The City Rescue Mission’s potential purchase of the property it hopes to turn into a homeless shelter would notably include the 147-year-old Glaister House, which is on a list of endangered historic properties in Greater Lansing.
“I asked for it,” mission executive director Mark Chriss said, adding that the rescue mission has no current plans for how they might utilize the property. “I don’t have any desire to try to shelter people in the house, it’s just not designed for it. I think there’s a possibility for us to use it in the future, just not in the immediate future.”
Built in 1876 by Capitol architect Richard Glaister for him and his wife, Deborah, the red-brick Italianate and Queen Anne style house on the corner of Walnut and Kalamazoo streets was later occupied by Alice Sessions on and off from age 15 until her death at age 93 in April 2018.
In 2017, after turning down several offers to sell, Sessions put $30,000 into repairs, had the house listed on the National Register of Historic Places and contacted Preservation Lansing President Dale Schrader for advice on how to further protect it.
Together, they drafted a letter to Mayor Andy Schor in January 2018 nominating the house as a local historic district. Four days later, though, Sessions’ son, Richard Sessions, acting as co-trustee of the house, withdrew the request.
“We came so close,” Schrader said. “It was very sad and discouraging, and I truly believe she died of a broken heart.”
In June 2018, just two months after Alice Sessions died, Set Seg, the nonprofit insurance agency that operated out of the offices next door at 415 Kalamazoo St. at the time, purchased the house for $250,000. Set Seg chief financial officer Dennis Rogoszewski said then that the company had no plans for the property. It has remained unoccupied since, while Set Seg has moved their headquarters to East Lansing.
“The National Register of Historic Places doesn’t offer any kind of protection for property. It just brings public national attention to the property, but that’s not protected. The only mechanism to protect the property is a historic district,” Schrader said.
Someone “could buy it, but they can’t tear it down, and they can’t change it by putting siding on it or something,” Schrader said.
Without those protections, the future of the property remains speculative. Laura Grimwood, the rescue mission’s senior director of community engagement, said that the mission’s staff had an opportunity to tour the house, which they found in “bad repair.” Sessions had rented upstairs bedrooms to boarders as recently as 2017.
Schrader, who made several trips to meet Sessions at the house around that time, agreed that it would require “a lot of work everywhere” were a future owner to take up restoration efforts.
“It’s in bad repair, no question about it. It had some leak damage from one of the heat radiators upstairs and had some ceiling and wall damage. It’s a big house, and it’s going to cost a lot of money, probably hundreds of thousands of dollars, to restore,” Schrader said.
With that said, as Schrader repeated several times, “I do a lot of restoration of old houses. In my eye, I’ve done a lot worse than that. A lot worse.”
If the rescue mission succeeds in turning the two properties on Kalamazoo Street into a homeless shelter, the Glaister House would remain unoccupied at least until the shelter opens.
“It’ll take two years to raise and develop, so maybe in the future we might have a need and be able to do further expansion,” Chriss said. “We didn’t want to miss the opportunity, adding that Set Seg “didn’t want to hold onto the property anyways, so it worked out well for us.”
— TYLER SCHNEIDER
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