"The last thing in the world we wanted to do was tear down that house," said Marshall Mayor Connie Latimer Thursday, July 16.
As the house at 750 E. Eastwood St. was being torn down Thursday morning, Latimer said the number of hours consumed by city officials in dealing with the demise of one of Marshall's oldest homes was "unbelievable," gesturing towards a file several inches thick sitting on her desk.
The house, built in 1882 for Marshall resident Thomas C. Rainey by Edgar R. Page in the style of an Italian villa, was razed Thursday morning. Rainey was a businessman with interests in Marshall, Arrow Rock and Kansas City; Page was involved in the construction of Saline County Courthouse at about the same time.
The home of former Marshall attorney Lawrence McClure, the building had not been occupied in some time, Latimer said, perhaps as long as five years.
McClure and his wife purchased the house from John Irvine in 1974. When the McClures divorced in 1987, Lawrence McClure kept the house.
After serving as an Associate Court judge beginning in 1976, McClure was voted out of office in 1982, but continued to practice law in Marshall, operating out of an office in an older building that faces Salt Pond Avenue.
In 2004, his law license was revoked when McClure was accused of diverting funds from the estate of an elderly client for his own use, including a $10,000 payment on a note secured by the Eastwood house. A Saline County grand jury indicted him for class B felony theft in April 2005.
The case came to a close in 2007, when he took an Alford plea and was sentenced to incarceration in Saline County Justice Facility, monitored home detention and five years supervised probation.
It has taken more than two years of work on the part of the city to bring the current matter to a conclusion. Saline County Prosecuting Attorney Donald G. Stouffer, who is also legal counsel to the city council of Marshall, said dealing with the Eastwood Street property consumed a lot of time and effort.
"We have never spent this much time on a single piece of property," Stouffer said, adding that the house's status as one of the oldest homes in the city was most of the reason for the intensity of the effort.
The building was determined to be a hazard, said Stouffer, because it was not closed against intrusion, it was not watertight and the maintenance of the grounds was not in line with city requirements.
McClure was notified by the city inspection department multiple times of problems with the property, beginning with notices sent about overgrowth of weeds in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006.
Latimer said the city inspection department is a "complaint-driven" operation, and noted that the city had received many complaints about the condition and upkeep of the home from concerned neighbors.
In May 2007, in response to neighbors' complaints about "tall weeds, unlicensed vehicles and the garage" being in bad shape, the city conducted a lengthy inspection of the property, took dozens of pictures and notified McClure that repairs were required to bring the building up to code. The return certification was signed by McClure, indicating he had received it.
When no action from McClure was forthcoming, the city "had no choice," Latimer said, but to move to the next level of attention to the problem.
Beginning with a meeting Aug. 24, 2007, more than a dozen hearings were held in the next two years. Just getting the first hearing organized took three months. After that first meeting, a notice of findings was sent to McClure, who acknowledged receipt of the report, but still took no action to address the multiple problems with the house, the garage and the general condition of the property and the surrounding acreage.
Although vehicles being stored in the garage were removed in the fall of 2007, "No progress was made in regard to the garage or house repairs," according to city records. The city's records indicate that during the winter of 2008, the garage was repaired and secured, but in March 2008, the contractor who did the garage work said he hadn't yet been contracted to do repair work on the house.
In October 2008, records say, title to the property changed hands from Lawrence McClure to Jean R. McClure Trust of Columbia. Jean McClure is Larry McClure's mother.
In November 2008, when conditions on the property had not changed except for the garage repair, the city began to move toward demolition. Late in the month, the contractor who repaired the garage gave the city an estimate of $59,500 to make repairs to the roof, including sheeting, downspouts, fascia, gutters, soffits, cornice and trim, to tear off siding, replace exterior doors, tear off the back porch and re-do the deck. Those repairs were never undertaken.
At a hearing in February 2009, McClure asked the board to consider granting a 45-day delay "to see if (he) can remove the barriers so that repairs can begin." The request was granted. This was McClure's only appearance before the board; he was represented at all the other meetings and hearings by his attorneys.
Latimer spoke briefly with McClure after the hearing. During their conversation, she said, she asked him if he felt bad about the situation with the house.
"He said he was sorry about it, and that he understood why the city was taking action," Latimer said, but noted that in the ensuing 45 days, no action was taken by McClure. The city's Code Enforcement Board voted to demolish the house on April 28.
Latimer noted that local residents have questioned why the McClures didn't sell the house and/or why the city didn't buy it. As far as can be determined, the house was never offered for sale. But public title records obtained by The Marshall Democrat-News show that even if a willing buyer could have been found, obtaining clear title would have been expensive.
Any buyer would have had to clear multiple liens against the house, including federal tax liens, Missouri State tax liens, deeds of trust and local real estate taxes, for a total of more than $215,000. Although some of the liens are old and might be questionable, they are still attached to the property.
Assuming the house would have sold for its current appraised value of $102,300, just purchasing the house and its nearly five-acre lot, paying the liens and making the repairs to the roof and exterior mentioned earlier would consume more than $375,000, and that is assuming no additional repairs would be made. One local contractor estimated repairs to make the house livable might cost as much as $100,000 to $200,000, upping the ante to the half-million dollar range.
When the city's intention to demolish the house received wide publicity, many area residents raised objections to the loss of what was described as a "historic" home, and wondered why the city couldn't "fix it up."
Latimer said, "If we did that, then the taxpayers would have fixed up Larry McClure's house for him," she said, "and I don't think that's a proper use of the public's money."
McClure was not available for an interview for this story. His only known address is a post office box in Columbia.
Even with the demolition of the house, McClure's troubles with the city are not over. His former law office on Salt Pond Avenue is also under scrutiny by the city for its upkeep and current condition. The building, which has frontage on both North Street and Court Street, was boarded up by the city some time ago in an effort to keep pigeons and other animals from entering the building. The display windows on North Street are dirty; sagging curtains and drapery rods crowd the windows and the interior is full of pigeon droppings and feathers.
The once-beautiful home is now just an untidy pile of boards. When the debris is finally cleared, the city will fill in the basement with waste concrete and rock, topping it with a layer of soil, and then sow grass seed to leave the property in mowable condition. In time, only the void where the house once stood will give any indication that it was ever there at all.
Latimer said, "We don't take (situations like this) lightly," and noted there were points at which the house could have been saved, but required action by the home's owner that never materialized.
"It's not that we didn't do our homework on it," she said, "and it isn't something we wanted to do, but we were left with no choice."
Contact Kathy Fairchild at
Condemned 19th-century house on Eastwood bites the dust Thursday:
Past its prime: 127-year-old home on Eastwood Street slated to be razed: