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Man’s effort to restore a 130-year-old home speaks to the goal of preserving long vacant buildings

<i>KMOV</i><br/>Kaleb Higgins outlines his plan to restore a long vacant Victorian mansion in North St. Louis City.
Kaleb Higgins outlines his plan to restore a long vacant Victorian mansion in North St. Louis City.

By Alexis Zotos

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    ST. LOUIS (KMOV) — In a video with more than 3 million views, Kaleb Higgins outlines his plan to restore a long vacant Victorian mansion in North St. Louis City.

“It was built in 1889 by Charles S. Brown,” said Higgins.

The home sits on St. Louis Avenue in the St. Louis Place neighborhood along a stretch that was once known as Millionaire’s Row. Many of the grand and stately homes survived, some in good shape, others crumbling.

That was the condition Higgins found his home in when he purchased it for $65,000 in 2020.

“There were a lot of structural issues, a lot of tuckpointing in the back. We had some walls in the back that were starting to collapse,” he said.

More than a year into the project and he’s stabilized the structure and is working on the very lengthy goal of restoring it to its original glory. A process he documents on his YouTube channel, The 2nd Empire Strikes Back. It references the unique style of architecture found in parts of St. Louis.

The building sat empty for more than a decade after a foreclosure. It was one of the more than 10,000 across the city that spark the debate: demolish or save.

“Everyone wants to jump to demolition, it’s kind of the easiest thing to picture. A building’s a problem, let’s remove it. But the reality is a lot of these properties are salvageable , if not now, later. And we could be doing a lot to improve safety by just stabilizing the structures, keeping water out and keeping people out,” said Laura Ginn, the vacancy strategist for the St. Louis Development Corporation.

One of the funding sources to stabilize these buildings is Prop NS. It was passed by city voters in 2017. It allocates up to $6 million a year to fix issues on city owned, LRA properties. Big items like a new roof or a missing wall, making the properties more accessible for a rehabber.

So far the city has stabilized 50 properties.

Currently there are nine properties available for sale, all on the Northside of St. Louis, with bids starting at $1,000 for some. They still need work, but Prop NS makes it a bit less expensive. But the challenges are still great.

As Higgins has found, these buildings cost a lot of money to restore and it’s hard, if not impossible, to get a loan for them. He would like to see the city make it easier for people to purchase these buildings in an effort to retain as much history of our city as possible.

“I hope people feel the need to preserve history like this, to have the conversations to save these things,” said Higgins.

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