As the trees and shrubs are shedding their leaves I’m finding myself noticing again more of what I’ve considered more visually annoying in these times in areas of Mason City and North Iowa. Too many homes appear to have been dismissed as either being too far gone to inject a breath of new life in them, or the owners have taken the approach of bleeding the properties dry of rental income until they absolutely have to do something with them in order for them to be up rental code standards, or they simply get condemned and torn down.
Having been selling real estate for a number of years in Mason City, I can still remember some of the grand homes that dotted the downtown landscape. As our city grew outward in every direction with new subdivisions, most of those likely historic single family homes were converted into multi-unit apartment houses. Perhaps at first, the conversions took in young working class people along with some of the elderly who were on limited incomes and were thankful to have a comfortable apartment to either get a first start or last place to hang their hats after a rocky road life. Writing this article causes me to remember an elderly woman whose name was Sylvia. She lived in a two room flat that was likely the parlor and dining room of a grand downtown conversion. It was modestly furnished and had a small kitchenette in one corner of the original dining room. She had to share the bath with the tenant on the other side, but she didn’t seem to mind. If my memory serves me, she likely lived there for over 20 years. She didn’t drive and walked everywhere or took a cab whenever the weather was bad or the distance too far. I would stop and see her about once a month simply to check on her welfare as her nearest relatives lived far out of State. I became somewhat acquainted with the owners of the apartment house and found them to be very particular about the general condition of the exterior as well as the common areas of the conversion. I appreciated their concern even though Sylvia would sometimes complain about their fussiness. I usually turned a deaf ear because she had no idea how many other apartments were being ill-maintained by their owners. She lived there up to the time she went to the hospital and passed away.
I’m hopeful the tides are now turning and our civic leaders are becoming more aware of seedy conversion units around the city that appear to be held together by toothpicks and paperclips. “Best foot forward” is what I believe to be the mindset we must all have in dealing with problematic properties.
The one that comes to mind at this time is that “once upon a time” grand home that was converted in to sleeping quarters which is now boarded up and located just north of the Globe Gazette newspaper office. Since it is on a major thoroughfare, nearly everyone driving from the north on Hwy. 65 sees it as they are making the turn. I was in that structure several times over the years and that’s all I could think to myself was, “Oh what a butchering of beauty!”
I spoke to a colleague this evening at a social gathering about how far too many of our young either don’t know how to make simple repairs or they just don’t want to bother. We must encourage our young to learn and then spread their wings of new-found knowledge so they may go out and make a difference in our communities. If we don’t, we will find more islands of peeling paint and raw wood surfacing in our cities and towns.