SIOUX CITY -- Standing in the snow on the front lawn of the Prairie School style home with a brick veneer that her parents, Ervin and Elizabeth Hutchison, owned for more than two decades before selling it in 1983, Sally Paterni can still envision her father up by the roof taking care of the eaves.
"He took such good care of this house," Paterni, of Sioux City, remarked as she clutched family photo albums containing old Polaroids of the Albertson House, 3927 Country Club Boulevard, which was recently named to Preservation Iowa's 2020 list of "Most Endangered Properties."
After being unoccupied for more than 10 years, the two-story home's fascia is weathered in some spots and rotting in others, indicating that the green clay tile roof is leaking. The home's other deficiencies include a compromised electric system from vermin infestation, inoperative plumbing due to exposure to freezing temperatures, and damage from vandalism. The home was initially red-tagged in December 2016. Then, on Sept. 10, 2018, the Sioux City Council voted unanimously to place a demolition order on the home.
Darrel Bullock, the city's code enforcement manager, said the demolition timeline is "open." He said the current property owner hasn't made any commitment in writing to repair the home or sell it, although there have been "numerous" people who have made offers to purchase it. The property is owned by Mark and Patricia Jensen, of Okoboji, Iowa, according to records posted on the Sioux City Assessor's website.
"Right now, he has not made a commitment to do anything in any direction, whether it be repairs or sale or anything. There has been no commitment on his part to this department as far as in writing of any kind," Bullock said. "There have not been any break-ins or anything like that in it, so it has not been demolished at this time."
Sioux City Public Museum Archives Manager Tom Munson, who wrote the recommendation letter that landed the Albertson House on the "Most Endangered Properties" list, said replacing the clay tile roof alone could cost upwards of $100,000. The building and the land that it sits on are currently assessed at $167,832.
"You could be talking anywhere from $150,000 up to $250,000 to get the home in a livable state," Munson estimated. "If I had a strong connection to this house, if I cared about architecture, if I cared about my property, I would consider investing that kind of money."
If additional structural problems develop or the home experiences an uptick in vandalism or break-ins, Bullock said it will rapidly move up the city's demolition list.
Paterni said she has talked to neighbors and city staff and is reaching out to the media in hopes of getting the house on the National Register of Historic Places.
"It's just exquisite -- that's why this house just has to be saved," she said. "It's not a run-of-the-mill family dwelling. This is exceptional."
Prairie School style
The house was built in 1927 and 1928 for Oscar F. Albertson, a pioneer in electric and pneumatic power hand tools.
Albertson immigrated from Sweden and worked as a tool maker in New York and Chicago before coming to Sioux City in 1912. He was one of the founders of Albertson and Company, which manufactured automobile parts and tools from 1914 until 2002.
The house was designed in the Prairie School style by local Swedish-born architect Knute Enoch Westerlind, who also designed the Municipal Auditorium and the Badgerow Building, which are both currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Westerlind may have worked for famed architect William Steele, who was renowned for Prairie School architecture, according to Munson. Since Westerlind mostly stuck to Art Deco and Streamline Modern styles, Munson said the Albertson House is the only Prairie School style building that he has ever designed.
Munson said Prairie School style emphasizes the horizontal to fit in with the prairie. The Albertson House's low-pitched roof and large masonry columns are typical elements of this style.
"This is probably in Sioux City's top five overall most-Prairie School style houses. In fact, it might be second only to the Everist House," Munson said.
'Fabulous family home'
Paterni can walk through the home room by room in her mind. She recalled the "beautiful handset tiles," which were imported from Italy, covering the floor in the front hall and the two massive African mahogany stairways that lead to the second floor.
According to Paterni, the living room has mahogany beams on the ceiling and contains one of the home's three fireplaces. The other two fireplaces are located in the master bedroom and a basement rec room.
"The one in the living room is outstanding, because above the fireplace mantel is a huge four-section tile. Each one is a different scene from 'A Tale of Two Cities.' It's gorgeous!" she said. "On either side of the fireplace are stained glass windows; and below those windows, each side has a little bench so you could sit on either side of the fireplace."
The second floor features what Paterni's family called "the solarium." Westerlind's ink-on-linen drawings refer to the space with windows stretching from the floor to the ceiling on two sides as the "sleeping porch." Below the sleeping porch is a three-car garage and attached to it is a balcony with tall walls.
"My folks used to put a huge Christmas tree there. You could see it up and down Country Club Boulevard. With all those windows and everything, it was just beautiful," Paterni said.
Paterni, an only child, had her wedding reception in the home, and her parents also hosted former Iowa Gov. Norman Erbe.
"Through the years, lots of things happened in that house," she said. "It's just a fabulous, fabulous family home. We all just loved it."
Munson advises Paterni to be persistent with the owner about saving the Albertson House.
Although the house meets two of the National Register of Historic Places' criteria to be deemed worthy of preservation for its historical significance, he said receiving the designation won't give it physical protection. An owner can still have a property on the register demolished, but he or she can't use federal funds to do that, according to Munson.
He said preparing a nomination can cost between $5,000 and $20,000 and that it could take up to 10 years for the house to be named to the register.
"Is this house worthy of that? I would say, absolutely," he said. "Once that would happen, then the owner would be eligible for state and federal tax incentives."
If the opportunity to look inside the home as it stands today arose, Paterni said she doesn't think she would take it. The sight of her family's beloved home in a dilapidated state would be just be too painful for her.
"This house means a lot to me. I'm very emotional about this, because I want this house saved," she said. "I want to do what I can to get it up to par and have a family living in it again."
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