It’s a home well-known to most in Jefferson City. One that has spent years in neglect, while many in the community worried whether it would be too far gone to save.
But the saving has begun.
Ivy Terrace, the iconic home at 500 E. Capitol Ave., is being given a new beginning, as three siblings have taken on the renovation of this historical property, with plans to turn it into a small wedding venue in the heart of Jefferson City.
Wendy Gladbach, owner of Ana Marie’s Bridal, and her sister, Deb Sacilowski, purchased the property in early 2020 from the Jefferson City Housing Authority. Surprisingly, the eye-catching red property received no proposals the first time the Housing Authority made the property available.
“The reason we actually ended up putting in a proposal was his fault,” Sacilowski said, laughing and pointing to her brother, Jim Vigliettal, who has joined his sisters in taking on the project. “We’re up on the second floor in the hallway … and he jumps up and down in the hallway, and he’s like, ‘This is pretty solid.’ … And then he said, ‘We could do this.’”
As Sacilowski recalled that moment, the three siblings began to laugh and talk over each other as we sat on the wrap-around porch of Ivy Terrace on a sunny day in late September. It’s been six months since the proposal they put in was accepted, and now the siblings are spending much of their spare time at the more than century old home, slowly making progress on bringing it back to life once more.
But back to the decision to put in the proposal. After Vigliettal walked through with Sacilowski and Gladbach, they turned to another trusted source – another sibling.
“The plot thickened after that, because then we started talking to our other brother,” Sacilowski said.
The other brother is a contractor who has a background in taking on historic home renovations where he lives in Virginia. The way Sacilowski tells it, when they asked for his input, his estimates for what they were looking at financially were … well, a lot lower than how things are turning out.
But there’s good reason for that. Both Gladbach and Sacilowski quickly pointed out that there are more strict regulations for this project, as it’s intended to become a commercial property and Ivy Terrace is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Queen Anne style mansion was built in 1893, designed by local architect Charles Opel for Lon
Vest Stephens, who at the time was state treasurer, and his wife, Margaret. According to the Missouri Historical Review, construction totaled $10,000 on the mansion that featured turrets, porches and multiple entrances. (Gladbach and Sacilowski wondered what that would be in terms of dollars today. According to an online inflation calculator that uses the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index, $10,000 in 1893 would be roughly $289,000 today.)
After the family moved in, the home was often used for “elaborate social affairs,” including the wedding of Stephens’ younger sister in 1895, which was described as “the most brilliant in the history of Jefferson City” and included 1,700 people being invited to the reception.
The weddings that will take place at Ivy Terrace after the renovation will be much smaller, as Gladbach estimates that they can likely seat 60 comfortably, although she noted that the Jefferson City Fire Department would have the ultimate say down the road when the occupancy limit is set. The first floor will primarily operate as the venue space, while the second floor will be used as preparation areas for wedding parties before the ceremony.
The Stephens family only lived at Ivy Terrace for three years before Lon Stephens was elected governor, and the family moved into the Governor’s Mansion.
In 1903, the home was sold to G.A. Fischer, a local businessman who lived there with his family. Fischer was well-known in the community, taking part in several major community efforts. He partnered with Sam B. Cook to organize the Central Missouri Trust Company and was involved in opening the Jefferson City Country Club, according to the Historic City of Jefferson.
Fischer’s family lived in the home until 1948, when it was purchased by Mary Woods, who operated the Mariwood College of Beauty Culture there until 1966.
It was then the property was purchased by Thomas Whitecotton, who restored it back to a single family home and lived there with his wife, Dee, until 1987. The Whitecottons helped bring Ivy Terrace back to its original glory, with a 1967 News and Tribune article noting that they “restored the building to its original splendor.” Even the successful 1990 application to the National Register of Historic Places noted that “Ivy Terrace is in excellent condition.”
“The Whitecottons did the most work in here,” Sacilowski said.
Other than some linoleum that needed to be dealt with in one room, Sacilowski said the beauty college days really didn’t alter the property too much. But when the Whitecottons came in, some changes had to be made. A bathroom was added under the stairs. The back servant’s staircase was removed and a bathroom was added in the back on the first floor and above it on the second.
But as the renovation looks to return Ivy Terrace to its original state as much as possible, while still incorporating modern features, some of what the Whitecottons did has to be changed. The siblings have already removed the bathroom from under the stairs and are trying to determine what that space was originally used for. (One theory Gladbach has come up with is a phone nook.)
“The Whitecottons came in and made it a house,” Sacilowski said. “They made it more like a house, which we’re undoing unfortunately because we’re not going to live here. We want to take it back more to what it was when it was built.”
By 1991, the property had been purchased by Barbara Buescher, according to county tax records. Buescher maintained ownership until the Jefferson City Housing Authority was able to acquire the now derelict property through eminent domain in 2018.
When Sacilowski and Gladbach got into their new property, there was clearly a lot of work ahead. When we met with them in late September, they were still waiting to get electricity in the house. Once that happened, Gladbach said, things would start moving quickly.
Many of the windows are still boarded up as the work progresses. As much as they can’t wait to see natural light pouring into the rooms and the grand entryway, Sacilowski said they’ll likely keep the windows boarded up for a while to prevent curious onlookers from peering in on the progress. While the siblings are sharing much of the renovation progress on social media pages they’ve set up for Ivy Terrace on Facebook and Instagram, there’s some things that they don’t want to share just yet.
