The City Hall enforcers drove to the block just west of Troost near Brush Creek and took pictures of the three-story, red-and-white, barn-style building at 4525 Gillham. Then they tagged Susan Weigand with an "open space violation." That's why she's here now. There are cabinets on the grass, a chest of drawers on the front lawn, upturned patio furniture and huge plastic drums alongside the house. She wanted to move them, but she couldn't. She lives alone. When the inspector gave her less than three weeks to clean up the mess, she felt like she never had a chance.
The tone of the notice was harsh. Failure to correct violations would be "punishable by prosecution in municipal court, with fines up to $1,000 and/or up to a 180-day jail sentence," it said. Maybe it's because Weigand writes novels and screenplays when she's not designing a budding line of plush pants and skirts, or maybe it's because she used to be a corporate writer in San Francisco, translating software engineering rhetoric during the dot-com boom, but when she got that notice, she felt dehumanized. She was nothing more than a number on a courtroom docket.
Weigand has come because she was summoned. She stands at a barren table with a placard labeled "Defense" facing outward. In Courtroom E, on the third floor of the municipal court building, bench seating extends the length of the room in eleven symmetrical rows. People's legal troubles play out in two-minute trials.
The inspector arrives with pictures showing Weigand's violations, stamped with dates starting in late July. She's never met this inspector; a different person inspected her property last year. Housing inspectors get reshuffled a lot within the office of Neighborhood Preservation, but that doesn't matter. The junk is still in her yard. The pictures prove it.
When she bought the property back in 1999, things were different. She was in love with Paul Sebben, a sculptor and professor at the Kansas City Art Institute.
They bought two Victorian houses side-by-side on Gillham, along what city officials call the Troost Corridor. And they laid plans to acquire the firehouse directly east of them. The Gillham properties were riddled with problems, from broken windows to cracked concrete. On Troost itself was the firehouse, squeezed between two jalopy-filled mechanics' shops across the street from the Osco north of 47th Street. The firehouse windows were boarded shut, which had earned its absentee owner a warning letter. A red "FD 31" was faded, and its outside trim had weathered, leaving it as featureless as an unmarked tombstone.
Weigand says it's not her mess she's being cited for. She let another KCAI instructor, Russell Ferguson, live rent-free at her place. He was a slob, Weigand says -- an artist who drew calligraphic lines in perfect symmetry but let his life go to shit when pen left paper. Ferguson split without helping Weigand clean up the debris in the yard, which she says is mostly his.
Hitting bottom in a courtroom in front of a judge is not uncommon. The question is simple: guilty or not guilty.
Weigand's voice cracks. Her cheeks redden. She bursts into uncontrollable tears.
She had a plan, she says. She and Sebben were going to fix all the properties and make the firehouse a studio space, lease it to artists and give them room to create.
When it becomes apparent that she will not enter a plea, the judge takes pity: no fine, but 360 days' probation.
That was late last fall. Before her property became another Troost codes casualty and she was summoned to this courtroom, Weigand had dreams.
That was before she realized that the neighboring landlord owed more than a million dollars in back taxes. Before she bought into a reality in which speculators had claimed dirt-cheap property but done nothing with it, waiting until the neighborhood improved. Before she realized that nobody at City Hall seemed to give a damn about any of that. Before the mechanics' generator next door lost oil and started shrieking, again -- it drives her crazy these days. Before all that, Susan Weigand was naive.
Four years ago, after a disappointing day of house-shopping up north, Weigand and Sebben were looking for the quickest route back into town. On a map, Troost Avenue stretched for more than 100 blocks arrow-straight through the center of the city. The street was a thoroughfare, so they took it.
They didn't know there were crack dens behind the abandoned storefronts or that the blocks between 26th and 32nd streets had once been called Millionaire's Row. Later she would learn that the white residents had moved west, the blacks had moved east and the city had left Troost to go to hell.
When she and Sebben saw the for-sale banner stretched across the ashen front of the firehouse, he pulled over and killed the engine.
