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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 24, 2018

Oak Hill Jackson house showcases history, art

By Alison Gowans, The Gazette | Oct 09, 2017

Kim Kacere didn’t name his houses the Painted Ladies, but he acknowledges the nickname is appropriate.

The homeowner and landlord’s eight Oak Hill Jackson properties stand out; his houses boast red roofs and brightly colored exteriors, with multicolored paint schemes. A friend started calling them the Painted Ladies after similarly painted Victorian and Edwardian-era houses in San Francisco, and the name stuck.

The fact they are filled with literal painted ladies as well is perhaps a form of kismet.

Kacere’s father, artist John Kacere, made a name for himself in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s as a photorealist painter most known for his depictions of the female form. Much of his work is faceless, featuring just the midsection of his subjects, focused in on lingerie-clad curves. Other paintings are full figures of women, while much of his early work focuses on geometric patterns.

John Kacere died in 1999, and his son inherited much of his father’s body of work. He filled his painstakingly restored home with paintings and drawings and built a private 1,200-square-foot gallery behind one of his rental houses to display more art. Some of the paintings are massive, several feet across and tall, so he designed the gallery with a 26-foot-tall cathedral ceiling and unbroken walls to allow for proper viewing of the scope of the work. Skylights and gothic windows near the ceiling let in natural light; he has a surveillance system and no ground-level windows for security.

The houses he has restored are works of art in their own right. He has been working on them steadily since buying his first Cedar Rapids house in 1989, for just $8,000.

It was a hoarder house, he said, and the former owner had filled it with cats and towering stacks of Better Homes and Gardens magazines.

Kacere wanted to be in the neighborhood to connect with his family’s Lebanese Christian heritage. Lebanese immigrant community members had been some of the first to build in that part of town, he said.

When Kim Kacere bought the house he now lives in, his father recently had bought his great-aunt’s house a block away, within view of the original St. George Orthodox Church and a grocery store another aunt owned.

When Kim Kacere bought the house, he already owned property in San Francisco.

He started splitting his time between California in the winter and Iowa in the summer, something he still does, even as he has added more rental properties in Oak Hill Jackson to his portfolio.

Restoring the 2,700-square-foot house, built in 1870, was no easy task. Wiring, furnace and the roof had to be upgraded, floors refinished and original windows either repaired or replaced.

He made sure touches of the house’s history remain, interspersed with artistic flair. In the kitchen, he restored a 1930s Roper gas stove, which was in the house when he bought it.

His wife Leena, who died in 2015, installed intricate tile work in the kitchen and downstairs bathroom, and in the parlor, he added a tall stained glass window he made himself after taking a class at Kirkwood Community College.

Much of the furniture also was in the house when he bought it, and he had some chairs and other pieces refinished and reupholstered. Other pieces he bought to match the Victorian history of the house, whether they were from that era or from a wave of 1920s work that emulated the opulent Victorian aesthetic.

“I have an attitude here — if you bought this stuff and tried to put it in a modern apartment, it would not make it look like a Victorian,” he said. “But when you have a Victorian house — when you have these high ceilings and these tall base boards and this trim work, it dresses it up.”

Perhaps the most dramatic transformation he undertook was in the attic, which he turned from an unfinished space into a master suite, complete with a bathroom, kitchenette and enlarged windows that fill the space with light.

The attic’s most striking feature is a towering 9-foot carved door installed in front of the bathroom.

His father bought the door, originally from a 17th-century Hindu temple in India, from a neighbor in New York City for $2,000. When John Kacere died, Kim looked for a buyer for it but couldn’t find one, so he shipped it back to Iowa. To get it into the attic, he hired a crane to hoist it, piece by piece, through a window.

All of this restoration work is worth it, he said, because he sees value in keeping history and craftsmanship alive.

“It gives my life some meaning,” he said. “I want to feel my life is useful, and I’m still valuable. I’m always grateful I can do what I do.”

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