling on the southeast corner of Broadway and Washington - prime real estate back in the day - in 1889, although business demands required him to annex a few neighboring buildings in later years due to continued success.
For reference, here's Broadway & Washington today:
Many, many years ago, this was the Nugent's building that stood on the corner of the intersection.
Per the 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, the image above shows the store's Broadway face.
One of the buildings that got annexed post-1909 was the 5-story structure south of the store, across St. Charles Street, which could be accessed both at street level and from the main store via a bridge across St. Charles.
What did the store's interior look like?
Believe it or not, at one time, St. Louis was a big deal in the mercantile and fashion industries; Byron Nugent's contribution was his forward-thinking business sense. In 1913, Nugent opened a branch store in "Uptown", which we now call "Midtown", at the time considered a suburban locale. This was, reportedly, the first instance in the entire United States of a downtown department store opening up a branch location. He would repeat the feat by opening a 3rd store in Wellston.
Byron Nugent must have done pretty well for himself; he lived in a mansion at 29 Westmoreland Place, a private street (whose neighboring street gained a little notoriety for some recent events, if you follow politics at all) in the city's Central West End neighborhood. He died in 1908 and is entombed in a mausoleum in Bellefontaine Cemetery, which is the final resting place of all sorts of famous St. Louisans.
The business would continue after his death, although it was purchased in 1923 by another department store and the doors were closed for good in 1933 thanks to The Great Depression. For the most part, the buildings that comprised his downtown department store, encompassing the better part of a full city block, are long gone as well.
So...a random find, that isn't directly connected to either myself or the house, other than perhaps being part of a catalog a previous owner looked through a time or two 90 years ago. I'd never heard of Nugents, and I suspect that it faded into obscurity because it closed its doors so long ago...but I kinda like being able to give the stories of these old, forgotten places a little bit of life. And who knows, maybe the Nugent's catalog is what people read when they hung out in the back yard dipping pool, or what sat out in the dentist's office while patients waited to get fitted for their wooden teeth...maybe it's more connected to the house than I'll ever know.
Been a slow few weeks at the rehab.
After digging up the pool, I took the following weekend off to lay low and do some yard work. One of the challenges of living in a rehab project is I can't just clock out at 4 or 5 pm every day and walk away from the place; it's where I live and, as such, a place I have to maintain. Sometimes, rehab work has to take a back seat to dealing with rogue tree limbs or ivy gone wild or planing grass, etc.
In the background, I've been trying - slowly - to get approval from the city to redo the porch. Unfortunately, it's a situation where one group, the CRO, holds pretty much all the decision-making power unless somebody wants to really make some noise and have a hearing in front of the preservation board. In short, I have to replicate, like, EXACTLY replicate, the original structure or whatever's left of it.
Problem #1: not all of the original structure (namely, the railing) is still in place and the CRO wants to me build some generic railing, with specs and dimensions they provide. I think their proposed railing is garbage, and not nearly detailed enough relative to what remains of the original porch.
Problem #2: their railing detail says that the bottom rail of the railing is to be the EXACT same width as the balusters. Their detail also says that the bottom rail of the railing is to be WIDER than the balusters. I've asked for clarification and received and garbage answer.
Problem #3: In general, I feel like their people just read from a script and don't actually know what they're talking about. For example, I was told that all wood needed to be painted AND stained.
Which is ridiculous; you don't paint AND stain, you paint OR stain.
And even then, we're talking about an exterior structure; paint will protect the wood, stain will not. At all. So what's the point? What's the CRO's desire or motivation? To protect the wood? Then stain is the wrong thing to mandate. To arbitrarily force somebody to make their wooden structure some color? Why? Can anybody prove that the thing was originally painted in 1878 (nope)?
Problem #4: per modern building codes, I can NOT replicate what was built in 1878. The building division won't give me a building permit for that. So who wins the battle between the building division and the CRO? No idea. I've asked, haven't gotten a response.
So it's been a frustrating process.
And then there's the mice. Holy hell.
When I gutted the basement a month or two back, I had 11 mouse carcasses fall out of the ceiling. And when I bought the place and first moved in, I definitely noticed the insane amounts of mouse poison the previous owners had stocked up and left in the basement for me.
I figured, between the moving in, the demo, the commotion, and the dogs, the mice were dead and gone. For a while that seemed to be the case.
Then about a week ago I ran downstairs to do some laundry. It was kinda dark, as most of the lights have been demo'd. I had just enough light to find my way through the mess down there to get to the washing machine. On the way there, I saw a small dark spot on the basement floor move. Run, actually.
It was a mouse. A live one.
I figured it wasn't unreasonable to find a live one, given that I'd found 11 dead ones. I wasn't happy about it, but 1 lone basement mouse, that could be dealt with. No reason to get worked up.
I got a couple traps. Baited them. Nothin'.
Then a couple days ago, late one night, I was in the bedroom banging away on the computer. The dogs were in there with me. I finished whatever I was working on, got up to go turn the lights and TV off so we could go to sleep, and while walking through the big front room, a little mouse scampered across the floor.
Oh. Hell. No.
A lone basement mouse is one thing. One - or more - trying to cohabitate the main floor with me, nope. Not gonna happen.
Last weekend I moved everything and cleaned the entire first floor, doing whatever I could to lessen the chances of a mouse finding a good spot to call "home". I did the same down in the basement, getting about halfway through before having to call it a weekend.
And last night...SNAP. Disposed of a mouse and trap, and 10 minutes later, SNAP. Got another one.
So...minimal progress lately; this year has been so weird and stupid I'm not sure how crazy my expectations should be.
But I got a couple mice, and that counts for something.