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A new home built from old parts

April 8, 2012

[This article first appeared in the Bloomington, IN Herald-Times, The thing that particularly struck me was the fact that a completely new home could have historic significance. Click on any photo to enlarge.]

The home's distinctive two-story red portico is made from the steel skeleton of the old "karate building" on South Walnut (itself built as a car dealership in the 1920s).

Tucked into a corner of the Clear Creek Trail stands an amazing house filled with weathered metal beams, repurposed wood and limestone slabs. Its red two-story metal pergola catches the eye of passers-by, who stare at the building and ask each other, “What the heck is THAT?”

Inside, the dining area is set inside the massive framework of a steel gantry from a stone mill. The back door once guarded a bank vault. The 1930s elevator has an extendable brass gate. Windows from the old RCA factory and the Odd Fellows building are now elements of the interior design. The pergola outside is the steel skeleton from the karate school onSouth Walnut streetthat was demolished a few years ago.

The front door is framed by the beams of the 10,000-pound iron gantry from an old stone mill near Cascades Park.

Despite the presence of so many industrial materials, the home is spacious, airy and filled with natural light.

“This is basically a collection of the history ofBloomingtonandMonroeCounty,” explained owner Randy Cassady, of Cassady Electric. “It’s historic, and it’s preservation. We collected a tremendous amount of architectural salvage from demolition sites that was just too good to throw out. Once something is thrown away, it can’t ever be gotten back.”

Tamby, his companion, grew up in the white farmhouse visible from the front door. As a girl she had no idea that one day she would live on the site of the old Forburger-Harris stone mill in a house that she designed to showcase her significant other’s collection of architectural salvage.

“Randy had stored so much material in different places,” she explained, “that when we decided to build, we thought of incorporating it into the new home. And it just grew and grew.”

Randy and Tamby in their home. Tamby designed the home herself to incorporate elements from Randy's collection of architectural salvage.

“It was a huge amount of work,” Randy admitted. “It took a couple of years to get things going. We’d come out here to clear the land, and we’d sit and think about it. Tamby built a series of models. Our friend John Seeber helped motivate us and to recognize the beauty hidden within this once abandoned stone mill.”

The south-facing location enjoys a picturesque view of Clear Creek winding across the property. To reach the home you must ford the stream in a vehicle, or abandon your car and walk across a footbridge. The metal pergola outside has been painted the same color as the bridge on Clear Creek Trail, a stone’s throw away.

Ceiling trusses came out of the old Von Lee Theatre; at lower left you can see much of the gantry, with drive chain still in place.

“You should see it on a full moon!” said Tamby. “The shadows are awesome.”

The process of building the home was “like an adventure,” they both agreed. They can reel off the origin of virtually every element inside the home. For instance, their wooden ceiling came from countless 2-1/4” heartwood pine subfloor planks from the old RCA factory. The thick pieces were halved to emphasize the color of the wood before being attached to the curving ceiling. The half-round ceiling trusses came from the VonLeeTheater. The corrugated iron roof of the old storage building on the property was refashioned as the front of the breakfast bar, while the limestone pillars at each end were abandoned spalls found on the property. The textured glass of the kitchen cabinets fronts came from windows in the old Woollery mill. The cabinets were constructed by a craftsman in Fishers, Indiana who specializes in building wooden model airplanes.

This view from one of the two upstairs lofts shows the 1930s elevator from the Ryan Jewelry store on South College, with its expanding brass gate.

The gantry that encloses the dining area weighs 10,000 pounds and consists of enormous beams and gears. The drive chains that once powered the stone saw inside it are still in place. The mechanism came from the abandoned Tucker Stone mill in the Cascades Park area.

“Deciding whether to paint the interior steel was a big deal,” Tamby said. “We decided to leave it as it was, and just put a polyurethane sealer on it to protect the patina. We knew we couldn’t fake that.” The battle-scarred dining table beneath it had been discarded by the French Lick hotel but was perfect for the home’s industrial decor.

The master bedroom is lit by discarded storm windows from the Odd Fellows building.

“The elevator came from the Ryan’s jewelry building just south of Cartridge World,” said Randy. “We repaired it and got it working again.” The exterior lights hanging from the pergola were discarded by Assembly Hall. The upstairs bath fixtures are unused vintage 1956 showcase models from Bower Mechanicals onCollege Avenue, and the gleaming 1902 resurfaced tub also came from French Lick.

The front of the breakfast bar incorporates abandoned limestone spalls and recycled rusty roofing from the shed on the property. A large antique stove will soon be installed on the back wall. The gray door to the right is from an old bank vault.

Over the years Randy and John have filled several storage facilities with salvaged items, all of which had been discarded by other people. It’s useful to have access to large machineryand strong men with creative minds and invaluable skills. “Redneck engineering!” Randy said with a grin.

The couple’s respect for their community’s history is impressive.

“Each piece by itself might not be historic, but when you collectively put the pieces together, you get a feel for our community and our heritage,” Randy observed. “There’s nothing wrong with tearing down a piece of junk, but there could be one good piece in it that deserves to be saved. We put together something that meant something to us. We’re very proud of it. It celebrates where we came from, and what we hope will always continue. And it’s home.”

The steel portico or pergola was not itself used as the basis for the new home because it was too large. It provides architectural emphasis for the much-smaller new home behind.

From → Houses

  1. imagesbyrox permalink

    Wonderful article, Carrol. Now I have TWO places to visit when I come to Bloomington next. The 3D stone mill out on Victor Pike and this house. Both preserved history while creating a modern structure. Beautifully written and the photos are great!

  2. Great post! I was just reading about “Earthships” in Mother Earth News, or houses built of recycle materials. I’m amazed at what can be created with old pieces.

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