Locals like to brag that, counting the sketchers and painters at Hallmark, Kansas City has the highest number of artists per capita in the nation. That makes studio space expensive. Some artists were scrambling for spots in the high-rent Crossroads District. Others were living in lofts in the industrial West Bottoms. Weigand and Sebben were staying on the West Side. That neighborhood was becoming "very aware of itself as an arty environment," she says. "I felt everybody was way too delighted by that."
For Weigand and Sebben, the firehouse near 47th and Troost was a dream yet to be realized. He could walk a few blocks to work at the Art Institute. On weekends, they could pour wine into their own plastic cups and loiter at the Nelson-Atkins Museum.
"There is no other part of the city closer to the cultural center, where your home is next to an industrial space for art," Weigand says. "No other place where you can make as much noise as you want in the middle of the night."
After the city had decommissioned the building back in 1979, the Parks and Recreation Department had owned it, using it for storage until an absentee landlord bought it in a closed-bid auction in the late '90s. The place was for sale again. Weigand and Sebben wanted it, but banks wouldn't give them financing, so the couple asked Weigand's family for a gift.
The couple began negotiations for the firehouse and paid $60,000 for the houses along Gillham. A graveled plot of land stood between the structures. Weigand would put benches back there, decorate it with large rocks and one of Sebben's sculptures -- realistic, life-sized clay models of feet, torsos and body parts. They moved into one of the Gillham houses in fall 2000.
Almost one year later, on October 29, 2001, Sebben stood on the third-story deck of 4525 Gillham, with a full view of the firehouse. He was an introvert, Weigand says. He had relished the idea of moving away from the Crossroads -- of, she says, "being somewhere where it's OK not to be so cool" -- and of buying property and putting down roots. That's why the exact reason for what happened next is unclear.
Friends say Sebben had written a grievance letter to the Art Institute and been fired. Weigand says Sebben was overwhelmed -- he'd let two KCAI graduates board at his home next door; they were supposed to help repair the property in exchange for rent, but progress was excruciatingly slow. On that chilly day, the students were loafing and, once again, Sebben was the only one working.
He stepped off the porch and hanged himself. It was two days before the firehouse sale was set to close. Weigand paid $70,000 for it anyway. It was a fixer-upper, an untouched canvas.
From the street, the firehouse's boarded, arching windows look almost gothic. Barbed-wire fencing trims the property line on both sides. Prostitutes solicit johns here. Men drink in the shadows of the drugstore across the street. The mechanics next door say homeless people lived here a few years ago. They left a dog inside the building one July, and you could hear it whimper as it baked.
The whole street needs help, but an artist working on her own schedule instead of quickly patching eyesores clashes with established norms.
Inside the firehouse, it's freezing. The ceiling sags. The plumbing is shut down. The steel fireman's pole is tarnished. Dressed in a black shirt and a black skirt, Weigand treads past abandoned lockers scrawled with messages like "This chump sucks," "The marines build nuts" and "nasty motherfucker."
"It's not a slum," she says. "And so what if it is?"
Since Sebben's death, Weigand says, she's severed ties with most of the city's art community. "I'm just here doing something, almost in an anti-gravity situation," she says. "I'm not invited to parties. I'm not invited to shows. I don't think I'm even on a mailing list anymore. Unless I show up to shows, I'm almost forgotten about."
But Weigand has joined with other artists to do property rehabs before. In 1994, a band of them began fixing up a two-story, 21,000-square-foot warehouse in Wichita. They repaired windows to conserve heat and keep out the noise of freight trains roaring nearby. They built makeshift rooms out of plywood. Weigand lived upstairs. She'd wake up each morning and look out 6-foot sash windows as the sun's red eye opened against the rolling fields. In the winter, five people crowded around a space heater for warmth.
The artists didn't want to resell the building for a quick profit. They rewired electricity and walked across a slivered floor to a corner faucet, the only point of running water. Four years later, more than 1,000 people gathered downstairs for a gallery opening, the paintings and sculptures illuminated beneath studio lighting.
The Wichita complex is a model for what Weigand hopes to do with the firehouse.
