Overview definitely has seen better days.
One of the largest, finest, most view-commanding mansions in Davenport’s historic Gold Coast neighborhood is now barely visible from the street because the yard is overgrown with weeds and small trees.
Wind your way up the grassy brick driveway and you see that the windows are boarded over to protect them from vandals and break-ins.
But despite that, the place remains a palace — a 6,000-square-foot, Georgian-Colonial Revival-style structure made of brick with a signature “swan’s neck” pediment at the top of the red clay tile roof and four white pillars flanked by perfectly symmetrical, curved window bays.
Step inside and wonders of architecture past and present unfold. The light is dim because of the boarded windows, and it’s been years since any construction work happened here, but that doesn’t diminish the wonder.
Here, incongruously, is a $60,000 kitchen featuring Amish-made cherry cabinets, black granite countertops and a heated terrazzo floor installed by the current owner before changing circumstances led him to quit the project.
Here are 14 stained- and leaded-glass transom windows, still intact from when the home was built in the early 1900s by August Steffen Jr. and designed by noted Davenport architect Frederick George Claussen.
Here is a staircase six feet across that rises to a landing with two painted murals, then splits into two and continues rising, on either side, to a sitting area on the second floor with a panoramic view of the Quad-Cities.
You can see this home for yourself Saturday-Sunday, Sept. 6-7, when it will be one of five open for tours in a fundraiser sponsored by the Gold Coast & Hamburg Historic District Association.
About the Gold Coast
The Gold Coast/Hamburg District is the bluff area northwest of the downtown, generally defined as “5th to Nine, Ripley to Vine,” where successful German immigrants built their fine homes from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s.
In the mid-1900s, many of the properties were subdivided into apartments, and decay and crime eventually set in. In the 1970s, new urban pioneers began restoring the homes, a trend that continues today with varying degrees of success.
Tour organizers readily acknowledge that their neighborhood has challenges, but they also are deeply in love with its architecture and history, and they are optimistic about its future.
“Our theme is ‘building the future while preserving the past,’ ” tour chairman Jeff Gomez said. “In 1990, only one of the five homes on the tour was occupied, and that was an eight-plex.” The rest were vacant, boarded-up or abandoned.
Today, all but Overview are occupied and the eight-plex is being returned to single-family use. The tour highlights homes that are finished or in the process and those that still need saving — namely Overview, he said.
Steffen was a dry goods merchant, director of Davenport Savings Bank and vice president of First National Bank; his Overview was perhaps the pinnacle of home building and wealth in the neighborhood.
After Steffen’s death in 1932, his sons continued to live in the home, dividing it exactly down the middle by building a floor-to-ceiling wall from the front vestibule, straight ahead up the grand staircase to the second floor.
Because the house is so symmetrical, the division left nearly equal rooms on either side with ornate, tiled fireplaces and enameled walls.
“There’s a neighborhood legend that they (the Steffens) divided the house because they didn’t like each other, but that’s not true,” said Marion Meginnis, a neighbor and member of the association.
The real story is that they both needed a place to live and the house was large enough to accommodate the two of them, she said.
The Steffens sold the house in the 1940s to Alex Berger, who moved his family into the east side and converted the west side into an up-down apartment, said Berger’s son, Paul, of Davenport.
Paul lived in the house until 1963 and remembers the massive built-in china hutch in the dining room as one of its striking features. He also recalls that the home still retained much of the original furniture that was custom-built for it.
His mother occupied the home until the late 1970s; it was sold around that time to a woman who gutted many of the rooms and then left, Berger said.
After that, the home had two buyers before it was acquired in late 2000 by Troy and Beverly Smith, who were very active in the neighborhood as well as the Village of East Davenport. Beverly died in 2006, and Troy now works in Ohio.
“A lot of people bought it with ideas,” Paul Berger said of Overview. “The undertaking has been too much for everyone.”
Neighbors hope that better days will come again.
