Jackie Elmore doesn’t want to tear down a 164-year-old home once called the “most tasteful and elegant” residence in Belleville.
But she and her husband, Bud Zipfel, can’t afford the cost of renovating the massive home at 109 E. D St. and they haven’t been able to find a buyer.
“We’ve just reached our last hurrah here on what to do with this building,” Elmore told the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.
Since last summer, Elmore has sought permission to tear down the three-story building, which was built as a two-story, brick home in 1854 by businessman Lucien Cabanne. He was a great-grandson of prominent St. Louis resident Pierre Chouteau and business partner and brother-in-law of A.G. Edwards, who founded the A.G. Edwards brokerage firm. Cabanne’s home was then described in a newspaper as “by far the most tasteful and elegant private residence” in the city, according to research by the Belleville Historical Society.
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In the decades since then, a third floor with wood framing was added and the building was divided into apartments. The building has been vacant for about 10 years.
And now a building analysis commissioned by Elmore states the interior needs a “significant amount of repairs,” and at least one member of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission said he would vote to allow Elmore to tear down the home.
The cost to rehabilitate the building would be “out of all proportion” to the value of the building, said commission member Douglas Luna during the board’s July meeting.
“In my opinion, that there is so little of the original historic character of the building left that it does not have historic value and I don’t believe contributes to the historic character of the neighborhood,” said Luna, who is a retired architect.
In response, board member Jack LeChien said, “We can disagree.
“It has a place in Belleville’s history as it grew and was flourishing,” LeChien said. “He (Cabanne) played a part in Belleville’s history.”
The building is in the Hexenbuckel Historic District, which means the Historic Preservation Commission has oversight on whether the building can be demolished. This district includes homes along North Jackson, North Charles and North Church streets northeast of the Public Square.
Instead of granting Elmore permission to tear down the home, the board voted to ask Elmore to auction the property by October. Luna abstained from the voice vote.
Four auction companies have not taken the case, but Elmore said she planned to meet with a fifth company on Friday to see if that company would schedule an auction.
Elmore said an auction was conducted in 2015, but there were no bids to reach the minimum of $75,000. She told the commission she would accept a lower bid this time and noted she has spent about $10,000 on the building since last fall for expenses such as taxes, lawn care and clearing out material from the inside of the building.
The estimated cost to tear down the building is $20,000 to $30,000, Elmore said.
An engineer who toured the building in May reported to Elmore that a “significant amount of repairs would be necessary” before someone could live in the home again.
The report says the exterior of the building and foundation are in “fair structural condition” but the interior is in “poor condition.”
“The sagging floors may be due to a combination of the age of the home and a reduction in the strength of the timber joists from water damage,” the report said.
The staircase is sloping toward the center of the home.
Elmore said she paid $1,500 for Kaskaskia Engineering Group LLC of Belleville to conduct the study.
Here are some of the report’s recommendations:
▪ Timber framing throughout the building should be replaced or repaired.
▪ Replace the roof and repair existing chimneys.
▪ All windows should be replaced.
▪ Tuck-point the brickwork not previously tuck-pointed 15 to 18 years ago.
Along with the main building, there is a former servant’s quarters and a carriage house, which were at some point all combined and converted into eight apartments.
In the basement, jacks have been installed to support steel beams used to support the staircase and floors above.
“The foundation appears to be in good condition with no significant cracking or shifting noted,” the report said.
Elmore said her husband, who briefly played major-league baseball in the 1960s, bought the building in the 1970s.
Elmore and the Historic Preservation Commission members discussed whether Elmore would donate the building to the Belleville Historical Society.
Elmore said she would consider that, but didn’t want to do it if the society would then sell the building to a developer who received tax breaks.
LeChien said a developer could be eligible for a 20 percent federal tax credit for improvements on income-producing buildings in a historic district.
Larry Betz, who is president of the Belleville Historical Society, said in an interview that the society’s board would have to make the decision on whether to accept a donation, but he didn’t think it would be feasible for the society to take over the building unless the society had arranged for someone else to take ownership.
Betz said the society now owns five homes and isn’t ready to take on another project.
“We’re not a wealthy organization. You know if we had a whole bunch of money, we could help out with this a little more,” he said. “It’s unfortunate. There’s so many houses like that in Belleville that are grand houses that have just been let go badly.”
Elmore said she had one “crazy idea” for the Cabanne home.
“It came to me in a dream,” she told the commission.
Here’s the scenario: She tears down the building, gives the land to the city and the Historical Society grants money for a mid-19th century garden.
“We put in a mid-19th century garden on the lot, which can be seen from Jackson Street all the way down, and wouldn’t that be a nice plus for the neighborhood as opposed to a vacant building?
“When I look at that building — I mean I’ve looked at it for 40-something years — I look at that building and I go, ‘Gee, I don’t want to tear it down,’ ” Elmore said. “But I look at it and I see a mid-19th century garden on that lot.”
Where to call
More information about the home at 109 E. D St. is available by contacting Jackie Elmore or Bud Zipfel at 618-235-4124.