Last year I gutted the basement. I didn't pull every last nail or scrape every last plaster crumb off the walls, but I knocked out the bulk of the heavy lifting. While doing that, I discovered that the stone around the windows - particularly in the angled, bumped-out section - was in rough shape.
With the drywall, insulation, and framing removed, this is what I was left with:
At the time, at first glance, I felt like these 3 windows (of 9 basement window openings in total) were the worst of the bunch. They obviously needed to be repointed at the very least, but that project didn't rank real high on the priority list.
Later in the year I demo'd the basement bathroom and in doing so, I discovered a brand new candidate for the basement-window-opening-in-the-worst-shape award:
The bathroom window had obviously been a mouse infiltration point, which made the window repointing project creep a little higher on the priority list. I decided I'd better inspect all the windows a little more closely, and because this was December and it had started getting cold outside, I realized that there were a couple window openings allowing a lot of outside air into the basement. Like, it was discernibly windy INSIDE the basement near some of the windows.
In particular, the window north of the bathroom window and south of the bump out windows was the worst air infiltration culprit. That's where I started repointing.
This is that window opening, before I started raking out old mortar. It's a tough window to photograph because a big duct runs directly overhead, but here's a little context:
The stone foundation makes use of some interesting construction. There's an outer wythe, for lack of a better term, of large, super heavy stones with relatively flat faces. There's an inner wythe, made up of somewhat smaller stones that have somewhat flat faces, and then in between, it's like the builders just dumped mortar and all the smaller, stone off cuts to fill the void between the wythes. If and when water gets in the wall, which will happen if windows aren't properly maintained, the stones hold up just fine. But the mortar, that's a different story, and in the interior space that's just as much mortar as it is stone, that's where these windows really have some issues.
Anyhow, I started cleaning up the window, removing old insulation, trim, plaster, anything that wasn't window, stone, or mortar. This included getting a skeleton stuck in the shop-vac.
After that, I started raking out mortar. I sort of assumed I'd be able to remove quite a bit, but what I hadn't anticipated was having it fall apart inside the wall to the extent that I could reach my arm - up to my elbow - into the walls to pull out loose stone.
When it was all said I had removed plenty of mortar and quite a bit of loose stone.
Then I started putting things back together. This window was tricky because I had to work from the inside out, starting with the big voids deep inside the wall on either side of the window. I did my best to find appropriately sized stones for the various nooks and crannies, but because I couldn't really see what I was doing, the work was ultimately an exercise in dumping a LOT of new mortar back into the voids, spreading it around as best I could, stuffing rocks into the wall as far back as I could push them, adding more mortar, spreading it around, and hoping for the best.
The closer I got to the surface of the wall, the easier the work became. I figured I'd repoint right up to the window jamb, and make sure the surface joints were as clean as I could make them.
Because of the quantity of mortar I was having to lay down, I didn't attempt to do too much in any given chunk of time so that what had been applied had a chance to set up and start curing. The mortar will shrink a tiny bit as it cures, and in small amounts - like a 1/2" strip between stones - the shrinkage is borderline nonexistent. Inside the wall, where I couldn't see what I was doing, I didn't want to have a giant ball of mortar that was going to wind up shrinking and cracking. By working methodically and in small sections, I could focus my attention on making sure I was filling voids with mostly stone - not mortar - and then come back the following day to assess what needed to happen in the next small section.
To this point, I've buttoned up the sill and about 1/2 way up either side of the window, but I stopped there because after pulling some insulation down from the bricked-in window opening north of this window, I discovered that it had legit holes in the wall. Big holes in the wall take precedence over small holes in the wall, so I'll come back to get this thing finished up sometime soon. But for now, she looks like this:
Been a while since we talked, eh? Long story short, I was sorta in the middle of a couple different projects and then my computer died. DIED died. Not like I needed to add more memory or clean up some files or reboot it and load some previous backed up version of everything; she DIED.
