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Watch now: Demo starts on historic Lincoln home; plans for new house revealed

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The long-awaited and hotly debated demolition of one of Lincoln’s most historic homes has started.

An excavator tore into 2636 Woodscrest early Thursday, beginning the razing and removal of the 5,500-square-foot Norman Revival so its owners can build a new home.

2636 Woodscrest, 8.11

An excavator started demolishing the 5,500-square-foot house at 2636 Woodscrest Ave. early Thursday. The 100-year-old Norman Revival home was built for the Miller and Paine department store family. 

John and Ella Wirtz bought the property near 27th and Sheridan — known to some as The Castle, to others as the Miller House — nearly a year ago.

“We love this neighborhood. We were looking for a house that would be our forever home,” John Wirtz said Thursday. “The intent of our search from the beginning was to find a place to raise our family.”

They paid $1.4 million, according to the county assessor. But they never moved in.

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They’d planned to renovate it, Wirtz said, to make it meet the needs of their family. They hired Jason Woita of Woita Homes — which specializes in renovating old houses and has worked on others in the neighborhood — as their general contractor. They met with multiple architects.

“We felt very confident we had the best minds walking through the house with us. We kind of put all the options on the table and there just wasn’t a way to make the house work.”

Wirtz wouldn’t say specifically why they couldn’t make the 100-year-old house accommodate his family. “It was just a multitude of things that, in combination, made it not possible for us to do a renovation.”

So they moved to Plan B — building a new house on the acre-plus lot.

Wirtz rendering

A rendering of the home proposed for 2636 Woodscrest Ave. Construction could take 20 months.

They hired a Minnesota-based, nationally recognized architect who specializes in classic homes.

“To make sure that the house that we’ll build will be a beautiful house, that it's going to fit the character of the neighborhood really well,” Wirtz said.

But when their plan to erase and replace started seeping through the neighborhood, it was met with outrage.

The Country Club Neighborhood Association hosted a city planning staffer to see if there was anything they could do to prevent the demolition, and whether the house’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places gave it any protection.

Short answer: No, and no.

The Preservation Association of Lincoln staged a sign-waving rally near the home — “Honk to support history,” and, “Save The Castle” — and there were reports of the family facing threats and harassment.

But others took to social media to defend them: It’s their money, their property and they can do what they want.

2636 Woodscrest, 8.11

Gordon Scholz watches the home at 2636 Woodscrest Ave. being demolished on Thursday. The Norman Revival home, purchased last September for $1.4 million, is over 100 years old and was built for the Miller and Paine department store family. 

And what they want is a three-story Colonial Revival, with first- and second-floor porches facing Woodscrest and an attached garage with three stalls facing south, according to draft plans obtained by the Journal Star through a public records request to the city’s Building and Safety Department.

The couple’s building permit application lists the construction cost at $2.1 million, and Woita estimated it will take him about 20 months to build.

“The style of the home is going to be something that would fit in with the neighborhood, and look timeless and fitting of the neighborhood — not something that's contemporary,” Woita said.

Demolition is expected to take four to five days, said Nate Peterson of Infinity Excavating.

Not all of the historic Woodscrest house will end up in the landfill. An architectural salvage crew removed what it could — windows, doors, light and plumbing fixtures, cabinets and countertops — and the couple donated it to Habitat for Humanity.

Wirtz didn’t want to talk about whether his family had been threatened and harassed. He wanted to talk instead about how much Lincoln had given his family in the past two decades, and how much they’ve contributed to the community.

And how the demolition crew that started work Thursday wasn’t in their original plans.

“We want to make sure people know how much we care about this neighborhood, and that it was not our intent to build a house there.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter

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