This kind of revitalization has happened before, Weigand says. In the '60s, an artistic band of squatters took it upon themselves to rehab housing in a different city. They fought over codes. The city tried to kick them out, but they dug in their heels. They resettled the Soho district in New York, today dotted by expensive galleries where internationally known artists sell some of their work for millions of dollars. There are lines in front of restaurants and waiting lists for lofts.
"That KC is a backwards city that has devalued itself is to my advantage," she says. "I don't have a frenetic need to make money on something this month. I learned how to get by in a rough building. My standards for comfort are much lower than my parents instilled in me."
On clear days, the sky washes startling-blue against the faded concrete building. The contrasting colors remind her of a beach, Weigand says. Other days she is less optimistic.
"No one gives a fuck what I do," she says. "No one gives a fuck where I am."
She is just another property owner on Troost, sacked with house repairs, charged with a football stadium's worth of space.
Artists moved to the ghetto to restart their lives, but the rules of city bureaucrats are rigid. They don't grant code exemptions based on what a creative person sees in her head -- no matter how grand the vision.
Hanging in the Denis Morgan Gallery near 19th and Baltimore is a 40-inch-by-72-inch oil painting of a little girl standing on a chair. The gallery is only a few blocks west of Troost, but its freshly painted walls and the hundreds of trendy people who attend art openings there each month make it seem far removed.
The painting is part of the twelve-piece "Red Shoe" series by Monika Lin, who says she started painting the series when she arrived from California and moved into Weigand's Gillham house. The inspiration is the old fairy tale in which a girl puts on a forbidden pair of shoes and starts dancing wildly.
"The little girl represents individuality, defiance, open-mindedness," Lin says. "The ideas that go through a girl's head when she decides one day, for the first time ever, that she can reach something forbidden on a shelf if she just stands up on a chair."
In every version of the fairy tale, the girl dances through a dark forest toward exhaustion. She cannot stop dancing. Whether she begs to have her feet cut off or throws herself in front of a train, every version ends in death.
"It is a warning about giving in to temptation," Lin says.
In several places, Lin has cut into the painting and set small boxes in the canvas. These are memory boxes, her trademark. She fills each one with something personal, like clippings of her great-great-grandmother's letters from between 1875 and 1925.
Lin arrived in Kansas City in August 2001, after living in San Francisco for twelve years. As an unpaid liaison for that city's Office of Family Services, she had convinced more than 35 artists to teach creative writing and art workshops for at-risk women and children. In exchange for their volunteer time, the city provided gallery space. Her paintings, retailing at more than $1,000 apiece, are still on display at the Toomey-Tourell Gallery on Geary Street.
But Lin wanted a quiet place in which to make her art. Retreating from the West Coast to the vacant house at 4525 Gillham, she left behind a failed marriage, a comfortable 2,800-square-foot loft and the riptide of city life.
In the evenings, when it cooled a bit, Lin and Sebben sat on the third-story balcony smoking and drinking their way toward night. From the deck, neighboring blacktop roofs rose and troughed like an ocean. Across the backyard, the mechanics' roof glittered with the shattered glass of beer bottles.
Lin says it was like a safe house. She made repairs and started laying beeswax foundations on the twelve pieces of canvas that would become the "Red Shoe" series.
In September, Lin moved into her own two-story Victorian a few blocks north at 3900 Forest Avenue, directly east of the Troost Metro bus station. She had paid $30,000 to buy the uninhabitable home from a mortgage company. The weeds grew head-high in the front yard, and the back fence toppled across the sidewalk. Within weeks, police Drug Abuse Response Teams raided two drug dens in the area.
She would spend more than $20,000 over the next few months salvaging the interior. The place had been abandoned for four months. There were five layers of carpet, seven layers of wallpaper and four separate apartments inside, each sectioned off with its own sink.
She asked a friend, a ceramist, to board rent-free and help with maintenance.
In the weeks prior to Lin's arrival, inspectors were writing tickets on the empty house. They continued to catalog code violations about once every thirty days. In March 2002, inspectors noticed repairs to the wooden fence and realized the property was occupied.