As Gomez says, “Every time you come in here, you see something new. For as much as has been lost, a lot is intact.”
Alma Gaul can be contacted at (563) 383-2324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘Privy dig’ will be another tour attraction
An unusual sidelight to the Gold Coast home tour will be a “privy dig” Saturday in the yard at 822 Gaines St., Davenport.
Tour-goers can watch as David Hast of Port Byron, Ill., digs in a former cistern — not a privy at all, as it turns out, but the word remains in the event brochure — to see what he can find.
His goal is to find bottles, which were routinely tossed down privies and cisterns (water reservoirs) years ago as a means of disposal. Nowadays, collectors uncover valuable finds by digging in the ground where those structures were located.
In many years of collecting, Hast has amassed an amazing collection of bottles, specializing in Quad-City region patent medicine, drugstore, distillery and soda bottles.
The dig was added to the tour after Hast stopped in the Gold Coast neighborhood one day and talked to resident Jack Haberman about excavating in the area.
“We don’t know what we’re going to find, but we thought it would be kind of fun,” Marion Meginnis, Haberman’s wife, said of the dig.
Other homes, buildings
In addition to Overview at 412 W. 6th St., here are other homes and buildings on the tour:
624 W. 5th St., the Wulff Hahn Home
A variation of a brick Greek Revival structure, this home was built in 1872 as a retirement home for one of Davenport’s early farming families. It features reproduction antique wallpaper silk-screened by hand, created by its current owners.
628 Ripley St., the William Ruser Home
The Rusers lived here for more than 40 years before the home was duplexed and then further divided into apartments and sleeping rooms. The 1896 Queen Anne/Colonial Revival wooden clapboard is being restored into a single-family home.
618 W. 8th St., the Andrew Finch Home
This 1901 Prairie-influenced American Four Square home was the first home of United Neighbors.
822 Gaines St., the Frank and John Bredow Home
For the past three years, this home has been totally rebuilt with monies from the City of Davenport’s HAPPEN, or Housing Assistance to Protect and Preserve Established Neighborhoods, program and other sources.
Features include a bamboo floor and woodwork, leaded glass and other architectural salvage from homes in the area.
More information and photos on this project may be found at www.grgdavenport.org.
712 W. 2nd St., the German American Heritage Center
This building began its life in 1868 as the Germania House, a hotel serving Davenport’s immigrant population. Reopened in 2000 to preserve and archive the history of Germanic immigrants to the Quad-Cities, it hosts permanent exhibits and a calendar of events throughout the year.
730-732 Gaines St., the Jipp Home and Grocery
Built in 1868-1878, this combined structure provided a livelihood as well as shelter to members of the Christian Jipp family from 1868 until 1948.
No. 1 on the city’s demolition list in 2004, it was rescued by Gateway Redevelopment Group. It will house a second-floor apartment and the Architectural Rescue Shop, where rehabbers will be able to shop for salvaged architectural treasures. A restroom is available for tour-goers.
The tour also will feature an automobile exhibition on the lawns of “The Alamo,” 627 Ripley St. The cars will be provided by the Quad-Cities Antique Ford Club (circa 1966), The Mississippi Valley Region Antique Automobile Club of America (circa 1953) and the Big Six Studebaker Driving Club (circa 1978).
Is available at the Bicentennial Building, the German American Heritage Center and along the streets of the neighborhood. Note that Ripley Street is closed to traffic between 4th and 5th streets due to construction. Driving north, the most direct access to the tour area is via Gaines.
IF YOU GO
What: Home tour in Davenport’s historic Gold Coast neighborhood, plus a “privy dig” and auto exhibit
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6, and 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7
Where: Five homes, plus the German American Heritage Center and the Jipp Home and Grocery
How much: $10 for adults, free for children 12 years and younger when accompanied by an adult. The ticket is good for both days.
For more information: davenportgoldcoast.com