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Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Emmanuel St. Michael Lutheran School Principal Jacob Pennekamp, along with Gary Trombley, left, and Jim Smith, work on a West Central home-rehab project by Emmanuel Lutheran Church. The goal is to get the house on the market.

Creating community asset

Church volunteers working to rehab West Central home

The home at 829 W. Jefferson Blvd. is probably about 140 years old and was in poor condition.
Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
A $50,000 grant is allowing the rehab project to gut and reconfigure the West Central home.

Up on the roof, contrary to a once-popular song, the air was not fresh and sweet.

At least not up on the front porch roof of 829 W. Jefferson Blvd. on Saturday morning.

There, the air was dusty, musty and a bit dank, as Gary Rose, Mike Rose, Matt Rose and Justine Fey, all of Fort Wayne, went about prying an old aluminum roof off rotting lumber.

Nonetheless, the volunteers for Emmanuel Lutheran Church all but finished the task by 9:30 a.m., as a sheet of crumpled metal slithered to the ground. Fey’s fiancée, church member Amber Rose, 28, of Fort Wayne went to retrieve it so it could be cut up for scrap.

“We’re taking all the metal for recycling. We’re actually going to be recycling a lot of stuff from this house,” she says.

Indeed, 829 West Jefferson might be seen as one big recycling project, says Emmanuel’s pastor, the Rev. Tom Eggold.

With help from a grant from a denomination-wide program and mostly volunteer labor, the congregation plans to return the rundown home next to one of Emmanuel’s parking lots to livable condition by the end of summer.

“Rather than see this home fall into greater disrepair, or worse, become a drug house, we thought we would rehab the house,” Eggold says. “Our goal is to resell the house so it becomes a community asset, so it can be a viable home for someone again.”

Scott Greider of Fort Wayne, a church member and architect who designed the remodel, says the house isn’t one of the historic West Central Neighborhood’s mansion-like masterpieces.

Instead, he says, it was one of several nearly identical houses built as cottages for workers on the railroads and in the factories of the last quarter of the 19th century.

About 1,500 square feet, the two-story brick house “doesn’t have any fancy woodwork or things like that,” says Greider, 43. But, he says, the home likely dates from around the time of the church, which stands across Jackson Street to the west and was dedicated in 1869.

That makes the house about 140 years old, he says.

Greider says that despite its humble origins, the house has a couple of nice architectural features – two matching arched windows on the second-floor facade, an intact staircase and most floors in good repair.

But when the congregation voted to buy the property for $24,000 in 2013 when it was listed for sheriff’s sale, the house was filled with debris and suffering from years of neglect, Greider says.

The roof was partly rotted, ivy penetrated walls and windows, fixtures were outdated and the distinct aroma of stray cats permeated the interior.

“It was a house the free market wasn’t that interested in,” Greider says.

A $50,000 grant from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s National Housing Support Corp. is allowing the congregation to gut and redesign the interior and bring the house up-to-date.

Plans include tearing down part of a rear storage room, re-roofing, creating a second full bath, repositioning the interior cellar steps and adding a small bedroom/office off the dining room.

The latter change will enable the home to be sold for a higher dollar figure as a three-bedroom house, Greider says.

Mechanical, plumbing and electrical work will be done by contractors, he says, with volunteers used for demolition, window repair, painting, clean-up and simple framing.

Seven members of a regional branch of Laborers for Christ, a denomination-wide group of construction-related volunteers, are building a new garage at the back of the property.

Under terms of the grant, that group also will make repairs on five more houses in West Central and other homes in additional city neighborhoods during the next month or so. Their work extends an initiative to help senior neighbors with disabilities to fix up their home. The initiative began at Emmanuel in 2009.

Eggold says faith-based reasons have motivated the congregation to take on what he acknowledges is a development project. He says the rehab is a way church members can demonstrate love to neighbors.

“The work we do to care for others shows God’s love,” he explains. “We feel, … God has placed us here for a reason, and we are concerned with not only what goes on inside this (church) building but we also are concerned about the welfare of the neighborhood and the city.”

Eggold says he believes the Jefferson Boulevard property might sell for around $110,000. The congregation plans to roll profits into buying and rehabbing another house.

The rehab should be finished by this year’s West Central home tour in September, and the congregation already has had interest in the property expressed by one family, Eggold says.

Asked why she and her family members were among the 20 volunteers helping rehab the home on Saturday, Amber Rose says they thought “it was the right thing to do” to help others.

“It’s such a dump,” she adds. “But it’s going to be something beautiful that people can enjoy again.”