Donna Deetz has loved history, its preservation and its celebration her whole life. A St. Louis native and well traveled U.S. resident, she and her husband Michael ultimately landed in Jefferson City, a town that has fueled that exact passion and a place where she has used that passion in many of the successful businesses they own.
Take Click2Sell4U and Kay’s Collectibles, where someone else’s discarded items are rejuvenated treasures for patrons. Also owned by Donna and Michael, The Trolley Company takes residents and visitors on historic tours, as well as provides transportation for special events such as birthdays, proms, reunions and weddings.
Deetz Enterprises rehabs historic east-end properties, including the building at 620 E. High St. that houses Click2Sell4U and Kay’s Collectibles downstairs and now two renovated 1,110-plus square foot apartments upstairs.
Less than a block away, Donna and Michael bought a 1900 Victorian-style home with Laurelanne Bellezzo and Chris Huckleberry in 2009, restoring it to its former glory and opening the “High Street Retreat” as a vacation-rent-browner facility serving reunions, Katy Trail visitors, wedding parties and other large groups. In 2012, they received the
Golden Hammer Award from the Historic City of Jefferson and last year the three-story brick building earned a historic landmark status from the city.
Donna and Michael have earned that honor once again. The city named their own renovated home built in about 1860 a historic landmark May 15, a rewarding celebration for a true labor of love.
Even though Donna knows some of the background of her historic home, she said they could never track down the complete history. Seen in the locally famous 1869 drawing, “Bird’s Eve View,” that shows an aerial depiction of downtown Jefferson City, the original structure was a two-room German style cottage house with a basement underneath. The home’s current upstairs living room and kitchen was this initial structure.
“It wasn’t a kitchen at that time because they had outside kitchens. … Then they added on a side over here … and then they added another side … and then they added the back inside porch area,” Donna said. “When we redid the basement area you could see three or four different sets of concrete. We don’t know when they added all those different additions. … There was an outside door leading into the now kitchen area because there is a transom, and there is another transom above the door in the hallway.”
As the home had different interior and exterior transformations through the years, so did its owners and purposes. When the finished home earned a Golden Hammer Award in 2014 from the Historic City of Jefferson, historical findings revealed the lots of 720, 718 and 716 E. High St. where the Deetz home and property resides were among 10 purchased from the government originally by James Bowlin, who served in Congress and as chief clerk for the state house of representatives. Living in St. Louis, Bowling later sold the landto a partnership of other St. Louis residents, a News Tribune article about the home’s award stated.
Deiderich Oysterman eventually owned these three lots, and he or his son William, who owned them in 1885, likely built the houses, with the 1860 home at 720 where Donna and Michael currently reside. In his 1908 will, William directed the remaining two homes be sold separately. The Rev. Joseph Selinger, rector of St. Peter Catholic Church, bought both 718 and 720.
A Missouri State Penitentiary yardmaster, an oil company agent, a railroad foreman, a bank teller and a confectionery owner then owned the nearly 1,000-square-foot home at 716 E. High St. In 1937, veterinarian C.W. Schulz bought 716, where he lived and worked, and in 1939, Schulz converted 718 into an animal hospital.
The home at 716 changed hands a couple of times from 1964-84, when Robert and Shirley Fuchs bought it, as well as operated the animal hospital at 718. Rev. Selinger had sold 718 in 1918. Owners through the years included a prison guard and a barber before the animal hospital operated through 2000.
The home at 720 E. High St. is more than 1,200 square feet. Rev. Selinger also rented this property before selling in 1918. Prison guards and factory workers also owned this property later. By 1946, it became two apartments.
Having two separate living spaces appealed to Donna and Michael and Donna’s parents, who were moving from Warrenton, Missouri, and going to live with them. Their businesses were already in the heart of downtown Jefferson City and so was their community service, with Donna still serving on the Historic Preservation Commission, Historic City of Jefferson board, Eastside Business Association and Zonta Jefferson City.
“I wanted to get where we were and spending a lot of our time,” she said, noting they had lived in Holts Summit. “With my parents coming here, we decided it was time to really work on this and get it done.”
After the animal hospital had been out of business for 20 years, the buildings had been vacant. Donna said many people used it as a place to dump their trash.
“That was immense and took a lot of time. We went through three giant dumpsters to clean out the three buildings, filled with debris,” she said.
Donna, Michael, her parents and her five siblings and their families went to work during the next two months doing the vast majority of the renovations to the home outside of electrical, HVAC and other contract required duties.
Because the house was unglazed original brick, the tuck pointing had to be done by grinding out each brick, then priming, reglazing and remortaring. The inside was taken down to the brick walls. Painting, new baseboards, woodwork, cleaning and rebuilds such as the back porch, window and door areas, closet additions, landscaping and other projects took the family renovation team about two months to complete. With many modern amenities such as new appliances, spray insulation foam and ADA accessible bathroom amenities, many original parts of the home can be seen and have been restored to their former glory.
“Being it was German architecture, it is very plain … but we tried to keep a lot of the original as much as we could,” Donna said. “We got as much of the original wood as we could to keep it consistent with what is and was here. My brother-in-law rebuilt all the woodwork that either was rotted away or warped, making it look like the original.”
Two transoms show the home’s original outline both in the main entrance’s hallway upstairs and leading from that hallway into the now kitchen in Donna’s parents’ main level apartment. High ceilings follow throughout the home, including the original living room, the front bedroom used by Donna’s mother and the back bedroom for Donna’s dad, which also has an extended office workspace that overlooks the spacious backyard and his beloved gardens.
An original and refurbished stairwell leads to Donna and Michael’s separate and beautifully renovated basement apartment, which also has an outside entrance.
Even though Donna said getting everything level and figuring out how to turn the basement into an apartment were the most challenging aspects of the renovation, they managed to create a spacious area complete with a living room, workroom that houses their office equipment and massive collection of DVDs, a wash room, ample kitchen, master bedroom, two full bathrooms and mudroom area that leads to the patio.
Exposed brick walls that hold up the historic structure are now restored as accent pieces to show the house’s significant character. Other unique antique pieces help provide that same appeal, such as stones from when the Capitol building burned and were in front of their High Street Retreat property that are now used for benches and retaining walls in the Deetz home’s patio and garden.
The couple now rents out the refurbished home at 716 and built a carriage style two-car garage for their family’s home where the animal hospital once stood at 718.
Donna said it is nice to have her parents around, with both couples going on vacations and spending lots of time together. In the future, Donna knows that their hard work could turn into future investment with their home serving as two separate apartments that could be rented out.
Donna and Michael are now ready to rehab another historic property at the corner of Ash and High streets, currently outfitted for nine apartments. They plan is to take it back down to six nice-size rentals with a townhouse on one side, allowing new residents to enjoy the growing East End Entertainment District and short walk to downtown.
“East End is my passion and I want to make sure it is taken care of. It is so historic and there is so much potential here. There are so many neat houses in here that can really be fixed up well and get back to their original way,” she said.
Donna and her family are excited about what they have done to help preserve, revitalize and celebrate Jefferson City’s history. They truly are living it and want others to do the same.
“It is remarkable the difference in how the neighborhood is being treated since we have rehabbed these homes. The apartment complex next door is rehabbing. The houses across the street are. The amount of traffic that is walking in this area is increasing,” she said. “It makes a difference in how the neighborhood looks. That is one of the things we are proud of.”
For more information about High Street Retreat, call 573-619-4377. Michelle Brooks contributed to this article.