It was time, as the ol' iMac was just about 10 years old. Of course once one uses a 21" iMac for a decade, there really isn't any substitute except another 21" (or larger) iMac. I like buying the refurbished ones from Apple because it typically save me a few hundred bucks, but of course I waited a hair too long to pull the trigger on a new (refurbished) one and **POOF**, the 21" models were all sold out.
So I had to wait, and then once I was able to purchase one, I had to deal with FedEx delivering it to the wrong house, which was quite the little adventure.
But now I'm back up and running...I think I left off with some basement demo. Let's start catching up there. This is how the basement bathroom looked a few blog updates ago:
Then she looked like this:
And now, she looks more or less like this:
I did go ahead and remove the toilet as well, but I didn't think that event was monumental enough to merit pics. By all rights I should have started in right after that on repointing the window above the toilet, but it's a vinyl replacement window stuffed inside the original wood jamb and I want to go back to a wood window that matches the others; repointing the stone around that window opening at this point feels a lot like I'd be polishing a turd.
Plus, I have a little side project I need to get going on, and that side project necessitates the use of all my woodworking tools, and the old bathroom space seemed like the best spot, currently, in the house to set that stuff up. So that's what I started doing, moving the bigger tools from all over the main floor of the house into the basement.
A lot more got moved than what I captured in the pic, but I didn't waste a whole lot of time before setting things up, firing things up, and making sawdust and a mess in general all over the basement. Maybe we can discuss that little side project next...
If you've ever tackled any type of renovation or home improvement project in an old house, then you know full well how that 1 project tends to bleed into some number of neighboring rooms or floors or entire additional projects. That's the situation I find myself in with the basement.
My near-term goal was to remove the bathroom from the basement. That's it. Yada yada yada, I'm now engaged in a variety of activities from one end of the basement to the other. One of those activities is excavating the remnants of an old curb of sorts in the southwest corner of the basement so I can finish repointing that area and then pour back the missing sections of curb (even though I have no idea what purpose they served).
While digging out crumbling mortar and broken bits of concrete/granitoid floor from the missing section of curb, I discovered this buried in the dirt:
It's a piece of clear, super thin glass with some embossed words and letters: "OTTO", "PHARM", "GRAND & GR", and "ST LO". I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I'm pretty sure that if I had the rest of the bottle or whatever this came from, it'd say something like this:
OTTO (LAST NAME)
GRAND & GRAVOIS
You know I had to find out as much as I could about Otto and his pharmacy.
Here's what I came up with.
Otto was Otto Ude, a seemingly well-known south city pharmacist and postal clerk who operated a pharmacy at 3600 South Grand Avenue from 1887 through 1939. Right outta the gate my first question is how does a piece of a broken bottle that can't possibly date any further back than 1887 wind up under the basement floor of a house built in 1878? I'll come back to this later.
First, let's back up a hair. 1876. The area around the Grand & Gravois (pronounced, correctly or incorrectly, GRA-voy) intersection was farm country.
For the uninitiated, most of St. Louis's streets follow a traditional grid system and run north-south (like Grand) or east-west. Gravois is one of the few oddball streets that runs diagonally across the map, making for some goofy intersections with the gridded streets. Anyhow, the area around Grand & Gravois was farmland in 1876.
By 1903, 16 years after Otto had opened his pharmacy, the area had begun to develop.
That was Otto's pharmacy for 50+ years, 3600 South Grand Avenue, about 1.5 miles from my house, and where the broken piece of glass I found originated.
So who was Otto Ude?
Let's start with Otto's dad, George Ude.
George Ude was a prominent north side druggist who, at one time, also served as the President of the St. Louis College of Pharmacy AND was the Grand Master of a Masonic Lodge. During the Civil War, he'd been a lieutenant in the 1st Missouri Light Artillery Regiment.
