805 N. Seymour Ave., Lansing
Owner: Kevin Schoen
The massive brick house that has commanded the northwest corner of Seymour Avenue and Madison Street for 110 years is finally getting a makeover, according to its owner, Kevin Schoen.
Schoen, the CEO of internet provider ACD.net, bought the house at 805 N. Seymour in 2014 at a bank auction for $20,500. He plans to convert the house into apartments.
Since Schoen bought the house five years ago, frustrated neighbors have watched the 1909 edifice slide downhill fast. The stately porches, held up by Ionic columns, appear on the verge of collapse, with yellow tape around the east porch. The main floor windows are boarded. Several upstairs windows are gone but not boarded up, leaving the interior vulnerable to the elements.
Dale Schrader, who lives near the house, is angry that Schoen has waited so long to restore it while it continues to deteriorate. Schrader is president of Preservation Lansing and has rehabbed several houses in the area.
His preservation instincts inflame every time he looks at the house.
“I drive by it every day and I can’t believe there are windows open, with rain and birds flying in,” he said. “Five years and very little progress is way too long. He should at least seal those windows off and be a better steward of that house for the neighborhood.”
Schoen said he has been gradually laying the groundwork. Last year, he put a new roof on the house at a cost of $35,000. The interior plaster and truckloads of miscellaneous debris have been removed.
“Structurally, it’s in very good shape,” Schoen said. “That’s why it’s best to retain these older brick properties. It’s difficult to rebuild them or build something similar these days.”
The house’s red brick shell is as impressive as ever. When viewed from the corner, its sheer size and striking symmetry make it look like as if it’s multiplying into two or more houses.
Many homes of the period flaunt their filigrees or announce their owner’s wealth, but the Seymour house speaks in low tones of solidity and function. None of the fancy Victorian architectural styles seem to apply. There isn’t much decoration, except for a delicate latticework pattern on top of the upstairs windows. If it’s a Queen Anne house, she’s not wearing any makeup. “Neoclassical” might be more apt, but the columned porches are only one story high instead of two, perhaps out of Midwestern modesty.
Schoen estimates it will cost him “easily a half million or more” to bring the 4,000-square-foot house up to snuff. He intends to turn the house into four market rate housing units. He said he’ll need to charge $1,300 to $1,400 monthly rent to make the project viable, but he fears that “the market for upper-end housing is already saturated” in the area.
The house was originally a “fourplex,” an unusual layout of four separate units, so the conversion will not be a stretch, design-wise. Schoen expects the high ceilings to add to the units’ appeal.
But it will take a lot of work and material cost to make those four units inhabitable.
“The only way to get these things up to spec is to go full guts on them, bring all the plumbing and electrical to code,” Schoen said.
Inside, the plaster walls are gone and the house is stripped to its studs. The copper pipes were stolen from the house long ago. Even in the pitch-black gloom of the first floor, where the windows are boarded up, two spacious living rooms with bay windows and a fireplace make for an inviting space.
The stairway banister and upstairs railing, made of polished hardwood, is in excellent shape and will likely be a star attraction when the project is finished.
A funky, twisted set of steps to the second floor will probably have to go, though.
“We’ll have to reconstruct the stairways so they’re up to modern code,” Schoen said.
When rehab work is complete, the house will have two two-bedroom units and two three-bedroom units, Schoen said.
The third floor attic, with its low, angled ceiling and spectacular window views, will make a cozy set of bedrooms.
Schoen said he has no set timetable to finish the job.
“Realistically, if I do it correctly, it’s going to be two years,” he said.
Schoen said he never seriously considered pulling a permit for demolition.
“That’s a bad thing to do,” Schoen said. “It would just be an empty lot. Urban infill isn’t really occurring these days. It’s definitely best to keep these brick structures, even if it takes a while to rehab them.”