They checked the Jackson County water records and wrote the real estate corporation previously in charge of the property, asking for the name of the new owner. In May they knocked on the front door -- and got no answer -- then began checking the license plates of trucks parked near the driveway.
Working inside the house at the same time, Lin had turned a closet into an ornately tiled bathroom, with brushed metal from a scrap yard covering the ceiling. Upstairs, exposed wiring hung like entrails between rooms where she had knocked out walls to make a studio. She filed down the wallpaper along the stairway to different depths and varnished the resulting collage, and she outfitted the kitchen with purple lights, a brushed-metal table and oak doors cut into cabinets. Termites had eaten holes in the floorboards, but Lin cut each hole into box form and filled it with the same detritus she puts into her memory boxes -- "Epoxy resin and old doll parts from Susan and my grandmother, a collection of buttons from a student of mine and old knickknacks, things that I got from a boyfriend and stuff," she says.
Codes inspectors remained unimpressed with the beauty they couldn't see.
Lin received her first letter in May 2002, noting her property's peeling paint and sagging gutters. Unless the exterior was fixed, she'd face fines or even jail time. Inspectors had waited months to deliver the bad news -- Lin had thirty days to make repairs.
She didn't know that she'd also inherited the previous owner's violations.
At the beginning of March, six city inspectors reported 377 code violations between 31st and 47th streets. Violators usually get 30 days to fix a problem, but they can put off the fixes through 30-day extensions -- for up to 150 days. But many of the property owners are AWOL. The Neighborhood Preservation Department (which employs a total of 26 inspectors) can't possibly keep up with so many cases anyway, so extensions go unchecked. Pictures get lost and have to be retaken, pushing back the deadlines. Some inspectors catalog violations but mail the notices late.
"I don't have an issue with bringing it up to code. I only have an issue with the timeline," she says. "I understand the laws are put in place for absentee landlords and crack houses, but they don't leave any room for those of us who bought the land at a reduced price and are bringing it up safely to an aesthetic."
After contacting the authorities, Lin fixed the gutter and was granted a number of thirty-day extensions for the paint. In October, she purchased three buckets of green enamel and mailed the receipts to the inspector, asking for another extension. She needed to paint canvas instead, for an upcoming show at the Kidder Smith Gallery in Boston.
In reality, artists restoring the interiors of their houses do little to spark color along an avenue where nightclub marquees that once shone like starbursts look like they haven't been lit since the '70s, where a row of three-story brick houses is wrapped in chain-link fencing, or a handful of huge consignment shops all have barred windows. At dusk, when cars barrel though the area, their headlights cut a path between gray skies, gray curbsides and rutted concrete.
People are trying to do something about it. Some of them use paintbrushes, but others use committees, dump trucks, bulldozers and the power of City Hall.
On the second Tuesday of each month, someone fires up the old popcorn machine inside the DeLaSalle Education Center at the corner of Forest and Mannheim, and more then seventy Troost Corridor residents gather around tables to talk politics.
Formed in 1999, the Troost Community Corridor Association is open to any person or business trying to bring development to the area. Working with the city, the TCCA received more than $1 million for public-improvement projects this year. Attendance has risen 40 percent in recent months, and memberships are no longer free.
"I think people say, 'Oh, there's actually an opportunity to do something now,'" says board member Millie Crossland, who also works in the office of Mayor Kay Barnes.
Crossland has seen Weigand at only one meeting and didn't know Lin lived in the neighborhood. But Crossland knows about art and artists. Before going to work at City Hall in June 1999, she worked at Y.J.'s Snack Bar, an artist hangout in the Crossroads.
She also knows about Troost. Crossland lives in Squier Park at 36th and Tracy Avenue.
"I've never been invited to the firehouse, and I'm a fairly connected and hip person," she says. "Troost will be developed either by us coming together and creating the community we want, or it's going to be a bunch of QuikTrips." But the artists, she says, "ignore the organization trying to get everything together."