George seemed to like the attention that came with his lofty community standing and successful pharmacy business, and landed somewhere between being a lady's man and a creepy old dude. Maybe he was a bit of both. In 1892 he went missing for a few days; his oldest son Waldemar, a physician, suspected he had eloped.
That was Otto's dad, and likely the inspiration for Otto's foray into the pharmacological world.
Otto Ude was born in 1866 and - surprise, surprise - attended the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, where he graduated in 1884. That meant that at the ripe old age of 18, Otto had received all the education one needed at the time to become a pharmacist.
In September of 1887, Otto Ude opened a pharmacy at the intersection of Grand & Gravois in south St. Louis. Per newspaper accounts of the day, Otto was just as likely to fill prescriptions for people as he was to fill prescriptions for cattle.
At some point Otto married Christine Eime, evidently one of the first female pharmacists in the St. Louis area, and they'd go on to have 2 children, Freida and Edgar. Edgar fought and was wounded in WWI, but survived. A graduate of what's now known as the Missouri University of Science and Technology (formerly the University of Missouri - Rolla), Edgar retired in 1957 from the Phelps Dodge Corporation, having served as their chief chemist. Freida is sort of a mystery, as is usually the case with females due to being referenced in old records by their husband's name, not their own.
Otto, like his father, was involved in a variety of business and political endeavors. He served as the President of the 11th Ward Republican Club in the late 19th century, he was an officer in the Southwestern Mercantile Association, and he was a postal clerk, having had the Gravois (Postal) Station installed in a back room of his drug store in 1898.
In 1939, he retired. The newspaper account will do a better job of summarizing some of his achievements over the years than I could, so here's the clipping:
Given Otto Ude's pharmacy's prominent location at the intersection of what would become two very busy streets, and given that his occupation was one that was relied on by countless people, he was a well-known and cherished individual. The 1907 South Grand Avenue Review summed things up pretty well:
OTTO UDE - Druggist
Grand and Gravois
There is no man of greater importance in any community than the druggist on the corner. We go to him when we are ill and we go to use his telephone and bother him with questions, when we are well, his store is a bureau of information, the post office, newspaper advertising branch, the express office, and the popular meeting place of the neighborhood. We buy from him everything from carefully compounded medicines, when we are sick, to ice cream soda and bon bons, for out best girl, when we are well. He's everybody's friend and everybody comes and goes in his establishment, as if they held an interest in the place. Well, everybody feels an interest, even if theo don't hold it, in the drug store on the corner, and they and everybody makes himself pretty much at home if the druggist happens to be the right sort, and the store prospers. Such a popular establishment is conducted by Mr. OTTO UDE, located at Grand and Gravois. The store is handsomely fitted up, and everything is installed for the comfort and convenience of the patrons, including a fine soda fountain, where delicious drinks are served. The prescription department is under the personal supervision of Mr. Ude, and only the purest drugs are used. Every courtesy is extended all patrons and the corner is very popular.
Otto Ude, neighborhood fixture for 50+ years, son of a Civil War veteran, father of a WWI veteran, and husband to a pioneering female, passed away in 1947. I hope he enjoyed his post-retirement years.
As for how the broken glass, which couldn't be older than 1887, and how it came to rest under the basement floor that I thought was built in 1878...as it turns out, there are multiple layers of basement floor concrete. The granitoid finish, it looks like it was added some years after the original construction, and my suspicion is that when the basement got a makeover sometime in the 1910s or 1920s, that's when the floor was redone as well. That's when a bottle of who knows what from Otto Ude's drugstore was left on the basement floor and covered over with concrete and mortar.
So maybe the basement floor, the top layer, isn't entirely original. That said, it looks like the original, bottom layer of concrete is the exact same composition as the stuff used to make the pool I unearthed in the yard, so maybe the pool is older than I originally thought.
Regardless...that little chunk of glass, which is crazy thin and fragile and I have no idea how I didn't destroy it with how I was attacking the demo...it was a pretty rad find.
