SPRINGFIELD, Mo.– Robert and Marcella Zucchini will return to the comfort of familiar surroundings tomorrow, Oct. 26, to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
Robert, 98, and his bride of 73 years, Marcella, 94, lived 48 years in the grand old home, one of the oldest in southeast Springfield, at 1514 E. Seminole St.
They bought the house in 1959 and sold it in 2007.
In their time here they raised eight children – six girls and two boys.
Their wedding anniversary officially is not until Nov. 11. But the house just went on the market and the current owner graciously opened the doors to the family from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 26.
All eight children will be in attendance; six live in Springfield, one in St. Louis and one in Florida.
In addition, many of the couple’s 25 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren will be present.
They can gather in the house, believed to have been built in 1878, and reminisce about the love they shared and the trials and tribulations they overcame.
This house contains their collective memories: the tree house once outside; the closet under the staircase where mischievous brothers trapped sisters; the switch Dad secretly used to cut off the phone when his girls went on far too long; the boys waiting for sisters to finish up in the upstairs bathroom; and the large open patio atop the carport where the girls and their girl friends would occasionally sunbathe – sometimes topless.
“The cars with boys in them would go by reeeeal slow on Seminole,” says Roberta “Robbie” Zucchini, now 64.
“Dad would be out there throwing rocks at the cars – seriously,” she tells me.
“We had some great parties out here – not when our parents were home. I once made purple passion [an alcoholic concoction] in the bathtub.”
The family needed more room
The Zucchini family will see first-hand what Mike Jackson, a Murney real estate agent who bought the house in November, has done to their former home.
Jackson put about $100,000 in improvements into it – including the leveling of a tilting staircase – and a few days ago listed it for $379,900.
It has four bedrooms, 2½ baths and 3,125 square feet.
The house is stately. You won’t find it on any historic registries because it has been renovated, remodeled and expanded multiple times.
In a July 12, 1970, story in the News and Leader, reporter Mary Ann Thompson made a diligent effort to try to determine the exact year when it was built.
“The area where the home stands is sometimes referred to as the old Lindsey farm and the home is believed to be one of the oldest in southeast Springfield, but as yet, the year the house was built has not been established.
“Some believe, after studying the tall (7 feet) windows with vertical-laced bricks forming arches at the tops, that the home might possibly be pre-Civil War, but others feel that the 1870 to 1880 period is more accurate.
“According to the abstract, there was a sudden jump in the property’s sale price in 1885, which might indicate, but not prove, that a house had been constructed since the last entry about 1880.”
For this column, I searched old newspapers for a construction year and could not find one.
According to the Greene County Assessor’s records, the two-story brick house was built in 1878. I don’t know how that year was determined.
Regardless, back in 1959, Robert and Marcella had six kids and not enough room in their small home on Stanford Street.
At the time, the children say, the house on Seminole was surrounded by cornfields and the nearest neighbor was the Springfield National Cemetery.
The house had been vacant and was in sorry shape.
According to that 1970 story:
“It was in such bad disrepair (in 1959) that several prospective buyers took one look at the large old home and said, ‘no thanks’ because of the effort that would have been required to put it into livable order.”
Marcella loved it and had a vision of what it might someday look like. They bought it.
Their children attended the closest Catholic schools: Immaculate Conception Elementary and then St. Agnes.
Major changes by the Zucchinis included a two-story, 10-by-12 addition to the front of the house, which faces east, and the addition of a utility room at the back.
Partitions inside were removed downstairs to give an open, almost one-room look to the kitchen and former dining room, and a wall was built in a large upstairs room to form two bedrooms.
A wooden floor in the entry hall was changed to marble.
A great house and a great childhood
I toured the house Tuesday with Robert and Marcella, their daughters Robbie and Teresa, 63, and photographer Andrew Jansen.
While there, Jackson, the current owner, arrived, with Billihttps://presto.gannettdigital.com/dist/1.1249.1/public/lib/ckeditor/plugins/copycheck/icons/CopyCheckReverse.png Evans, the co-listing real estate agent.
Robert suffered a stroke a few years ago and his gait is slow. Marcella uses a wheelchair.
Much of their handiwork in the house, particularly Robert’s use of stained-glass in windows and doors, remains.
“I tried to keep as much of the house as possible,” Jackson tells me.
Some of the floors, he says, he “took down to the dirt” as part of the renovation.
“I really needed a master bathroom on the main level,” he says.
He made what was once the living room into a large master bedroom, with a large, adjoining bathroom.
Regretfully, he says, he had to tear out what was left of the marble at the entryway. It was showing its age and he could not bring back its luster.
Jackson, 61, is a former chemistry teacher and wrestling coach in Ozark. Like many school teachers, he retired relatively young in 2012.
“You’re 52 and retired and you ask yourself: Now what do I do?”
He went into real estate and has been buying older homes, renovating them and then selling them.
“I had flipped a couple of homes built in around 1960 in Southern Hills when I received a call from a woman regarding this house. She asked: ‘Are you the guy who buys old homes from old women?'”
Jackson kept the wooden ceiling in the dining room. He straightened that staircase and made the carport an enclosed garage with 7-foot windows to match the rest of the house.
Some of the wood floors believed to date back to original construction remain.
While the Zucchinis lived here, what was once a bedroom became Robert’s study. In the woodwork near the pocket door is the letter “Z” for Zucchini. It remains.
A “Z” for Zucchini is in the door jam of the den at the home at 1514 E. Seminole St. (Photo: Andrew Jansen/Springfield News-Leader)
It is my observation that people often project their own childhoods onto homes they view from afar.
If you were loved and had a happy childhood you assume that same experience for the children who grew up in the home you see from the street or country road, never imagining that perhaps life was more bleak than sunny.
Clearly, in this house, there was love.
Robbie and Teresa are near tears when they tell me how pleased they are with what has been done to the house.
“I am really happy that they kept the integrity of the old house,” Robbie says.
Marcella sits back in her wheelchair and feels the warmth of so many memories.
“It’s a great house,” she says.
These are the views of News-Leader columnist Steve Pokin, who has been at the paper seven years, and over his career has covered everything from courts and cops to features and fitness. He can be reached at 836-1253, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @stevepokinNL or by mail at 651 Boonville, Springfield, MO 65806.