9:32 a.m. — The back wall, on the west side of the house, is completely gone exposing the interior of the first and second floors. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

The white colonial home that stood on the corner of National Avenue and Sunshine Street for more than 90 years was demolished Tuesday morning.

The house was the heart of a zoning controversy that’s been brewing in the University Heights Neighborhood in recent weeks.

Developers with BK&M LLC quietly bought the home at 1755 S. National Ave. in late March, as well as the homes to the north of it at 1745 S. National Ave. and 1739 S. National Ave. and the one around the corner at 1119 E. Sunshine St. In addition, the company bought a vacant parcel to the west of 1755 S. National Ave. The company recently bought the home at 1138 E. University.

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Developer Ralph Duda III, with BK&M, and his partner Anthony Tolliver, want to have the property rezoned from residential to commercial.

“The house is unlivable. It is completely blighted,” Duda said Monday afternoon. “It’s a liability for us right now.

“I’ve got a lot of money in that house,” he added. “Don’t think it doesn’t hurt me to demo that house at this stage. That’s even more risk we are taking.”

Photo Gallery: Minute-by-minute snapshot of the demolition

9:43 a.m. — Demolition is underway. (Photo by Jym Wilson)
Click here to unfold the full photo gallery
8:42 a.m. — The house at 1755 S National is still standing. The inside has previously been inspected for gas and water connections and cleared of any asbestos issues. (Photo by Jym Wilson)
8:50 a.m. — With the detached garage demolished first, an excavator operated by an employee of Rensch Construction begins to tear down the attached portico on the south side of the house. (Photo by Jym Wilson)
9:03 a.m. — The excavator knocks down the back wall of the house and begins to loosen the roofline. (Photo by Jym Wilson)
9:32 a.m. — The back wall, on the west side of the house, is completely gone exposing the interior of the first and second floors. (Photo by Jym Wilson)
9:43 a.m. — Demolition of the roof is underway. (Photo by Jym Wilson)
10:04 a.m. — The excavator breaks through the roof and back wall of a sunroom on the south side of the house. (Photo by Jym Wilson)
10:07 a.m. — The sunroom is almost completely demolished. (Photo by Jym Wilson)
10:21 a.m. — An anonymous message painted on sheets of plywood covering the front door of the house was almost all that remained standing less than two hours after demolition began. (Photo by Jym Wilson)
10:24 a.m. — 1755 S National is now a pile of rubble. The owner of Rensch Construction was to begin removing the debris later in the day. (Photo by Jym Wilson)
10:26 a.m. — Two employees of Rensch Construction, who asked not to be identified, began sorting some of the debris. Here they are removing former copper gutters. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

BK&M’s application to wreck the home was approved by city staff on Oct. 1.

A public hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission to discuss the BK&M’s request to have the property rezoned will be Nov. 17.

Developers want restaurants, lofts

Duda said he’d like to have fun restaurants on the first level — perhaps a destination breakfast restaurant like The Pancake Pantry in Nashville, a bakery and a “top-notch” Italian restaurant.

The second two levels would be executive lofts.

Duda said the exterior and interior character would reflect the 1920s Craftsman style that is common throughout the University Heights Neighborhood.

But many residents within the University Heights Neighborhood Association are very much opposed to the developer’s plans, saying they believe retail development will increase traffic into their neighborhood and cause their property values to go down.

They have argued that once that white house at 1755 S. National Ave. falls to development, the surrounding homes will follow.

Home was recently boarded up

A house in the center of a community debate has been tagged with a bible quote. (Photo by Shanon Cay Bowers)

Much to the dismay of residents in the neighborhood, the white house was boarded on the evening of Sept. 14. That happened while residents were attending a meeting to discuss ways to save it.

Duda said in an earlier interview that he realized boarding the home up would create a stir but called the 92-year-old house a “hazard.”

“There was issue after issue,” Duda said at the time. “Their utility bill was close to $800 a month. The insulation is terrible. The windows are bad. There’s frequent leaks. Drains don’t drain. The HVAC air-conditioning unit blew out (and) a lot of wood rot around the house.”

He was correct about the move creating a stir. On a recent night, someone painted a big red heart with the words “Love your neighbor” over the boards covering the front door.

Will other homes follow?