Maybe a week ago, I got myself this pole saw:
It extends up to 30', which in reality, is a super insane amount of reach. But, it's allowed me to get to tree limbs I had no other rational way of reaching previously, and has been worth every penny. However, the tree karma powers that be did not appreciate the purchase.
Yesterday, NYE 2020, I threw a pic of the house on instagram and gave it some foo-foo verbiage regarding 2020 not being the end of the world, hopefully 2021 will be better, blah blah blah. Here's that pic:
Again, the karma fairies weren't happy with my dismissal of 2020 and eagerness to get the 2021 show on the road.
How do I know these things? Because today, 1/1/2021, I woke up and, when I let the dogs outside first thing in the morning, discovered this:
And all of it came from this:
That tree is stupid tall, and of all the trees in the yard, was probably the most complete and sturdy-lookin' of the bunch (aside from its lean, thanks to the maple tree in the front yard).
Not anymore. The bulk of the upper half of the left side of the tree came down sometime last night. I don't know if the limbs fell independently of each other, or if a couple fell from waaaay up high and took out the rest on the way down, but there were a LOT of limbs - big ones - on the ground this morning.
What made the limbs fall? Ice.
Everything was covered with ice overnight, and the weight of the ice on the limbs, which are already pretty heavy and droopy to begin with, was too much for a lot of the limbs to bear.
I was out in the yard, all bundled up -- it was raining and cold and icy and muddy and sucky all the way around -- with my saws by about 8am. One of my helpers came out for some moral support:
From there, it was cut, drag, stack, repeat. Somehow, as far as I can tell, in all the carnage there wasn't any damage to fences or houses or anything like that, so that's a plus. And the yard's gonna smell all piney and Christmasy for a while, so that's OK too.
But man, those limbs were BIG and because they were all green, pretty heavy. I probably had 3 dozen substantial limbs come down, many of which were definitely chainsaw-worthy. I wound up with a pile of brush that's almost 6' tall, and plenty of stuff I still need to cut up.
I would have completed the job, but limbs were still snapping off and falling. I was doing my cutting outside the tree's canopy and marginally out of harm's way, but at one point I had to just drop a saw and run; I was out from under the tree but I had my back to it, heard a big snap, and didn't bother turning around to see what came next...I just ran.
Several limbs had snapped off but were hung up in the tree, and I figured it was better to try to bring them down on my own versus letting them dangle and come down whenever they felt like it. Both dogs do a lot of sniffing around near that tree, and the last thing I wanted was for a limb to come down on a dog.
So I got out the big 30' pole saw, got 'er undone to maybe 20' or 25', and started cutting and poking and pulling and pushing and prying, whatever it took to get the rest of the limbs down.
I was successful, but it was a dicey operation. With one of the limbs, I had to do another drop-the-saw-and-run maneuver. With another big limb, I should have done that but didn't, and calculated that the limb would miss me when it fell. I also hedged my bets by being ready to act in case it didn't.
Luckily it did and everything worked out fine, but at that point I decided to put everything away, go inside, and wait for better conditions before finishing the project. The limbs can wait. I can't put them back in the tree, what's done is done. I've got a mess of needles to clean up and, now, another wonky-lookin' tree, but Mother Nature does what Mother Nature does and sometimes there isn't much anybody can do about it.
The good news?
The basement work had been wearin' me out and I hadn't been attacking it these past couple days. Now...working inside, staying dry, causing damage that I'm pretty much in control of, not having big, heavy ass things try to fall on me...it doesn't sound so bad.
(But I still really kinda wish 2021 had NOT started out this way...)
Until a few days ago, there was a full bathroom in the basement. It was located here:
Now, there are zero full bathrooms in the basement. There is, however, a substantial mess to clean up, but that's a story for another day.
I didn't want to demo the basement bathroom - which I'm not going to replace - just yet because going from 2 full bathrooms to 1 full bathroom will present some hygiene challenges when it comes time to redo the lone remaining bathroom. However, the basement bathroom was in the way of tackling some critical projects so she had to go, and I'll cross the hygiene bridge when I get to it.
