Guest Commentary by Kent Carlson
One man’s heaven is another man’s hell
By Kent Carlson
It’s not often I employ the wisdom of a rock and roll star into a column. But when I read about the hysteria by some surrounding the demolition of a beautiful home South of Grand, I immediately thought of Joe Walsh:
“Well I don’t know, but I’ve been told
Two sides to every story
One is right and the other is wrong
Guess it depends which side your on
Cuz one man’s blessing is another man’s curse
One man’s drink is another man’s thirst
One man’s pleasure is another man’s pain
One man’s loss is another man’s gain
One man’s lie is another man’s truth
There’s two sides to every story”
I’ve spent a disproportionate part of my life rallying for preservation causes. That includes countless hours actually renovating homes and buildings. In 25 years of buying and renovating homes and buildings, I’ve only owned one built since 1920. I’m an admitted freak when it comes to old structures. So when I heard a great old house on John Lynde Road met its demise, I was admittedly bummed. After watching many perfectly good old buildings bite the dust in Des Moines, I’ve come to the conclusion the problem usually isn’t the building; it’s the owner.
The architecture of homes along John Lynde Road is about as diverse as it gets South of Grand. From Colonials to Modern Minimalist, it’s there. The house in question was a Tudor-Craftsman mix built in 1923 by a fellow named John Schlitz. Schlitz had a seven-acre bird refuge that featured peacocks, geese, ducks and exotic birds, as well as extensive gardens. Over time the home and land that stretched back to Lincoln Place Drive were sold, the pond drained and the land developed. In 1957, E.T. Meredith Jr. commissioned architect John Normile, who had long relationship with Better Homes & Gardens, to build a large modern ranch home next door. Jack and Mary Krantz eventually purchased that home and began buying adjacent property. Jack Krantz, who died in 2006, was a homebuilder prior to creating Adventureland in the early ’70’s. Over time, the Krantz family has bought five homes on adjacent land, torn down two and built two. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But if asked, the consensus of neighbors would likely be that the homes torn down were far more charming than those the Krantz family has built. Then again, it was Jack Krantz who dismantled and parted out Riverview Park, so one probably shouldn’t expect a dominate preservation gene in the family.
About a dozen years ago, a friend and I bought a dilapidated eyesore a few blocks away on Foster Drive. My friend, the smart one, was my silent partner. Unfortunately, the neighbors were not. From the start, they wanted the Arts & Crafts two-story home torn down and a “green space” left for the neighborhood. A swell thought, but since none of them were willing to step up to the plate, it was a fleeting one. Even though we were investing considerable money and more time than I care to think about in the neighborhood, the Linden Heights Neighborhood Association tribal leaders did their best to exclude us from their clan. Originally I went door to door to nearby neighbors with renderings of my plans for the property. But many of the “neighbors” were as visionless as they were arrogant. The few kind neighbors I communicated with were a gift. For two years it felt as if I was working in a lion’s den, though I was the one left with the bad taste in my mouth. Meanwhile, the neighborhood was left with a beautiful home featured in Renovation Style magazine that will remain an asset for years to come.
Even though Midwestern values seem to help reign in conspicuous consumption, South of Grand has been the epicenter of overkill in Des Moines since B.F. Allen built Terrace Hill 150 years ago. And class envy is just as old. Detractors complain that the Krantz family has gobbled up land, yet only a handful of property owners controlled dozens of acres in the “good old days.” The reality is the Krantz family spent millions to purchase property, and millions more in building projects. They have made a serious commitment and pay a frightening amount in property tax… even more when abatements fade away.
I have spent years restoring old houses, while others spend millions and then knock them down. I’m not sure who is crazier. But like Joe said, “there’s two sides to every story.” CV
Kent Carlson is a native Iowa artist interested in the preserving Iowa’s architectural heritage and the common sense of its leaders. And he writes a few columns for Cityview, too.