To help spur redevelopment along Troost, a city-funded "façade rebate" program allows commercial businesses to apply for a 50 percent rebate for up to $15,000 worth of improvements. Another program holds property taxes at their rates prior to improvement.
So far this year, property owners have taken advantage of the rebate program for six projects between 32nd and 35th streets.
"On Troost, risks are more severe than other parts of the city," says Terry Peteete, who rehabbed three houses in the area before trying his hand at a commercial project on the southwest corner of 34th Street. "Buying is not the problem. Value is uncertain." Part of the gamble was offset by city rebate and tax programs.
When Peteete pulled the boards off the entrances to a former whorehouse and dope den at 34th and Troost two years ago, he found a withered Christmas tree hung with ornaments still standing in a corner. Rot from a leaking ceiling covered the floor in black mulch.
Peteete invested more than $500,000 to rehab spaces for a coffee shop, an investment company, a mortgage firm and two as-yet-unfilled buildings, with a third-story apartment on top of it all. He put in a flagstone courtyard and wired the basement with fifty phone lines and data cabling. And he left the windows unbarred.
Inside the Hyde Park Coffee House, lava lamps on glass tabletops give the place a discount-Starbucks feel, and a palette of danishes waits behind a glass pastry case. Owners Lee Wagner and Betty Smith sling coffee only -- no espresso machine yet -- but they serve lunch and push gospel CDs at the front counter.
Peteete's corner stands like a rook amid toppled pawns, towering over a nearby liquor store, a pink erotic-video shop and a warehouse-style church marked by a hand-painted sign.
Peteete needs to finish all the work before he gets his money back from the city. Codes enforcers have hurt him, too, but he doesn't get financing if he doesn't play by city rules.
Last May, Peteete wrapped orange construction netting around his buildings on the southwest corner of 34th Street and went to work. But he fought fire codes mandating that he put in an outside staircase to the third-story loft. He was certain thieves would walk right up the stairs and into the apartment. Putting up a barbed-wire fence to keep them out would have negated the whole point of a community-friendly storefront.
City officials refused his request for an exemption, telling him he had to put in the staircase.
In December, thieves broke into the building.
After a second break-in attempt, Peteete again petitioned for an exemption, and inspectors finally let him rip out the staircase at his own cost -- if he put in a more expensive fire-alarm system.
The city granted a code exemption for his Troost property because of a "real physical threat of harm," Peteete tells the Pitch.
"The city wheels turn," Peteete says. "Not quickly, but well."
Pete Hughes moved to the street two years ago and runs a construction company out of his home. There were once twelve people living in the three-story drug house next door, he says. Hookers turned tricks in a broken school bus beside the front yard. After watching a gunfight there on the Fourth of July, he made plans to buy the place.
Hughes had already rehabbed two properties in the Plaza-Westport neighborhood. Before buying the house next door, he'd gone to the Department of Neighborhood Preservation to check code violations. The house had an unsafe electrical system, no running water, a broken toilet, holes in the walls and ceilings, and it needed porch and roof repairs. He bought the property for so little that he won't name the price for fear it will bring down other property values in the neighborhood. Working with inspectors, Hughes created a long-term plan to fix a building that was constantly being raided by DART squads.
Nonetheless, until his exterior code violations and safety issues are resolved, he must reapply for a city work permit to enter his own property once a month.
"Inspectors never pressure me, because I communicate with them, show I'm making progress," he says. "A mistake a lot of people make is, they blow it off or put it off. That's kind of a slap in the face of the inspector when you do that."
Codes inspector Willie Jamison says his office wants to work with property owners. "Tickets are what we do with absolutely no compliance," he says. "We have to work within the confines of the ordinance. Otherwise, we extend ourselves, put ourselves in harm's way."
Hughes keeps a Siberian husky and a German shepherd mix in separate yards to scare away intruders. He uses a drill gun to unbolt a plywood board covering the doorway to his project. He doesn't know whether he'll use city programs to help him build.
"There are some people willing to bet the ranch on Troost development," he says. "I am optimistic, but I'm not betting the ranch that [the street] will come back that fast. I made my statement by moving here. I cut the trees, painted. I'm here to see what people around me do."