The exterior of the bathroom walls looked like this:
The inside of the bathroom looked about like this:
Standard stuff: tile floor, shower, sink, toilet, wallpaper on drywall, cooked GFCI outlet, etc. I wound up demo'ing the space because 1, I'd already torn into it a little bit during a recent round of demousification,
and 2, there's a big beam I want to replace and the western bathroom wall was right up on it. I'll have to build a litany of temporary walls during the project to support the main floor, and some of those temporary walls will have to go where the bathroom was.
The demo hasn't been all that exciting, but the bathroom - like the rest of the "finished" basement - is a weird mix of stuff that looks like it was done by legit tradespeople, and stuff that looks like it wasn't even done well by amateur DIY standards. As such, and because I'm living in the house and need its MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) systems up and running, all demo is really more like deconstruction, because there's no telling what's hiding inside the walls.
For example, there are dozens of junction boxes buried in the walls (that's a code no-no) and, in general, rat's nest wiring:
Knowing that's what's in the walls and ceiling, I can't just get real feisty with the sawzall or even a hammer or pry bar.
There are plumbing setups that some people, myself included, frown upon, like this:
That's a galvanized nipple threaded into a brass fitting. I won't bore you with the science that doesn't even seem to be universally agreed upon, but short version, that setup (galvanized steel in an otherwise copper/brass system) has caused corrosion inside the galvanized nipple. I didn't take a real good pic of it, but it's there and if let go long enough, it would drastically diminish the inside diameter of the pipe and subsequently drastically diminish the water pressure coming out of the shower head.
Some people say this situation (galvanic corrosion) doesn't occur with a setup like this, but I've seen it with my own eyes. Between that and the ridiculous number of elbows used in the plumbing to zigzag around all sorts of stuff, I'm led to believe that maybe the work was performed by somebody other than a true professional or somebody who really knew what they were doing. Just like with the electric, this means I have to proceed cautiously and tread lightly.
Oh, and I can't forget the mice. They made homes everywhere, like here:
If you look kinda closely, you can see little bits of chewed up insulation paper facing all piled up across the door jamb. That's the work of some rogue mice. Because I don't enjoy having dead mice rain down on me, all ceiling demo is done halfway slowly so when things do come down, I'm not directly in the line of fire.
Otherwise, the demo has progressed about as well as could be expected without having a dumpster on site. The massive pile of demo'd material in the floor gets in the way a bit, but I'll get to enjoy the long, arduous walks out to a street-staged dumpster soon enough.
The tedium of deconstruction hasn't been without a few exciting moments.
When peeling back the drywall around the window, I realized that the original window casing had been left in place:
It's not real noteworthy from an architectural point of view, but it's always interesting to see how something was originally finished. And since none of the other basement windows had any of the original casing, I wasn't expecting to find any on this one, the last one to undergo any demo. But there it is, and it looks to have been 2-, if not 3-piece casing with a little bead detail in the apron. Pretty fancy for a basement window!
The other thing that caught my eye was the paint job on the plaster wall that was behind the more modern wood-framed wall:
I don't think the paint is original to the house's construction date, but it's certainly plenty old, and it's sort of amazing (to me, anyhow) that way back when, somebody didn't just throw 1 color on the wall, they took the time to paint kind of a faux wainscot/panel thing.
In a basement.
These old houses, especially the smaller ones like mine, there wasn't an inch of wasted space. Granted, the space may not have been used all that efficiently and 19th century floor plans are typically deemed functionally obsolete by today's standards, but still...this was the work of somebody who had such a deep appreciation for what they had that they wanted to dress things up - including finished plaster walls in basements in a pretty small house - any chance they got.
Anyhow...that's where things stand now. The dumpster gets here in a couple days, and work will resume...after about 50 trips carrying debris out to the street.