An acclaimed architect who designed distinctive buildings across Belleville grew up in a massive downtown home that fell into disrepair in recent years.
While Otto Rubach’s former home was neglected, many of the buildings he designed have flourished, including the Belleville Public Library, just three blocks away from the large brick home where he spent his formative years in the late 1800s.
But now two downtown businessmen have rescued Rubach’s childhood home with a $150,000 makeover.
The three-story home at 411 E. Washington St. is being renovated by Jason Buss and Dan Hamilton, who own Keil’s Antiques and Gifts at 26 E. Main St. and live above the store in a loft. Hamilton manages the shop and Buss is a ReMax Preferred real estate agent.
“I love old buildings, and this one I’ve just been attached to it and it just needed my help,” Buss said. “It was one of those things I was ready to take on a little bit bigger project. I just really like old places and I hate seeing them in disrepair.”
Decades ago, the 4,500-square-foot home was converted into apartments, and Buss and Hamilton plan to rent four units. The two larger ones on the first floor will rent for $800 a month and the smaller units on the second floor are expected to rent for $580 month.
Details of the 19th century home include a 40-inch wide, terra cotta medallion implanted at the top of the home’s exterior and intricate wood carvings on the fireplace mantels and on the front entryway.
I just really like old places and I hate seeing them in disrepair.
Jason Buss, who is renovating a 19th century home
The renovation, which has taken longer than originally expected, is scheduled to be finished Nov. 15. The work includes a new roof, gutters, windows and boiler for radiator heat. Layers of old carpeting were ripped off to expose original hardwood floors. Not all of the original stained glass windows were in the home when Buss bought the building last year for $85,000 but the ones that remained are being restored. And a lot of tuckpointing is being done to repair the brick walls.
“You could pick the bricks off. There was nothing holding them in place,” Buss said.
The BND this month featured two other 19th century homes that need renovations but Buss said he wasn’t ready to take on those projects on East D Street and Abend Street. Buss and Hamilton next have plans to work on a home at 318 S. Charles St.
Residents who move into the East Washington Street home will have easy access to downtown, where Buss said he has been active for a long time.
“I’m not one of the negative people about Belleville becoming this or that,” Buss said. “I truly believe it’s a great community with very affordable housing.
“A lot of people that support downtown live near downtown, love the walkability of living and being able to go to the restaurants, the bars, the shops, the events and I know that there’s a lot of negative people but a lot of people love it.”
Ninety-two-year-old Don Lougeay, of Belleville, said he remembers visiting his grandmother who lived on the first floor of the Rubach home in the late 1920s.
And today, Lougeay is helping to restore the home.
Lougeay is a longtime woodcarver who has carved sections of the wood trim that soon will be placed on the outside of the home’s large front window.
Eric Touchette, a Belleville carpenter who is managing the restoration project for Buss and Hamilton, said he heard that Lougeay would be interested in working on the restoration.
“The stuff that was there was so weather beaten, he couldn’t reuse it. So he brought me one of each of the pieces he needed and then I made copies of them,” Lougeay said.
Lougeay said he carved the new pieces out of wood from a poplar tree because poplar retains details of the carving even outdoors.
Touchette said the window trim carved by Lougeay is known as an acanthus leaf.
I did as much research as possible to make sure it’s 100 percent accurate.
Eric Touchette, who is overseeing the renovation of a 19th century home
St. Clair County records indicate the home was built in 1870 but Bob Brunkow, the historian for the Belleville Historical Society, believes the home was built in the mid-1880s based on fire insurance maps that detail the location of structures throughout the city. An 1884 fire insurance map on file in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s digital collection does not show the Rubach home but the 1889 map shows it.
Touchette said the home’s design is called Eastlake Victorian. Brunkow noted that the home also has elements of the Queen Anne architectural style.
The developers said their goal is to stay true to the home’s original features.
“I did as much research as possible to make sure it’s 100 percent accurate,” Touchette said.
Lougeay noted, “He is paying awful lot of attention to detail.”
Touchette said Buss’ and Hamilton’s investment arrived just in time to save the Rubach home.
“There were some things, like the tuckpointing that had this not been done this go-around, I think this building really could have seen the wrecking ball in 10 years because there were spots where there was literally no mortar left in the building,” Touchette said.
“Basically, it was neglected for too long.”
Rubach’s father, Dr. Ferdinand Rubach, was a physician who saw patients in the home for at least part of his career, according to city directory records. He also had an office on East Main Street.
The Rubach home originally had an address of 411 E. First St. But some decades later the city changed several street names to honor past presidents and East First Street became East Washington Street.
Dr. Rubach was a German immigrant who entered the country in the 1840s, Brunkow said.
Brunkow said Otto Rubach was born in 1874 and apparently lived in the East Washington Street home from about the age of 10 to his mid-20s. Rubach worked as an architect in Belleville from the 1890s to the late 1940s. He died in 1959.
The fact that it’s the house that Otto Rubach grew up in makes it more significant because it has some historical significance from that perspective.
Larry Betz, president of the Belleville Historical Society
Larry Betz, president of the Belleville Historical Society, said Rubach was a “very prolific” architect.
Along with designing the city’s library at 121 E. Washington St., Rubach worked on several school and commercial buildings. He also partnered with architects Frank Riester and Lyman Weisenstein on Belleville projects during his career. Riester and Rubach designed the original plans for Belleville Township High School, which is now Lindenwood University-Belleville.
Betz said he very much appreciates “the work and the money” that Buss and Hamilton are putting into the East Washington Street home.
“The fact that it’s the house that Otto Rubach grew up in makes it more significant because it has some historical significance from that perspective,” Betz said. “That gives some prominence to the property.”