Some neighbors have no clue about the city programs. For them, the street is a storefront graveyard, not a campground for revival.
On the 3100 block of Troost, H&H Records, a 25-year-old thrift shop, is closing.
"Ain't nothing worthwhile down here anymore," says 83-year-old owner Earnest Hughes. "No traffic like there used to be. Ain't nothing up here to draw people down this way." Hughes sometimes goes a full day without one customer. He points to the two-story storefront of Best Deal, a consignment shop using city financing to expand throughout abandoned storefronts on the 3100 block.
On his side of the street, three more shop owners plan to close their doors. "Ain't shit up here now."
One artist skipped dealing with City Hall altogether, moving his cultural statement underground.
Tim Brown has watched Terry Peteete's construction through steel-barred windows at the Telephone Booth, an art gallery across the street. Surrounded by choppy fields and buttressed by piles of rubble and kindling, the shop looks like the lone survivor of a tornado.
"What Terry's trying to do is by the book," Brown says. "Part involves bankers, and if you go that route, you employ lawyers. Like feeder fish trailing a big shark, a whole bunch of people start attaching to the project, and it gets much more complicated."
Brown's space is a one-room concrete shell; he put in a wall between the 12-foot-by-12-foot exhibition space in the front and his workroom in the back. The green-and-yellow Jewel's Salon sign, from a previous occupant, remains painted on the outside window.
"It's an artist-run gallery ... a whole different business model," Brown says. "I'm a low-budget operation." He used to rent space in the Crossroads. The first incarnation of the Telephone Booth started in a whitewashed hallway beside the Dolphin, then ended up next to Y.J.'s Snack Bar on 18th and Wyandotte. He says he left when rent increased.
Brown's new place is "a whole lot more rock and roll," says artist Jay Norton.
Brown paid less than $50,000 for this property. When he first moved in on Troost, the shop's toilet was broken. The roof leaked. He had no electricity, no heat. A jury-rigged drainpipe had left a baseball-sized hair plug -- "a combination dead cat and dreadlock," Brown says -- embedded in the steel-grated back door.
He's since hung miniblinds from metal rings across the windows. Gallery seating amounts to an old couch and a wooden bench crammed in the front of the shop. Behind a white exhibition wall, there's a pile of kindling for the wood-burning stove, along with tools and building materials and a motor scooter. (Brown has a side business repairing scooters.)
At his art opening in March, a dusty, battery-operated radio supplied the background music.
The featured artist's primary tools were computer programs and the printers at Kinko's. Neil Wilson, an economics major at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, had taken data from an old economics textbook that cataloged people's behavior in courtrooms, police chases and daily life, then assigned each a numeric value. Wilson entered the data into an Excel spreadsheet and then, he says, "really fucked with them."
The resulting graphs dip and dive like lie-detector printouts. For some prints, Wilson assigned each scenario's graph a color and then combined the images. Some look like bar graphs, some like musical notes jammed together on a staff. In others, the data twist and turn like a roller-coaster ride. Some prints represent the intersection of many different realities at once. The result is psychedelic.
On a numbingly cold Saturday afternoon, more than 100 people crowded in to see the show. Brown kept a fire burning in the stove, but the concrete room was an icebox.
As dusk settled, people turned to leave. Millie Crossland was there and says she would have liked to warm up with a cup of coffee across the street, but the place looked closed. It was open all day, though, behind tinted windows and a buzz-operated entry system.
"I don't have any heroic civic-mindedness," Brown says of his choice to locate on Troost. "It was cheap, and I'm not afraid of black people."
Weigand's perspective has changed a bit. Maybe it's because she started to understand that bureaucracy is never personal. Maybe she's just found allies with whom she can fight back.
The early March sunshine filtering through the crosshatched firehouse windows casts a ghostly checkerboard at Weigand's feet as she hands half-moon-shaped pieces of Plexiglas upward to a man on a ladder outside.
