Editor's note: This column originally appeared Oct. 13, 1992.
When Ronald Reagan lived in Davenport, his apartment was not exactly spiffy digs but the rooms were warm, comfortable, had a view of the Mississippi River and apparently he didn't mind the noise of the bats that flapped between walls across the hall in the Vale Apartments.
It's always been an enigma where Reagan called home in the monstrous old apartment building, but now it appears the mystery has been solved. It was Room 510.
When asked, even Reagan himself could never quite remember where he lived at the Vale, a place then called the Perry Apartments, other than "it was in a building quite a few floors up if you had to walk."
Now, with the building about to come tumbling down, Bill Warth of Davenport comes forth. He is certain of the apartment where Reagan lived, "Because I moved in when he moved out." That was in 1933 when the rent was the princely sum of $1 a day.
Warth and I made a sentimental journey to old Room 510 where Reagan lived in 1932 and 1933 while an announcer on WOC radio. The walls have been painted and repainted over the top of about a half-dozen layers of wallpaper, and now the wallpaper is peeling off, layer by layer. There is a moist stench of years of neglect in the apartment of the man who went on to the White House.
It was a spooky trip to the fifth floor, and Room 510, considering that here is the old kitchenette where Reagan likely kept his corn flakes; here is the hinged board that flipped into a table, held up by a single wooden leg; here is the closet where he certainly hung his clothes; and here is the room where he slept in a Murphy bed.
Warth was a bit edgy about climbing up five flights of scary stairs to visit his old room (and Reagan's room).
"But there's no question it was Mr. Reagan's room," says Warth, respectfully. Always, in his talk, it was "Mr. Reagan."
Wrecking crew workers took us to Room 510, picking our way through the old Moose Clubrooms where rainwater had pooled into a bilge, and up marble steps, one agonizing floor at a time, sometimes slipping on pigeon dung.
"Right there, that's Room 510," said Warth, without hesitation. The raised numbers "510" were barely visible under never-ending coats of paint, the most recent a bilious beige.
There was only one place where Reagan could have slept in Room 510, and that was along the two-room apartment's east wall. Adjoining was the bathroom, and toward Fourth Street, the windows reached nearly to the floor of the high-ceilinged room, so Reagan could watch the city as he snoozed in what friends at WOC remember was a Murphy bed that always frightened him. Lucile Mauget, a WOC retiree, said: "Dutch (his nickname) always joked that he was afraid the Murphy bed would close him up inside."
Room 510's living room has a deeply recessed window seat, with scaby, peeling paint.
"I'll bet Mr. Reagan sat in that window and admired the view of the river," said Warth. In those days, he would have seen the old W.J. Quinlan ferryboat, patiently criss-crossing the Mississippi River, and the ceaseless smudge from the burning city dump at the foot of Gaines Street.
Warth has the kindest of memories of the apartment building when it was livable. "It was a nice place. Nothing too fancy, but warm and comfortable with big rooms. Really high ceilings. Lots of friendly people."
Warth is one of those people with built-in memories for things like bats.
"Across the hall from Room 510, the bats used to have a heck of a time. They flapped and made noises all night long between the walls. They must have made the same noises for Mr. Reagan. They were there for me; they must have been his problem, too. We were the top floor; guess they got down through the attic."
"Too bad, I never met Mr. Reagan," said Warth. He rubbed his hands under the old fold-down kitchen table and said, "But I bet a lot of his fingerprints are still here."
Bill Wundram can be contacted at (563) 383-2249 or email@example.com.