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Condemned. Putrid. And with a hole so gaping, a rock could plunge from the roof straight to the basement

This “beastly building,” arguably “the ugliest on the block,” in the words of the eventual Cherokee Street buyers, nonetheless won the hearts of Mark Nevelow and his wife, Dorothy Jones.

If there’s a property matchmaker here, credit the Social Security Administration. Periodic letters informing Mark and Dorothy what, based on their lifetime earnings, they’d be entitled to someday collect, gave them the heebie-jeebies.

What with relocations from their native California to New York, Rhode Island and, 11 years ago, to St. Louis, plus time to raise children and take their share of blows whenever the economy soured, their future “wasn’t pretty,” says Mark.

Thus, finding a building to accommodate not only their own upstairs apartment and a street-level workspace/shop for Dorothy, but also to generate income with a second rental apartment upstairs and a smaller, additional for-rent retail area downstairs, proved a solution.

“This building was as much a piece of financial as physical engineering,” Mark says. Dating to 1911, when it opened as St. Louis Commercial College, the building counted among its occupants dentists and a poultry business, photographers and church-goers.

Also pigeons. Lots of pigeons. So many that when Mark and Dorothy purchased it 2½ years ago, the accumulated debris inside filled three massive Dumpsters.

For seed money, the couple sold their previous home in the Tower Grove East neighborhood. To qualify for tax credits, they’d picked a building in a historic district, in this case the Gravois-Jefferson Streetcar Suburb Historic District.

However, none of this was enough to fund their gut rehab. “I cashed out my 401(k),” says Mark. “I drained IRAs,” or individual retirement accounts.

Two massive garage sales, before spending what turned into two years living in an apartment above their architect’s office, likewise increased cash flow. Still, Mark and Dorothy were “searching for quarters in the sofa,” he says.

Here, Dorothy laughs. She and Mark laugh often and uproariously. In retelling their story, complete with plans for an in-the-works rooftop garden, life is somehow forever fresh.

“I wouldn’t have had any adventures without him. Not one,” Dorothy says.

Her custom-clothing business opened some six months ago, about the time she and Mark moved upstairs. She positioned their art and aligned the furniture.

“I made the project possible,” Mark says. “She made it beautiful.”

Dorothy Jones and Mark Nevelow

Home • Gravois Park

Ages • She’s 59. He’s 58.

Occupations • Dorothy owns Bespoke, a 6-month-old, made-for-you clothing and corset showroom, shop and studio, located at 2650 Cherokee Street;, 314-665-2665. Mark is a consultant with Cognizant Technology Solutions.

Family • Married 37 years, they have a grown son and daughter, and also two cats, Possum and Stuba.

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