And all the King’s horses….
In 1978, after a brief teaching career and a summer spent running the West Branch Times, I opened Knock On Wood Antique Repair & Restoration in Iowa City. Within a few years I had added a floor refinishing service and had accumulated more Golden Oak antiques than my small apartment could handle, so I went looking for a new location.
I found exactly what I needed just three blocks from downtown Iowa City: a century-old, two-story brick warehouse that had been boarded up for years. The owner was more than anxious to accept my offer, and I soon found out why. The building had no heating system, a dangerous array of sparking electrical wires, no bathroom and no stairway between the two floors.
But what it did have was enough to get me excited: massive hundred-year-old posts, beams and ceiling joints, exposed brick walls, more floor space than I could ever have expected and a great location on a busy thoroughfare.
For nearly a year my friends and I worked nights and weekends on that old warehouse, building a brick fireplace in the sprawling first floor showroom, adding skylights, running electrical conduit, building two bathrooms, jack-hammering through eight inches of concrete for a wide stairwell, outfitting a woodworking and refinishing shop in the back, building a garage in the basement for my Ford delivery van and 1973 MGB, as well as a combination studio apartment and office.
For five years that renovated warehouse served me well. I opened an antiques mall, continued to restore Victorian oak and walnut antiques, discovered Arts & Crafts and wrote my first book. Time brings changes, however, so with a move to North Carolina and new opportunities I turned my workshop over to my manager and handed off the antiques mall to two of my dealers.
Last week, some twenty-five years after I had left, I took a brief break from our annual family reunion in Illinois to drive my wife and son over to Iowa City. It was move-in day for the Hawkeye freshmen, so the town was bustling with activity as we slowly drove through downtown toward 507 South Gilbert Street. In anticipation of a grand tour of the building, I had been preparing them with stories about my largest and most ambitious restoration project ever.
Traffic was heavy, so I had to concentrate on my driving as we made our way down Gilbert Street, but I had them both peering out their windows watching for the large Iowa City Antiques Mall sign. A break in the traffic allowed me to pull to the curb. First, I thought I had missed it, then it dawned on me: it was gone. Completely and utterly gone. Disappeared. Vanished – without a trace. A fresh concrete slab was all that marked the spot where it had stood for more than a hundred years. It was as if someone had taken a giant eraser and simply made it disappear.
A car horn jolted me back to reality. It was like learning an old friend had died and your mind suddenly jumps between memories of great times together to wondering what those final days had been like. It would have taken a wrecking ball to bring down those thick brick walls. An enormous track-hoe to bite and tear those massive posts and beams apart. End-loaders and dump trucks to haul away ton after ton of bricks and mortar and slabs of concrete. Did anyone save the oak and etched glass doors I had made for the front entrance? Or the nine-foot antique oak and glass doors leading into the gallery?
Leigh Ann and Blake sensed my anguish as we turned and drove silently back toward the Mississippi River. I have been lucky, I guess. My parents still live in the house I grew up in, my sister lives in my grandparents’ former home. As far as I know, each house I have ever lived in is still standing, alive with activity. You could combine all the work I ever did to all of them, however, and it still could not equal what I did in 1980 to that old brick warehouse.
And as much as I have thought about it in those years since then, now I can’t help but think about it every day.
Must mean it’s time for a new project….
Until next Monday,
Have a great week!
Success is not the key to Happiness.
Happiness is the key to Success.
If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.
– Albert Schweitzer