The Belleville neighborhood of 19th century brick homes along East Garfield Street is undergoing a “little renaissance.”
That’s how David Braswell describes the latest happenings in the 500 and 600 block of the quiet brick-lined street where German immigrants built homes in the 1800s.
Braswell bought his first home on East Garfield Street in 1977 and he now owns five on the street. A new wave of historic home aficionados also are investing in East Garfield Street homes that had fallen into disrepair.
Work is being finished on a home that was condemned by the city and another that probably was going to be condemned if renovation work had not begun, Braswell said. Other homes also are being improved.
Braswell described the East Garfield scene as a renaissance because of “the people working together to make Garfield a better place and improve the street and the historic homes that are here.
“I thought it was important that people know there are actually groups of people, neighborhoods of people, who actually enjoy doing this,” Braswell said.
What sets Belleville off from the burbs, it’s this older architecture.
Bob Brunkow, historian for the Belleville Historical Society
The BND recently highlighted the renovation of large home on East Washington Street, where acclaimed architect Otto Rubach grew up, and how two 19th century homes on Abend and East D streets need new owners.
Bob Brunkow, historian for the Belleville Historical Society, said when people get interested in fixing homes “for their historical value, their architectural value, their construction value, that’s a plus for the town.”
“What sets Belleville off from the burbs, it’s this older architecture,” Brunkow said. “This is the thing that can sell the town.
“We’re making history,” he said. “Maybe we ought to be thinking about what we’re doing so that in 50 years people can look back and say, ‘Well, they did a good job.’”
The home at 620 E. Garfield St. has come a long way.
It once was condemned by the city but now the new owner, Linda Weisenstein, says the home will be a stop on the St. Clair County Historical Society’s candlelight house tour on Dec. 10. Also, the day before the tour of homes, the homes along Abend and East Garfield streets will be featured in the third annual Old Belleville Historical Luminary Walk on Dec. 9.
“There are a lot of little houses to save in Belleville that belonged to German immigrants that settled here,” Weisenstein said.
Weisenstein, a board member of the Belleville Historical Society, bought her home in July for $21,000 and has had crews rehabbing it since August. She hopes to move in soon.
The home is actually two homes that had been joined decades ago.
The left side was built in 1854 and the other side was built in 1858. Weisenstein is not sure when they were combined.
It’s really wonderful to save a piece of history.
Linda Weisenstein, who is moving into a 19th century home on East Garfield Street
Her renovation includes a new roof, furnace, air conditioner, kitchen, bathroom and light fixtures. Some of the floors were rotted out because of water damage and had to be replaced but some of the original flooring has been restored. She’s still tabulating her costs.
Weisenstein said buying historic homes can be “very affordable.”
East Garfield Street is in the Old Belleville Historic District, where the exterior of the homes need to reflect the historic design but homeowners can rebuild the interiors any way they want. Weisenstein said the rules are easy to follow.
“The city has several listed for demolition we’d like to save,” she said. “We can’t save them all and we’re just doing one house at a time.” Weisenstein suggested that people interested in buying a historic home should contact the Belleville Historic Society for more information.
“It’s really wonderful to save a piece of history,” she said.
Homes ‘survive on charm’
Wayne Wolf is in the process of rehabbing his second home in the 600 block of East Garfield Street, which is one of the few blocks in the city where all of the 19th century homes remain intact in their original locations.
In April, he started working on the home at 616 E. Garfield St. and hopes to sell it this fall.
The 1 ½-story brick home was built in the early 1860s and was “in need of repair,” Wolf said. The renovation work included installing a new kitchen floor and gutting the bathroom. The entire home has been repainted and it has new appliances.
These houses survive on charm. It almost reminds me of New Orleans, some of the streets down there.
Wayne Wolf, who owns two East Garfield Street homes
Wolf, who has done most of the renovation work himself, said the cost of buying the home and renovating it is under $50,000.
Wolf, who is a chemical lab technician, also renovated the home at 609 E. Garfield St. in the past few years and is now selling it. This home dates to 1861. He and his family lived in this home for a while but they have since moved to Forest Avenue in Belleville.
“These homes were structurally very sound,” Wolf said. “They were just old and needed updating.
“These houses survive on charm. It almost reminds me of New Orleans, some of the streets down there,” Wolf said. “If you want authentic history, this is it.”
Henry Winker, if he was around today, might take a while to figure out Instagram posts but he likely would appreciate the Instagram photos of the home he had built at 509 E. Garfield St. in the 1870s.
Winker, who was a carpenter, owned the 1 ½-story home and rented it out.
Kinsey Mordini, who recently graduated from college and moved back to Belleville from New York City, bought the Winker home last month for $52,000. Now she posts pictures of her work on the home on her Instagram page Historic Revival.
Most of the major renovation work on the home was finished by the time she bought the home but she’s been painting and working on the yard. She hopes to move in next week.
Braswell said the home had been vacant for a long time but a previous owner had done a lot of tuck-pointing to save the brick walls.
Otherwise, he said, “It would have fallen down.”
We knew it was a hot property and I knew the only way to get it was to bid well above the asking price.
Kinsey Mordini, who is moving into an 1870s home
“They basically put the house back together,” Braswell said. “It was in pieces.”
Mordini received her real estate license in August and is working with her mother, Kathy Mordini, the managing broker for Avenue Realty Associates.
The East Garfield home had been in foreclosure and was listed at $38,000. But multiple bidders were interested in the property and that drove up the price.
Kathy Mordini said a metro-east trend has foreclosure properties going for more than what they are listed for.
“I think everybody’s looking out for that awesome deal that comes on the market,” Kinsey Mordini said. “We knew it was a hot property and I knew the only way to get it was to bid well above the asking price.”
Kinsey said she had her eye on Garfield Street homes since she returned to Belleville from college.
“When I was younger, driving down this road, I would just look around, like, ‘I want my own little, cute house one day.’”