Renovated Marion condo gives new life to historic building

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The spacious living and dining room of Paul and Jeanne Matthews’ loft condo in downtown Marion used to be filled with Civil War veterans, meeting in all their regalia for meals and conversations. Now, years after that building, known as Memorial Hall, fell into disrepair, the couple are filling it with food and fellowship once again.

“We like to have friends over and have dinner parties,” Jeanne said.

With a 16-foot dining table that Paul built from cherry wood, they’re well prepared for those parties. A large, open concept living space marries a kitchen on one end, a massive fireplace and cozy couches on the other and the table in the middle. The living room opens to a back deck overlooking Marion’s under-construction Art in the Alley project.

The couple, both 54, bought the building about nine years ago and spent the intervening years renovating it. They moved into the nearly 3,000-square-foot second floor and opened an Irish pub, Uptown Snug, 760 11th St., on the first level in May.

Originally built in 1900 by the Women’s Relief Corps, the women’s auxiliary of the Union Army during the Civil War, the first floor originally was a dry goods store and a horse livery, with the veterans meeting hall, kitchen and parlor on the second story.

In 1919, the American Legion Post of Marion was organized in the hall, and in the 1940s, dances were held there on Saturday nights. Eventually the building passed into private hands, was used as office space and for many years was vacant.

Remnants of the original inhabitants are scattered throughout the space, such as a carved pineapple stair post — the international symbol of welcome. Paul salvaged a piano, which was left in the hall when the Matthews took possession of the building, and turned part of it into a coat rack and part into a table.

The parlor is now their bedroom — they bricked in an oven where meals for the veterans were cooked and turned it into a gas fireplace. In the entrance hall, a closet where the veterans hung their uniforms has been turned into a bathroom.

When the couple first saw it, the first floor of the brick facade was covered with siding, the front corner of the building was falling off and the ceiling was in total disrepair.

They kept the original floors and windows but redid the plumbing, wiring, heating and air conditioning. They replastered walls, pulled up carpet and put on a new roof, among other things.

Paul said he has approached it, from the beginning, as just another construction project. He formerly ran a millwork manufacturing business and so did much of the renovation work himself. Where others may have been intimidated by how much work the building needed, he saw a challenge worth tackling.

“We walked in here and said, man, this is cool,” he said.

Though restoring the building took years of work, Jeanne said she knew immediately it was something she wanted to do.

“We came up the stairs for the first time and looked up at the ceiling height, and we could just see the bones of the building,” she said. “Everybody, I think, falls in love with this building a little bit.”

The couple are enjoying uptown Marion life, with bikes in the entrance hall and restaurants and shops just outside their door. Taking on this project wasn’t easy, but it was worth it, they said.

“We were at the right time in our lives,” Jeanne said — their children have left home, and they no longer had dogs. “We’re in the empty nest awesomeness phase of our lives.”

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