Anyone who ever visited the former Kahl nursing home, a landmark on Davenport's West 9th Street, would be amazed to see it now.
Workers are in the final stretch of turning the original 18,000-square-foot mansion, as well as its 1960s and 1980s additions, into what developer Chris Ales calls 49 "nice" senior living apartments.
The most eye-popping are the five apartments created in the 1980s "tower" addition. When built, these curved, wall-of-windows spaces were the common dining rooms for residents, one for each floor.
Today, they are the living rooms of the complex's larger apartments, with kitchens in the back and bedrooms and bathrooms on either side.
"Is this OK?" Ales asked with understatement as he opened the door to one of these apartments. "I don't know what more a person could want."
Light floods the room, and your eyes are immediately drawn to the windows, offering unparalleled views of Davenport, including the Mississippi River and the Centennial Bridge.
After a pause, you notice the white-and-gray porcelain tile floor, the glittery silver chandelier and the kitchen to your right, outfitted with white cabinets, stainless steel appliances and white and gray quartz countertops.
When word first surfaced in the fall of 2013 that Ales and DeWitt businessmen Don and D.J. Necker, doing business as Gold Coast Housing LLC, wanted to buy and redevelop the former Kahl into senior apartments, the plan was greeted with a sense of relief.
Along with Jefferson Elementary School, the 60-year nursing home — originally a Spanish-style mansion, with additions built through the years — had long been a strong, stabilizing force in the neighborhood.
When nursing home owners built new, much bigger quarters on Jersey Ridge Road in Davenport and moved there in the summer of 2012, the original complex just off Marquette Street was left empty.
Neighbors and city leaders were concerned that it not stay vacant for long and that it find a use that would not hurt the neighborhood.
Despite early setbacks in obtaining financing, the $10 million plus renovation project has been under way since spring 2015.
The historic mansion
Historic restoration is Ales' forte: Previous high-profile projects include the former Marycrest College campus in Davenport, the Hurst Apartments in Maquoketa and the Welch Apartments in Muscatine. And he went all-out in the mansion part of the complex.
The central staircase, for example, had remained intact through the years, but the top had been enclosed by walls. Those have been removed, exposing the entire staircase as it was built in 1912-1914 by Davenport businessman Henry "Hummer" Kahl.
Where the ornate ceiling plaster of a sitting room was starting to crack, Jim Schmidt of Muscatine now is sitting on a scaffold, using a photograph in front of him to draw a replica pattern on the ceiling. Then, he will squeeze plaster from a pastry bag and sculpt it with a knife so that it looks like the original work.
Woodwork, including oak, maple, walnut, pecan and ash, shines bright. Every strip has been refinished and, in some cases, rebuilt.
In an area where the original blueprints by architect Art Ebeling show a colonnade, for example, carpenter Robert Smiley is re-creating the feature —removed at some point in time — in the same style of millwork as is found elsewhere in the room.
The original mansion will have two apartments on the second floor and two on the third. The third floor originally was a ballroom, but by the time Ales started the project, it consisted of 20 sleeping rooms.
The lower level — originally part bowling alley — will be turned into one mega apartment. At about 2,500 square feet, this apartment will be "just like a house, right?" Ales asked.
The first floor of the mansion will be reserved as community space for residents, including the kitchen with its blue-and-white tile floor.
In addition to the five, rounded-front apartments in the 1987 tower addition, there are two, two-story apartments in back. The two levels of these apartments are connected by new circular staircases.
The main nursing home area, including the chapel, has 36 apartments, ranging from studios to two-bedroom, two-bath units. Depending on size, each apartment has the footprint of five, six or seven nursing home rooms, Ales said.
The 49th unit is the property's carriage house.
The chapel and nurses' stations
The rear portion of the chapel has been walled off as a fitness area, doubtless the only fitness area in the Quad-Cities with eight stained glass windows and a confessional. (The latter is a small, closet-like room where Catholics would confess their sins and ask forgiveness of a priest who was hidden behind a screen.)
The front portion that included the altar, backed by stained glass windows, is the living room/dining room area of an apartment.
The rounded nurses' stations on each floor have been enclosed and form dining room alcoves in their respective apartments.
Financial, structural challenges
Securing financing was an obvious challenge, and Ales reworked the project a couple of times.
Ultimately, the developers received $2.7 million in federal historic preservation tax credits, $3.7 million in state historic preservation tax credits, $400,000 in state brownfield tax credits and $400,000 through the state enterprise zone program that gives a state tax rebate on materials.
The remainder came from private equity and conventional loans.
Historic preservation, a requirement of receiving historic tax credits, was another challenge.
"I spent probably three months on two or three items on this first floor," Ales said of the mansion.
One item involved window replacement on the front porch.
"We looked everywhere, all over the United States, and we could not get these windows anywhere," Ales said. "Finally, we said, 'We'll match these windows. We'll find someone who can replicate them.' Lyle's OK Welding on Division (Street in Davenport) is making them for us."
Another issue was a restroom that had to be made handicapped-accessible, although doing so would have required making it bigger by tearing out paneling and a coffered ceiling in an adjoining room.
Through negotiations, Ales was allowed to leave the bathroom as-is and build an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant bathroom elsewhere on the first floor.
In other instances, Ales wanted to create new windows where there were none before.
Much of the work and supplies for the project were provided by local workers and companies, making the restoration something of a community effort.