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Neighbors help rebuild historic Kansas City home after fire

Posted: 4:07 PM, Jan 12, 2017
Updated: 2017-01-12 23:26:50Z

A fire destroyed an iconic northeast Kansas City home nearly four months ago. Now, the homeowners are crediting neighbors and complete strangers for their ability to rebuild.

“Two thumbs up,” said Susan Sommers, while standing next to her husband, Larry Roeder, Thursday morning as they watched the installation of their new roof.

"It's a major undertaking and not one we would have considered if not for such a great neighborhood,” said Sommers.

The couple from Hiawatha, KS bought the brownstone home at 3240 Norledge Avenue roughly eight years ago. They had just finished doing a complete interior re-model when a fire destroyed nearly all of it September 19 . According to Sommers, the cause of the fire was never determined.

"The top two floors were gone and there was about four and half foot of water that was in the basement,” said Sommers.

The home, which sits near Kessler Park and across from the Kansas City Museum, was built in 1888 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Neighbors were devastated to see it destroyed.

"Stood here and watched it burn, was like losing a family member,” said Jeff Zumsteg, a neighbor.

Photo of debris from Jeff Zumsteg

Some called it a loss of a work of art.

"It was almost like a lighthouse or beacon showing what this neighborhood could be,” said Thomas Strenge, also a neighbor.

PHOTOS | What the historic home looked like before the fire

It wasn’t long before dozens of neighbors, some strangers, started offering their help to rebuild the historic home.

"Everybody that we know in the neighborhood was here, digging out the rubble. Almost felt like a World War II movie,” said Strenge.

Photo of construction from Jeff Zumsteg

It took roughly six weeks to clear the debris.

"We had people, volunteers, even from the west side of downtown that we didn’t' know, came and helped,” said Sommers.

Sommers then hired her brother, a contractor from Colorado, to oversee the rebuild. Zumsteg offered to house the contracting team for free before lending his yard as a temporary construction zone so the roof could be re-built close by.

Photo of roof construction from Jeff Zumsteg

"They've done a lot for me, for us, and whatever we pay is whatever we can do for them as well,” said Zumsteg. "The house is very historically significant to Kansas City and they realize that. And they realize it had to be saved and it would have been much cheaper just to tear it down and start over but the facade, the brick, the stone, that's historic and needs to be saved and they're doing it."

The rebuild is expected to take two years. However, they’re currently ahead of schedule, hoping to be done within 18 months – all due to tremendous help from countless friends, family and strangers.

"We couldn't have made it through those four months without them and appreciate everything they've done and continue to do for us,” said Sommers.

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Josh Helmuth can be reached at  josh.helmuth@kshb.com

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