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A Move In The Right Direction

After moving into her grandparents' Webster home Abby Barker fixed one of its shortcomings by having it turned to face Plant Avenue rather than Lockwood Avenue

March 10, 2017
Webster Groves resident Abby Barker knew for years where she wanted to live. Since she was 3, Barker had spent a lot of time in her grandparents' home, a two-and-a-half story frame Victorian house at 29 Plant Ave. When the house was built in 1883 by James and Mildred Allen, Plant Avenue did not exist, and the front door faced Lockwood Avenue.

Then, the Allens built a house next door for their widowed daughter in their front yard, to be exact, rendering the front door useless, and blocking any view to Lockwood, Barker said.

That is how it remained until June 2013.

Barker's grandparents, Oscar and Audrey Anderson, bought the house in 1943, rehabbed it, and lived there until their passing in 1999 and 2000.

Abby and Jeff Barker stand on the front porch of their home at 29 Plant Ave. in Webster Groves. photo by Diana Linsley

"I spent a lot of time here with my grandmother when I was growing up," Barker said. "I would sew with her and she would talk about the house and its history.

"I did not even know there was a front door until I was 12," she said. "The foyer was filled with overflow antique furniture.

"People came and went through the back door, and my grandmother didn't like it all," she said. "My goal, when I was 11, was to win the lottery, buy the house next door, and tear it down."

Years passed, Barker grew up and she left for Minnesota to attend graduate school. There she married her childhood sweetheart, Jeff. They returned to St. Louis after her grandparents' deaths and Barker's dream of living in the house came true.

"We moved into the house and did some things to modernize it, but we still had to come in through the kitchen," she said.

The house was built in 1883 by James and Mildred Allen on Lockwood Avenue before Plant Avenue existed.

Barker likes to run, and one day when she was running down Gray Avenue, she saw a truck advertising house movers.

"They were jacking up this house and putting in a new foundation," she said. "I went home, got on the Internet and found that there were people who actually move houses."

That was in 2003, and while she and her husband joked about it, the more they talked, the more sense it made.

"The kids got older and we needed more room," she said of her three children. "The basement had the original stone foundation and was getting worse and worse.

"It leaked like a sieve, and during a rain, water would run through it," she said. "Nothing would get rid of the mold, and the idea of having usable room in the basement was exciting, so we started saving money."

Mildred Allen

Ben Ellerman of Webster Groves firm, Blaes Design, worked with the Barkers. He said the basement had four different levels, and it was chopped up into small spaces with walled rooms.

"To open the basement, all of the wood beams and columns were replaced with steel, and that opened up the structure so the basement was more usable," he said. "The walls are (now) concrete with stone veneer instead of stone rubble.

In June 2013, the Barkers' plan of turning their house facing Plant Avenue came to fruition. In front of anxious family, friends and neighbors, the house was rotated 90 degrees to put the front door facing Plant.

"It took 75 minutes," Barker said. "In the process of rotating, a piece of the sidewalk got caught on an I-beam and we were holding our breath."

They took nothing out of the house to prepare for the rotation, and while there were a few cracks, the house came through unscathed.

Then the renovation process started. Before attempting any renovation, the Barkers had to go before the Webster Groves Architectural Review Board and the Historic Preservation Committee because it is an historic house.

"After we turned the house, we put a bedroom, bathroom, laundry room, and wood shop room (in the basement)," Barker said.

The entire renovation took 11 weeks. Barker said they still have work to do.

When the house was built, it had three bays on the front, but only one remains in the center and they plan to add two more to preserve the history of the house.

Blaes submitted the house for a 2016 Webster Groves Award of Excellence. The Barkers were honored with the Founder's Award for Historic Preservation.

Don Drissell, Awards of Excellence Committee co-chair, said the committee voted to give the Barkers the award to recognize all their work on the house. Once the work is completed on the house, they can resubmit the home for the Award of Excellence.

In the meantime, Barker is still getting used to the home's orientation.

"I was constantly catching a view out the window and it wasn't what we expected to see because I used to see nothing," she said. "Now, I look out and see cars going by and people walking."

As a further homage to her grandparents, Barker has kept their phone number.

"I'll be the last person in St. Louis with a landline," she said.

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