Joggers ran along East Capitol Avenue on a sunny day last week, the tall structures of businesses and residences passing by. While some properties display painted plywood over doors and windows, others showed off fresh paint, new roofs and other improvements.
Earlier this year, the Jefferson City Housing Authority sent letters to property owners in the East Capitol Avenue urban renewal area, stating they could either sign a rehabilitation agreement and make improvements to their homes or risk condemnation by the city.
The area was declared blighted last year because of deteriorating conditions of some properties, and many properties were labeled as abandoned under city ordinance.
Even though not all property owners signed the rehabilitation agreements, both those who did and those who did not sign are fixing up their properties, as are property owners who were not contacted by the Housing Authority.
Albert and Nancy Goldammer did not sign the Housing Authority's rehabilitation agreement, but as joggers ran by their 523 E. Capitol Ave. property, they could see the improvements the Goldammers had made to the home.
The blue house near the intersection of East Capitol Avenue and Marshall Street has a different look, sporting a new white exterior and roof. The walkway leading from the front of the home to the back deck was painted and updated to meet safety codes, and the deck is now securely attached to the house.
"I knew it needed to be done and I wanted to get it done, but it's hard to find someone who would do it for a reasonable price — and then there was pressure from the city," said Albert Goldammer, who purchased the home in the mid-1970s. "But I'm happy it's finished now. I like the looks of it now."
The Goldammers hired a contractor to work on their home — built in 1880, according to MidMoGIS. Improvements took about four months, finishing up in August. Albert said the improvements cost more than he anticipated, but he did not wish to specify the amount.
He said he did not sign the rehabilitation agreement because he was worried even if he did everything in the agreement, the Housing Authority could still try to acquire his home through condemnation.
When Linda Buettner, who owns 606 E. State St., brought up the same concern at last Tuesday's Housing Authority Board of Commissioners meeting, chairman and Cole County Collector Larry Vincent said the Housing Authority would not interfere if property owners kept up their properties. He added the buildings in the East Capitol Avenue urban renewal area would be monitored heavily, though, to ensure owners maintain their properties.
Owner-occupied property owners who signed the agreements had six months to address issues. Annie Isenberg, owner of 531 E. Capitol Ave., was one of them.
With the help of her family, Isenberg made interior and exterior improvements to her brick home over the last year and a half, including painting, gutter work, and replacing windows and floors. Some items lined out in her agreement were cleaning up debris and brick tuckpointing.
Isenberg said she dreamed of living on East Capitol Avenue since she was a child, and she purchased her home not only because of the history behind the street but also because she wanted to help beautify the area.
"I just wanted to improve the area and make it beautiful," she said. "And instead of complaining about it, which I did for many years, I did something about it. I'm really proud to be part of the improvements, and hopefully, I can do the most I can."
She said she still has some changes she wants to make, such as remodeling two bathrooms and fixing up the kitchen, but those improvements will take time. She wants to make some of the improvements to help match the characteristics of the home — built in 1900, according to MidMoGIS.
"I just really like the way people used to do things and the pride that they took in their homes," Isenberg said. "The craftsmanship that they put into it, it was such hard work, and you can tell they built these homes with integrity and they built it to last, to be here forever. Every detail has a meaning — they didn't skip on details on these houses — and I love that. I think it's amazing to think that now I get to live in this and be a part of that."
The Housing Authority granted extensions last week to some property owners who signed rehabilitation agreements, including Buettner and Wayne Phillips, owner of 600 E. State St. They now have until June 1 to complete maintenance lined out in their agreements.
Tom Scheppers, who owns 100 Lafayette St., signed a revised rehabilitation agreement in October. He has until March 20 to complete work on his property.
Jefferson City and Cole County also completed the joint East Capitol Avenue improvement project last month. The project involved repairing sidewalks, planting new trees, adding bicycle lanes and laying brick pedestrian paths.
A large tree used to block part of the Goldammers' home but has since been replaced with a black historic-style light pole as part of the improvement project.
"I think this is the nicest looking street in Jefferson City now," Albert Goldammer said, gazing down East Capitol Avenue toward the Capitol building. "I'm real happy they fixed the street up and the sidewalks. I like to walk between here and the library a lot, and it's nice to have a sidewalk that you don't have to worry about tripping over all the time."
As improvements continued along the street and to several homes, the Housing Authority moved forward on the eminent domain process, filing a civil suit in August against Barbara Buescher, who owns 101 and 105 Jackson St., and Stephen and Cheryl Bratten, who own 103 Jackson St. The Housing Authority wants to acquire those properties through condemnation so they can be privately purchased and rehabilitated.
A hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. Monday at the Cole County Courthouse.
Isenberg said she was "proud of the city for taking the necessary steps" to improve the area and hopes people who purchase homes in the urban renewal area will rehabilitate the buildings instead of tearing them down. Rehabbing an older home can be overwhelming, but it is worth it, she added.
"You get in and it's so much work, but it's so worth it in the end when you've restored something that is such a piece of history," she said. "(Those homes) are such a piece of history of our town and our ancestors that lived here. I think, let's just make it beautiful again. So restore it — don't buy one of these homes to tear it down. Restore it, and just take it one piece at a time because that's the only way you can really do it."