Purchase photos

The old college try





Ron Tanner expected to have his newly purchased condemned 1897 Victorian brownstone in Baltimore deemed safe enough to live in within six months.

A former fraternity house, it surely would be restored to its former grandeur in two years, he thought.

Instead, it was three years before any of the walls were painted. And, 12 years later, he's still putting on the finishing touches.

Tanner, who's on the faculty of Loyola University-Maryland's writing department, related his renovating experiences from his book, "From Animal House to Our House," on Wedneday night at Hays Public Library.

"Walking into this house was like walking into the cave of an abandoned tribe," Tanner said.

But he had decided if he bought an old house, Jill, the woman he was in love with, would move in. They would marry and live happily ever after.

"We loved antiquing, old houses. We loved open houses, even dumpster-dived together," he said.

Though the Victorian was in bad shape, "Jill really wanted the house, and I really wanted Jill," Tanner said in a phone interview.

After moving in together, they discovered there were issues to resolve such as different work schedules.

"For three nights, I plastered the bedroom ceiling all around her. She never woke up," he said.

They were married in the house, but it was three years after Tanner bought it.

The house cost $125,000 in 2000. He spent another $260,000 on repairs and renovation, for a total cost of $385,000.

Tanner said at the bottom of the market, the house assesses for $550,000.

The equity comes "because we did a lot of the work ourselves."

"I admire people who take on projects like this," Carmen Gerber said. "His life sounded interesting."

Gerber said she came to hear Tanner speak after reading about him and visiting his website.

"He's very talented, and I was fascinated by the before and after pictures of the house," Lea Bush said.

Bush said she graduated from Fort Hays State University and remembers the fraternity and sorority houses from her own college years.

Now also a licensed home inspector, Tanner still enjoys do-it-yourself projects.

"We learned as we went along, and eventually got good at it."