A home for happiness

The+house+at+202+E.+Adams+Ave%2C+built+ca.+1913%2C+that+a+local+community+bands+together+to+restore.

Elizabeth Riti

The house at 202 E. Adams Ave, built ca. 1913, that a local community bands together to restore.

50 years. That’s how long Steve Fredericks’ father, Bob, owned his childhood home, a house many in the Kirkwood community will remember as being particularly artistic. Fredericks, an Uber driver, is sentimental about the state it was in before it fell into disrepair.

“As far as having grown up there, [I do have an attachment],” Steve said. “My mom died five years ago. My dad ended up in the hospital and is in long term care now after falling down the stairs. He crafted the crucifix that used to be outside. He did the stained glass window in the front door, and the stained glass window on the west side of the house.”

The house at 202 E. Adams Ave. is a unique sight. The beautiful craftsmanship and historic charm of the pink-hued home contrasts with the obvious damage it has endured, including a car crash into the surrounding fence that barely missed the house.

“My dad once noted that it was constructed before World War I because it mentions a structure address as being on Main St. and not Argonne,” Fredericks said. “We believe the house to have been owned by the first pharmacist in Kirkwood. I have a postcard of the [exterior of the] house that is dated 1921.”

The stained glass window on the west side of the house. (Elizabeth Riti)

Constructed for physician Charles G. Ahlbrandt, the house was built around 1913 and is assumed to have been moved from its original location sometime during the 1920s. These facts have all helped Steve develop a special attachment to the house, as he sees the house not only as a significant part of his life, but as a way to connect to other people, including with Grace Mehan of Grace’s Glendale Bus Stop.

“Grace met Steve when she was coming home from the [YMCA],” Thomas Mehan, Grace’s father, said. “She saw Steve when he was sitting on his porch. Grace is always delighted to talk and meet people, and when she came home, she told me that she had met Steve and his dad, Bob. Grace and I went up there one day and offered help if they needed a little help cleaning stuff up. When his dad went [to] the hospital, that’s when he and I got to working on the place.”

The Fredericks and Mehan families have done much of the work, but the motivation for such work could not have occurred without the help of friends and neighbors. One such incentive came in an unlikely form, according to Thomas.

“Grace came home and said that Steve had gotten an anonymous letter from somebody,” Thomas said. “That letter was addressed to ‘the wreck’ at 202 E Adams. It was just a mean, vitriolic letter. I came up to Steve and told him, ‘let’s do this, let’s clean it up and start organizing some stuff.’ I went up there with Steve and we started cleaning things up, cutting things down, tearing things down. We had great support from Steve’s neighbors. I had a friend come over and help paint the outside of the house. Another friend [and some neighbors] came by and did some great planting. And, God love it, the lady who lives across the street brings me chocolate chip cookies when she sees me working there, which I don’t share with anybody, of course. As the foreman here, yes, that’s my right.”

Grace and Steve’s relationship has strengthened since, and they retain a close bond with each other. Not only have they connected over neighborly help, but, according to Grace, they have also bonded over another one of Steve’s interests: pinball.

“I’m ranked in the top 1,000 in the world and have been in the Missouri State Championships for four straight years,” Steve said. “I own two pinball machines. Competitively, I’ve been playing for about six years now. I’ve been playing noncompetitively since my parents showed me a pinball machine up at the Imo’s [in Kirkwood] when I was about four years old.”

“I play pinball with him every time he wants to play,” Grace said.

Steve and Thomas said that one of the best results of this project has been to see the support from all over the neighborhood. According to Thomas, there has never been a shortage of friendliness from the Kirkwood community.

Steve Fredericks, 32, waves to his neighbors while sitting on the front porch of his house. (Elizabeth Riti)

“[Steve] has been very happy with the number of people that come and stop by [the house] and honk their horns as they drive by, which they never did before,” Thomas added. “They wave and pull over to tell us how they really love the place and that it looks great with it cleaned up. There was one day that Steve thanked me for planting a flag in his front yard and I said, ‘I didn’t do that.’ Someone else [must have] come by and stuck a little flag in the front yard. There’s just been an overwhelming amount of community support for what he’s been doing.”

The impact that the house, Steve and the Mehans have made on the community has been constructive in a way that’s affected them greatly. In fact, as I introduced myself and reminded him of the time I spoke to him on his porch, he said that he didn’t remember, because “so many people have talked to me since.”

If you’d like to view more of Bob Frederick’s art pieces, many are kept at the Grassroots Art Center in Lucas, Kansas.