1739 S. National. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)
1745 S. National.(Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

In addition to the home at 1755 S. National Ave., the developers BK&M LLC (Be Kind and Merciful LLC) intend to demolish other homes on that corner. According to the city’s online records, BK&M applied for permits to demolish the homes at 1745 S. National Ave., 1739 S. National Ave. and the one around the corner at 1119 E. Sunshine St. on Sept. 15.

Those homes still had tenants as of Sept. 19 when the Daily Citizen last spoke to Duda.

The white house has been empty since sometime mid-September when Duda had the tenants move to another property.

“The white house is too far gone,” Duda said in an earlier interview. “The others, there could be an option to relocate them or demo — I’m not sure.”

Not the first time home center of battle

This is not the first time the white house across from Mercy was at the heart of a controversy.

In 2015, a woman named Kathy Penrod wanted to purchase the home and convert it into a hospitality house, offering low-cost overnight accommodations for people with a loved one in the hospital.

Penrod applied for a conditional use permit, which would not rezone the property from the current residential single-family status. The permit would have allowed it to be a bed and breakfast only while Penrod was there.

Residents in the neighborhood vehemently opposed Penrod’s idea, and Springfield City Council denied her request for a conditional use permit in 2016.

Grandpa’s House was to be a five-bedroom bed and breakfast where people who had family members staying overnight at Mercy hospital could stay for a suggested donation of $42 per night. Penrod did not own the property at the time she sought the permit, as the conditional use permit became a condition of sale from the previous owner, Precision Investments.

City once owned the property

The city of Springfield bought the property at 1755 South National from Marilyn Garrett, née Bauer, and her husband Donald Garrett on June 19, 1995. The warranty deed record from the Greene County Recorder of Deeds shows the city of Springfield bought the property for “one dollar and other valuable considerations.” The property is recorded as Lot 12 of the University Heights subdivision.

March 17, 1997, the Springfield City Council passed a bill accepting a bid from Hartman and Company for an intersection improvement project at National Avenue and Sunshine Street. Hartman and Company had a low bid of $603,476.60.

City Council documentation from 1997 shows traffic at National and Sunshine was a concern to neighboring homeowners then, just as it is now. In the bill explanation, part of the background reads that the intersection, “is of particular concern due not only to the large through volume on each street, but to the significant turning capacity that occurs.”

In 1997, Sunshine and National were each carrying 26,000 vehicles per day through the intersection. At peak traffic times, 500 vehicles per hour were passing through, per lane. The intersection widening project was funded through a ¼-cent sales tax.

After the street work, a ban on billboards

Greene County Assessor’s Office records show the city of Springfield owned the property until April 1, 1997. On that April Fool’s Day, the city sold the property to Robert L. Hamm and Elaine Hamm, a husband and wife, for $10 and “other good and valuable consideration.” The special warranty deed is signed by then-Mayor Leland L. Gannaway.

The special warranty deed for the 1997 transaction has one restriction, which states that the Hamm family would not use the property “for construction, erection or maintenance of any billboard.” The condition, the deed states, is binding upon the buyers and their “successors and assigns.”

Article 3 of Springfield’s zoning regulation code defines a billboard as “Any sign that displays sign copy based on a temporary lease or rental agreement between the sign owner/operator and the sign copy content creator or owner.”

Greene County Assessor’s Office records show the property was deeded from Robert L. Hamm to Yvon L. Hamm on July 9, 2003. Yvon Hamm then sold the property to a person named Dan Baker on Aug. 24, 2005. Baker owned the property until April 3, 2009, when Mortgage Electronic Registration assumed the deed for six days, then deeded the property to the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, or Freddie Mac.

Precision Investments, run by Stephen Robert Plaster of Lebanon, Missouri, bought the property from Freddie Mac on Aug. 18, 2009. Plaster’s Precision Investments then owned the house until March 30, 2022, when BK&M, LLC bought it. The Warranty Deed for the 2022 transaction shows BK&M bought two tracts of land, Lot 12 of University Heights, and the east half of Lot 13.

The warranty deed from 2022 reads that the property is “subject to easements, restrictions, reservations and covenants of record, if any.” However, there is not a billboard restriction listed on the warranty deed from 2022, as was the case in 1997.

Reporter Rance Burger contributed to this report.

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. She covers housing, homelessness, domestic violence and early childhood, among other public affairs issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald