Dick and Mary Kay Kirsner were looking for a larger house when they found the one at 5403 Harwood Drive.
By Dick’s admission, the house, built in 1938, needed some updates.
“My wife wasn’t real wild about the place,” he recalls. “It was relatively unattractive on the inside. I don’t think it had been touch since the ’60s.”
But in October 2000, the Kirsners decided to embark upon the new house that was three blocks from where Dick grew up. They were able to stay in their old house with then-toddler daughter, Elizabeth, now 14, while work was being done on their new home.
“It needed a lot of upgrades,” Dick says, adding that the structure was very sound. “The place is built like a battleship.”
He hired a contractor to redo the kitchen, install new hardwood floors, remove acoustic ceiling and repair the original ceiling, update stonework in the entryway and renovated a very “art deco” bathroom/powder room that had a cobalt blue sink, toilet and tile.
The house was built for Lucius Fitch, whose father started F.W. Fitch Co. in Des Moines. The Fitches enjoyed entertaining given the large commercial walk-in freezer that was located in the basement of the house when the Kirsners moved into it.
The house contains many of the characteristics of homes from the time period with woodwork, wood floors, and plaster and lathe walls. It has a custom tile roof that has proved to be very difficult to repair.
“I’ve searched the country for replacement tiles, but they’re such unique size and thickness that I haven’t been able to find any,” Dick says, adding he’s had to come up with some creative means by which to repair the roof such as gluing two tiles together and tearing off original tiles from the back of the house to use in the front.
There’s also a small hidden cabinet in one of the upstairs closets that originally would have popped open with the push of a button, but it no longer works.
In the attic, the family found a box of old glass plate X-rays that belonged to a former doctor who lived in the house. Dr. Earl Lowry was a colonel in the U.S. Army during World War II, and was the physician to Gens. George S. Patton and Dwight D. Eisenhower.