Jason and Bonnie Tanamor had three “musts” for a new house — it had to be historic, located in a nice neighborhood and have a big yard for their rescue dogs to romp.
They found all three in a 1904 home designed by famed Rock Island architect George Stauduhar, located in the Highland Park Historic District of Rock Island.
Designated a historic district in 1985, Highland Park is an area up the hill from downtown, bordered by 16th and 18th avenues on the north and south and 20th and 24th streets on the east and west. Among its former residents was John Looney, an early 20th century gangster who ran prostitution, gambling and illegal liquor.
Living in Highland Park today, though, “is like living in a 1950s neighborhood where everyone looks out for each other,” Bonnie says. It’s a nice mix of ages, occupations and outlooks.
Jason is the new president of the neighborhood association that organizes events such as going to a local restaurant as a group, then returning to a house for dessert and wine. Other activities include neighborhood clean-ups and a garage sale, and this year Jason hopes to organize a kickball tournament with other neighborhoods.
In touring the home, three characteristics stand out. First is that it was designed by Stauduhar, most known for designing nearly 200 Catholic churches in the Upper Midwest.
Second — somewhat opposed to the first — is that the interior has been re-worked through the years to meet the needs of residents and changing tastes.
The Tanamors have a copy of Stauduhar’s original floor plan so they know, for example, that as you enter the house, the first room is larger than it was originally because a wall that defined a parlor and a hallway has been removed. Although common today, this “open room” look is not in keeping with 1904.
Pocket doors between the second parlor and dining room were removed so that bookshelves could be built into the space where, originally, the doors slid when they were open.
The dining room contains a built-in china cupboard, but it is obviously not original. "I cried," Bonnies said, in thinking how the original was lost.
And then there’s the kitchen. At least one wall and an entire butler’s pantry have been removed to create an open space.
Although it’s impossible to say what the home’s original cabinets looked like, they now are white with glass fronts and chrome hardware, and the countertops are a rich brown butcher block.
These cabinets were in place when the Tanamors bought the house four years ago, and they have expanded on them, including building a butcher block-topped island in the middle of the room.
As you look around, you may wonder about the walls — they look like they need repair, some patching and painting. But no, this is an intentional finish called Venetian plaster, reminiscent of what one might find in an old Italian villa, and the Tanamors chose to keep it.
One also can’t help but notice the light fixtures, including four chandeliers that are made of what look like beaded necklaces. These, too, were from the former owner and have stayed put.
A passion for the unusual
And that’s because these unusual fixtures go very well with the third main characteristic of the house — it is filled with unusual things, a total reflection of the owners passion for seeing what treasures can find in second-hand stores.
Among their prized finds is a wood upright Brunswick record player. “I was surprised it still works,” he Jason said, winding it up to play Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.”
“It was one of our coolest finds for sure,” he said. “We play it for friends and they’re envious.”
Bonnie has a weakness for pretty china, so in addition to family heirloom pieces, she has all manner of other pieces, including teapots, collector’s plates and mixing bowls.
In the area of ceramics, but not exactly dishes, there are large collector-edition Jim Beam whiskey bottles. At one time, people pursued these with a fervor, but that has long-since faded. Among Bonnie’s collection is one featuring Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” painting.
Paintings and artwork is another big area. In this vein, the “blue lady” – a painting of a woman whose skin color is green-blue – stands out. Greek-Roman ruins and Asian themes are other finds.
In the library – the original second parlor, now lined with bookcases – the Tanamors have filled the shelves with volumes of their own, such as Bonnie’s R.L Stine and “Little House on the Prairie” books from childhood, as well as very old volumes printed in French whose paper spines crumble when opened.
While decorating is great fun, the couple also has done substantial work. In addition to having supplemental cabinetry built in the kitchen, they had all the floors and the staircase sanded and refinished. For about the same price, they could have bought all new wood flooring, but they wanted the original.
They also sandblasted and restored the radiators and repainted throughout. The previous owner favored bright colors; “we toned it down a lot,” Jason said.
Outside, they re-did a 6-by-8½-by 2½ foot fish pond. Still coming up is to paint the exterior.