James Eerdmans recently finished converting a 133-year-old house at 838 Cherry St. SE into a home for one of his businesses, American Realty — a 5-year-old brokerage that manages about 50 residential properties and helps developers buy and sell homes.
“Virtually, the work is done and we’re pretty much moved in here. We have a few things that have to be worked out and fixed yet. But for the most part, we’re in and operating here,” he said.
Eerdmans bought the two-story, 4,000-square-foot house at a foreclosure sale. He gutted it down to its studs and then restored its original floor plan as much as possible. He also restored many of the home’s distinguishing interior features, such as the woodwork and windows, to original condition. On the outside, Eerdmans tore out a makeshift front porch and replaced it with almost an exact replica of the original. To do that, he had to bring in rocks from a Colorado quarry.
“It’s quite an old building and trying to find some of the same materials they used back then was quite a difficult task,” he said. “I can’t imagine that there are too many houses older than this one.”
According to Past Perfect Inc., a firm that assists those doing historic renovations, John Hoskin built the house in 1872. Hoskin was a partner in a construction business and a Third Ward alderman at the time. After Hoskin’s son Harry died in 1929, the house was split into four apartments.
The house remained a rental property until 1969, when Israels Designs for Living took it over for the next eight years until it moved into the recently razed building at Pearl Street and Campau Avenue. When Israels left the house for downtown, it became an apartment house again.
“In 1921, a two-stall garage with living space above was added to the south, and a small bathroom addition with a sleeping porch above was made at the northwest corner,” said Rebecca Smith-Hoffman, a principal in Past Perfect.
“The fieldstone porch at the east side was enclosed in 1928, likely to have been when it was converted into apartments. When the house was converted into commercial use in 1969, the front porch was enclosed to create display space,” she added.
Now American Realty has nine offices, six bathrooms, a conference room, and front and back lobbies in a setting that doesn’t come close to resembling the usual commercial space.
“We kept the integrity of the residential look just for effect. All of the bathrooms have clawfoot tubs and we’ve got some of the original sinks that were sandblasted and recoated. We’ve got just a lot of things in there that let you see it was a home at one time, and we wanted to keep that feel,” said Eerdmans.
“It was all, of course, steam heat back then with all those big, fancy radiators. Those were all sandblasted and refinished and put back in place just for effect, even though they’re not functioning. Everything has been rewired, re-supported and re-plumbed with all new mechanicals. But you can’t see that unless you go into the basement.”
Half of the hardwood flooring that runs throughout the house is original, while the other half has been replicated. The front entry, the front lobby, the conference room, and half of the second level also are original. Eerdmans said it took nearly 10 months to complete the renovation work.
Just a few blocks away, at 1025 Wealthy St. SE, is Eastown Mortgage, Eerdmans’ other business. That office also was a home that he converted nearly three years ago. Eerdmans renovated the entire interior and was able to retain much of that house’s distinct character, too. The home’s 1,500 square feet left him with five offices for his residential loan officers, a conference room, two bathrooms, and lobbies in front and in back.
“There was a fire in that one. The city, I think, did some outside work to it so it wouldn’t look so hideous. But the inside was just terrible,” he said.
Like others who do historic renovation work here, Eerdmans also feels a special sense of gratification when he completes such a difficult project. Not only because he is able to put a vacant and usually unsightly property back into use, but also because he is helping to put life back into an urban neighborhood.
“We’re pretty plugged into the local community. There has been a lot of revitalization in and around this area. I’ve redone probably a dozen homes in the Fairmount Square, Cherry Hill, Heritage Hill and Wealthy Theatre District areas. I buy a lot of foreclosures and fix those up,” he said.
“It’s a lot of work. But it’s pretty rewarding, you know.”