Cape Cod beauty catches historic acclaimRiver Falls’ Historic Preservation Commission recently honored the home at 811 Oak Knoll Ave. for its architectural significance to the city.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
River Falls’ Historic Preservation Commission recently honored the home at 811 Oak Knoll Ave. for its architectural significance to the city.
HPC Member Audrey Alton’s dad, stone mason Harry Luberg, built the Cape Cod-style home out of local limestone in 1936 for $3,600.
With his father Frank’s help, Luberg created an original design out of cut limestone slabs that he laid flat onto the home’s outside wall instead of stacking them like bricks. Alton said she remembers her dad using a newspaper template for the stone.
To her knowledge, the Oak Knoll beauty is the only one in the city with the laid-flat limestone design around the whole exterior.
The well-kept property features classic architecture and fits the criteria of an HPC mission to local homes rich in history.
Current owners Mike Kahlow and Diane Odeen moved to the home in 2005 with their two daughters Andrea and Emily, now 19 and 17.
The family moved to River Falls in 1992 after Kahlow took a job at UW-River Falls where he works as a chemistry professor.
Odeen, with a Ph.D. in theater, helped start the local community theater then attended law school. She works for the law firm Lommen, Abdo, Cole, King and Stageberg.
Odeen said, “We’d been in the house before,” explaining that the family knew former owners Rod and Judy Rommel from church.
She said many people share memories of the home -- kids sledding on the hillside behind it and how it was featured on a garden tour.
It wasn’t uncommon for the family to hear: “Oh, you live in that house.”
Odeen says one of her favorite memories is of their daughters climbing up the big, old oak tree beside the house to read books. That oak sustained a lightning strike and is the only remaining one of four oaks that used to be in the yard, though many other tall trees remain there.
Odeen says at least the other oaks left them with plenty of good wood to burn in the fireplace and in a new pizza oven on the back patio.
The home features classic Cape Cod styling with a staircase not far inside the front door and an entryway that leads right or left; either way it leads in a big circle around house. A tour reveals reminders of a bygone era, like a milk nook where the milkman could pick up and drop off bottles, the remnants of a driveway that led into a now-gone tuck-under garage, built in shelving and other charms.
Odeen said they’ve furnished the residence with several antiques from both sides of the family. Former owners added a four-season porch, as well as a screened in porch near the patio, both of which adds living space to the cozy home.
Outside is the original limestone, and a garage built later to match it. Climbing ivy strives to cover exterior walls.
Their move-in year of 2005 brought a huge rain, forcing Kahlow and Odeen to take on the big project of grading and landscaping to create better drainage. The deluge brought water to basement deep enough that it ruined the carpet and sheet rock.
The homeowners have also put on a new roof, redone an upstairs bathroom and planted gardens that include tomatoes and rose bushes in a big sunny patch.
“Mike has planted hundreds and hundreds of daffodils and tulips,” said Odeen.
Kahlow thinks the site may have been a sandbank of the river, because he doesn’t have to dig far to find sand and because the South Fork of the Kinnickinnic is about two blocks away.
He says the shady yard produces a bumper crop of mushrooms and that the family has seen an assortment of wildlife in the yard.
Odeen and Kahlow both name the deck area as their favorite outside space, where they enjoy entertaining under the tiki torches. Inside, Kahlow enjoys the four-season and screened-in porches.
Odeen enjoys many indoor features like the cozy living area and its middle-of-the-room fireplace. She likes the style of the house and says everyone has room to do their thing without being crowded.
“It’s got great use of space,” she said.
The couple had been looking for a home with a bit more space for about seven years.
Kahlow drove by the house after work on a Thursday, noticed the sign and set up a showing on Friday.
He told his wife that day, “You need to see this house.”
She said “Monday,” but he didn’t want to wait. They were one of three prospective buyers to make an offer on Saturday, which was accepted Sunday.
They remember their history in the house beginning before move in, with a few winter-season picnics in the four-season porch.
Lifelong resident and HPC member Kirby Symes remembers the home well. He was good friends with the owner’s son, Judd Williams.
He says the home was among the first built in that the neighborhood. He was intrigued by the front study’s pine paneling and the built-in bunk beds upstairs.
“I was tremendously amazed by that place,” he said. “It’s the only limestone house I know of in town.”
The limestone came from a quarry atop the hill behind what is now Greenwood Cemetery (and Hoffman Park) along Division Street.
“This was kind of an experiment because nobody had done this,” said Alton about the home construction, adding that people doubted the unusual design. “Everyone in town thought, ‘That’s not gonna last; that’s gonna fall off.’”