As a Buena Vista Social Club CD plays in the background, the man on the ladder says the mismatched architecture looks a lot like Cuba. It's Russell Ferguson, now back to help. He's been showing up every morning for the past five days.
Artists don't punch time clocks. They don't do nine to five. And they don't believe in the potential of community meetings where a bunch of white property owners plan the future of a historically black neighborhood.
A young man with a shaved head, wearing a peacoat and heavy boots, clomps upward past the glazed brick lining the firehouse stairs. Nick Roberts, a recent KCAI graduate, has been working on the second floor of the house at 4525 Gillham for the past two months. He put in a new ceiling and installed track lighting and curtains to divide the area between his studio and the adjacent room where Monika Lin once stayed. In a corner, he has tacked a photograph of his work: Smeared layers of brown and red paint combine with pieces of cloth so thickly that the canvas appears almost topographic.
"She showed me that space and told me she'd like to have an artist there," Roberts says of Weigand. "I told her I'd be willing to do whatever it takes to inhabit it. Right now, I'm just trying to get it to breathe, to make it livable. I'm just excited to be somewhere where there is raw space."
Weigand isn't willing to charge rent. She doesn't want to be a landlord.
When the weather gets better, she wants to roll open the heavy wooden doors and invite neighbors to come read and drink coffee and look at the clothes hanging in the corner, skirts and pants and coats from her clothing line. Downstairs, where the fire trucks used to park, is a library of a few thousand used books on metal shelves, ones she and Sebben and Ferguson collected.
Someday she wants to put a printing press in the firehouse and offer the third floor of the Gillham house -- the floor Lin and a bunch of artists finished after Sebben died -- to visiting artists from around the country. She wants students from Paseo High School to do their end-of-the-year art show here. She wants one of her old roommates in Wichita to paint a calligraphic mural on the Osco across the street.
"So what if I'm the only one that wants it?" she says. "So what if I do? So what if I am? Freedom is why artists come into the area. All that happens on Troost is individual."
Weigand leans out the window and slides a rectangular piece of glass into tiny metal brackets. The wood is so weathered she can push the brackets into place with her fingertips. "It's become my life, replacing one square at a time," she says.
Fixing the windows addresses the last code violation currently filed against the firehouse. A warning notice about the windows arrived in the mail on Tuesday, but she's fixing the windows because she wants a better view. Other letters requesting codes compliance lie unopened on her coffee table.
A few weeks later, Weigand bolted a sign in front of the firehouse: Cope and Drag Peculiar Bookstore and Paintshop.
She has renamed the firehouse. She's finally advertising what's going on inside.
The front door has a fresh coat of blue primer. It stands open, behind a white fence that creates a patio space in a driveway where mechanics used to drain oil from beat-up car engines.
Inside are bookcases piled with novels and two lounge chairs facing a chessboard. The interior walls are makeshift, framed by plastic sheeting strung with Christmas lights and bound to PVC pipe. None of the 140 windows upstairs is broken anymore, Weigand says. Only one is still cracked.
Two other KCAI graduates, a sculptor and a painter, saw Roberts' studio and have started to move in. The room next to Roberts' is now painted green. Another room is filled with power tools.
"Maybe I should be a little more interested in what work they do," Weigand says. "But I like Nick. I like his work. For the time being, I'll just see what arrives on my doorstep."
The atmosphere is individual, open-minded and defiant.
At her home on Forest Avenue, Lin created pieces for her show at the Kidder Smith Gallery in Boston, smearing beeswax on canvas and then slathering a mixture of rose petals, leaves, more beeswax, glue and turpentine on top in layers until the white cloth background became a montage of incongruous textures. Then she painted.
When Lin left for the East Coast, she had a cache of 24 fresh paintings.
In early March, she had received a summons from the Neighborhood Preservation office. She'd sent an extension request to the wrong city department, and it had arrived late. Tomorrow she will sit at the defense table in a barren room: Courtroom E, third floor, municipal court.
The choice is simple: guilty or not guilty. But she wants to explain things, she says. Last week, Lin hired a private company to begin scraping and priming. The painting may not be finished in time.