Preservation Lansing celebrates five extreme acts of love

A color-corrected mansion, a stubborn holdout in a sea of parking lots, a modest but sweet old house in North Lansing, the state Capitol dome and a very special porch have been singled out for top recognition at the 2017 Preservation Lansing awards ceremony.

T h e porch is the place to start the party, especially this year.

All of this year’s honorees were labors of love, but the porch of a 124-year-old “stick Victorian” house at 216 Huron St., south of Martin Luther King Blvd. between Kalamazoo and Allegan streets, was a dream — and nightmare — project in a class by itself.

It’s no mansion, but it once belonged to leading Lansing architect Darius Moon, and its elaborate exterior served as the fanciful designer’s calling card. The fantasia of ornate woodwork that greets front door visitors is unique in the state, if not the nation, but the porch was serially abused in the house’s rental phase and was in critical condition by the 2000s.

Last year, a team of artisans stripped 15 layers of paint from the parts that were left and restored the rest from scratch, using old photographs and drawings.

Workers found a trapdoor in the porch that led to a vault underneath, where rotten joists told a grim story.

In 1975, the house was rescued from demolition and moved, but the new foundation was flawed and the unsupported porch gradually dragged the whole house sideways. Fortunately, owners Tom Stanton and Carol Skillings take their stewardship of an architectural treasure seriously and sucked it all up, foundation work included, to the tune of over $75,000.

Another heroic owner who will be honored this year is 92-year-old Alice Sessions, who has fended off a series of buyers to keep a beautiful red house built in 1876 at 402 S. Walnut from falling to the bulldozers.

The same stonemasons who built the state Capitol built, and lived in, the red brick Glaister house. The house now stands alone in a stark sector of monolithic office buildings and parking lots southwest of the state Capitol, with a defiant mob of irises rioting in the front yard.

Dale Schrader of Preservation Lansing said Sessions deserves an award for resisting the tide of asphalt and keeping the Queen Anne house in trim, installing a new roof and keeping it painted a cheerful red.

Schrader said Preservation Lansing hopes to form a historic district just for the Glaister house, which is already on the national Historic Register, but without a committed owner like Sessions, it would not have made it this far.

The 1926 Potter House, one of Lansing’s biggest mansions, is another 2017 awardee. This year, a carefully researched exterior paint job wiped away the queasy mustard color used by a previous owner and restored the walls to classic Tudor white and brown. Owners James McClurken and Sergei Kvitko have restored countless historic bits such as flowerboxes, landscape elements and a factory-scaled chimney.

“The way they’re doing it, their attention to detail, deserves an award,” Schrader said.

Earlier this year, Schrader got a tip about a much more modest home at 901 E. Grand River, painted in two cheerful shades of orange. He found the classic 1915 bungalow in exceptional trim, with window and porch details intact. He also found, to his surprise, that the owner was “Discount” Dave Sheets, famous as Lansing’s Mattress King, who also owns dozens of rentals in the area.

Schrader said the award is meant to encourage Sheets, who is also a contractor, to keep up his preservation-minded stewardship of older houses.

The crowning glory in this diverse group of gems is the dome of Lansing’s 1879 state Capitol itself, restored by the Christman Co. of Lansing last year. Workers not only sealed and painted the iron dome, but also restored dozens of Victorian frills such as acanthus leaves and decorative balls that were lost over the centuries.

Besides the five buildings, the awards ceremony will also honor Ingham County Treasurer and Land Bank chairman Eric Schertzing.

Schertzing works with Preservation Lansing each year to pick a few houses from the tax foreclosure list that are worthy of protection and make sure the buyers sign historic preservation and owner occupancy covenants.

Schertzing is responsible for dozens of demolitions of blighted properties a year, but he’s got “preservation eyes,” the crucial consciousness of historic value that Preservation Lansing awards are meant to encourage.

“I’ve seen them wring their hands — should they demolish or save it?” Schrader said. “Sometimes he’ll call me and say, ‘Give me a good reason not to demolish this house.’”

Preservation Lansing 2017 Awards 5:30 p.m. Wed., Oct. 18 Robin Theatre 1105 S. Washington Ave. Food by Saddleback Barbecue Pat Zelenka, guitar preservelansing@ gmail.com FREE - but email for a request for space.