“We don’t want to give away all of our secrets before we open,” Sacilowski said.
Much of the first floor was in disarray the day we arrived. The siblings were in the process of taking down all the ceilings because of the amount of water damage. While Sacilowski noted that historic groups would want as much plaster saved as possible, considering they will have to rewire, do plumbing and HVAC work, as well as thoroughly clean, it’s easier and cheaper to take them down. Plus, there’s a nice bonus.
“As we’re pulling (ceilings) down, we’re getting to look at the house from beneath,” Sacilowski said.
The ceilings throughout the home are pine tongue and groove, which Sacilowski said was interesting, as they would have expected a more expensive wood like oak to be used, at least in some places. But it turns out that at the time of construction, pine was not local to the area, she said, so wealthy people would pay to bring it in.
“Pine was a luxury,” Sacilowski said. “We’re learning a lot.”
But even this early on, it’s easy to see the beauty in the original handiwork. Small flourishes are everywhere, from patterns in the door trim to the intricate and beautiful tile work around hand-carved fireplaces in the bedrooms.
But those pieces have also caused problems. Over the years when Ivy Terrace stood neglected, thieves took the opportunity to get in and remove pieces of that intricate tile work and original stained glass.
“The stained glass is a hit because it’s expensive,” Sacilowski said, adding that it also likely complemented other pieces in the house. “It’s kind of heartbreaking to see what people think they have the right to steal.”
Replacing the tile is incredibly difficult too, as Gladbach noted that the company that made the tiles went out of business in the mid 1930s. (The tiles came from a company in New Jersey, though Sacilowski noted that Dee Whitecotton had kept notes during their renovation and had referred to them as Italian tiles. It’s likely she was told that, Sacilowski said, not knowing that on the side that was secured to the fireplace exterior was a stamp from the New Jersey company.)
Even so, they’re grateful for what’s left. Most of the hardware is still there and all the transoms work.
“There’s a lot of things we should be grateful that they didn’t get messed up,” Sacilowski said.
On the second floor, there’s the pansy room, named for the intricate and delicate floral paintings that adorn the top edges of the wall as it hits the ceiling. Sacilowski said she believes those are original to the house, though touched up by the Whitecottons. There’s mention of opening Christmas gifts in the pansy room in a diary kept by Margaret Stephens, the first occupant, she said.
And in the master bedroom, they located a speaking tube in the wall that connects to the kitchen on the first floor.
“Every time we pull down a wall, we find a secret,” Sacilowski said. “I was hoping it would be a bag of diamonds!”
But they’re nearing the time when they won’t have much left to open or find, which she said is a bit of a drag. They found no notes or time capsules, but she said they’ve decided to leave something, maybe a note, for future owners taking on new projects.
The siblings have a pretty set plan for the first two floors, though not everything’s been decided and they don’t always agree on what to do.
“The three of us are trying to make decisions by committee,” Sacilowski said with a chuckle.
But the third floor is a bit trickier. The main area is called a ballroom, but Sacilowski was quick to point out that it’s not the type of ballroom that may come to mind.
“I think people have misconceptions about what a ballroom was, it was like a game room,” Sacilowski said. “It’s not like they had big dances. … That’s our assumption.”
Because of requirements in the Americans with Disabilities Act, the only way to have the third floor accessible to the public would be to install an elevator in the house, which Sacilowski said was estimated to cost around $70,000, plus finding a place for it would be difficult. Since that’s not exactly in their budget right now, they’re currently looking at using that space for private, family parties.
There’s no firm opening date yet, as there’s still so much to be done, but the siblings are eager to open to the public. (And they’ve already had brides trying to book the venue.) The purchase agreement stipulates two years after closing to restore the property, though Sacilowski and Gladbach noted that the city and the Historic City of Jefferson have been more than willing to work with them when needed.
“Everything that’s in that contract is really there to help us,” Sacilowski said.
Sacilowski said it’s been great having the organization help along the way. She noted that the Historic City of Jefferson was planning a contest for them that would ask the public what they think the original color of Ivy Terrace was. Sacilowski gave no hints to us, other than it’s not red.
Part of the renovation has almost turned into a research project as they try to track down information or photos about the house and its occupants over the years. Sacilowski said she’s even reached out to descendants of occupants and of Opel himself. There’s two reasons for that, really. One is trying to find more information about the original state of the house to make it easier to restore.
“If we could ever find floor plans … that would be a dream come true,” Sacilowski said.
But there’s also the sheer desire from all three siblings to incorporate as much of the property’s history into the renovation as possible. They’d love to find more photos of the home and its occupants to put in finished rooms and really allow people to connect with the history of Ivy Terrace.
“We know there was at least two weddings here at some point,” Sacilowski said, noting that both were during the Stephens years. (As noted earlier in this article, one was in 1895.) “If only we could find some pictures.”
As the process continues, it’s clear the siblings have all gotten a new appreciation for historic homes as they uncover all that Ivy Terrace has to offer. For Sacilowski, it’s opened her eyes to the abundance of similar properties across the country.
“There are so many houses out there that need to be saved,” Sacilowski said. “This isn’t that special, I mean it is to this town and it is to us, but this story could be replicated 100 times in every major city in the nation. These houses are just being left vacant.”
In restoring the property, the new owners want to do everything they can to embrace the history of Ivy Terrace. If you have photos or stories to share that involve the property, previous owners or the architect, contact Deb Sacilowski at firstname.lastname@example.org.