LAKE CITY — “I think we walked in and just said, ‘Oh, wow,’” said Judy Lortscher.
Lortscher and her sister, Phyllis Thiel, are on a mission to restore an old house and make it livable for some new owner. The home, at the corner of Lyon Avenue (U.S. Highway 63) and Prairie Street in Lake City, was built in 1903 and has seen better days.
“This is the only house we wanted to do,” Lortscher said. “We really saw the potential.”
Thiel added, “The woodwork and the stained-glass windows and 10-foot ceilings are impressive.”
Helping in the task with the two sisters are their siblings — two brothers, two sisters and assorted in-laws — all over the age of 70. Among the group is a landscaper, an electrician and a veteran house flipper.
Built in 1903 for Charles and Anne Koch — the first house in Lake City built from an architect’s plans — the house came with a plethora of charms that included custom woodwork with built-in shelves featuring glass-front doors in the library, practically immaculate hardwood floors under the turquoise carpet, and a wood porch with stone pillars that wrapped around two sides of the home.
However, the old house also came with some dated features that do not sell on the modern real estate market. When the house was inspected, the sisters found wiring that belonged in a museum and a kitchen in desperate need of updating and expanding (a maid’s staircase in the kitchen was removed to add more space). They also added a bathroom where the butler’s pantry (built for an actual butler) once stood.
Lake City natives, the sisters had long known about the house but had never been inside before it went on the market this spring. The house commands a corner just west of downtown, sitting on three lots with its carriage house and gardens. Stone and iron fencing surrounds the property, and statues of lions abound. The previous owners, John and Mona Preble, had owned the house for roughly four decades. When the Prebles became empty-nesters, the house developed a reputation as the old, quiet house on the corner.
“We thought, wouldn’t it be special to make this the grand corner it used to be?” Lortscher said.
After his wife passed away, John Preble had planned to move to northern Minnesota, Thiel said, but he died suddenly before he could sell the house. His children, who do not live in Lake City, then put the old home on the market.
When the sisters first looked at the house, Lortscher told her sister it would be simple to renovate. And while it hasn’t turned into an old house full of money-draining surprises, the sisters admit it’s a lot more complex than Lortscher’s initial thought that they could simply tear out the wallpaper and carpets and paint some walls.
In addition to the new wiring, courtesy of another sibling, brother Gary Lichtblau, a professional electrician, the major changes will be to add a bathroom on the main floor, fix that kitchen and bring in some more modern heating. There’s also plenty of outside work to be done — everything from replacing floorboards on the porch to fixing the formal gardens that extend behind the house to the north.
In the first two weeks of work, most of the wallpaper had been removed, the wiring was mostly completed, and the first floor was ready for wallboard, where needed.
Thiel said the goal is to keep much of the home’s turn-of-the-century charm while bringing the house up to modern standards.
“We want to make it so it’s not so Victorian that someone who is not Victorian can move in here,” Thiel said.