A dream home, complete with some nightmares

Couple toiled to bring home back from its sorry shape

John Sekula and Patsy Coccia sit inside their Perry Court home, which was subject to a six-year restoration project to bring it back from its tear-down state.

John Sekula and Patsy Coccia sit inside their Perry Court home, which was subject to a six-year restoration project to bring it back from its tear-down state. Photo By NOW photo by C.T. Kruger

Oct. 2, 2012

The theme of this year's Wauwatosa Annual Historic Homes Tour is that a 60-year-old home can have as much history as its 100-year-old counterpart.

The tour, which has a history of pulling in 800 to 1,000 attendees, is set to showcase six mid-century homes on Oct. 6. Homes on the tour have a history all their own.

Take the one owned by Patsy Coccia and John Sekula.

Setting the standard

When the married couple began looking to buy a new home in 2004, Coccia happened upon a house on Perry Court she absolutely loved. Through the two years Coccia had her eyes on it, the small house, tucked comfortably in a bending cul-de-sac road, became the standard by which she judged other houses during their search for a place to call home.

"We looked at probably about 200 houses," she recalled. "It was getting to the point where we'd pull up in front of an open house and (her husband) would say 'Do you think you like it better than Perry Court?' I'd say 'no' and we'd drive away."

Getting the home wouldn't be fast or easy.

The house had been left vacant for five years by its owner, a man whose failing eyesight had forced him to move in with a family friend. Still, the man didn't want to sell.

Coccia persisted, occasionally calling him, to no avail. Eventually, she discovered that the man had died, a sad realization that at least opened the door to get a look at the house.

That opportunity came when she learned a caretaker would be cleaning the house. She hurried over to get a look at inside. It was an unsettling visit that shook her from her dream state.

Trouble in paradise

"I started asking (the caretaker) questions about the living room. I asked if I could come in and look and she said, 'If you go upstairs, you'd kill yourself.' I thought 'What is upstairs?' "

She discovered that the house was in a condition nearing biohazard levels was. It was infested with mice. There was one room in which a dog had been given free access to defecate and urinate. The plumbing pipes had burst, and the furnace had exploded.

Still, knowing what she was getting herself into, she went ahead a bidding process in an attempt to acquire the house, only to eventually lose it to a home rehabilitator.

"I was devastated," Coccia said. "The floor just dropped out from under me."

Persistence and perseverance

But the couple still didn't give up. Coccia and her husband contacted the home rehabilitator, eventually acquiring the property in a quick turnaround deal.

Now began another test of their patience: a six-year process to undo the damage that had been done.

"A couple of people said that a lot of marriages would not have lasted through this," Coccia said, "It was tough. My husband is a perfectionist, so everything has to be perfect."

Coccia knew her husband was in it for the long haul, but their exuberant cleaning nearly cost them their home. They had been using steel wool to clean when some of it went in the sockets, starting an electrical fire that her husband quickly put out. At least she knew he wasn't intentionally trying to rid them of their project home.

The house stands today completely different from the inside out. Original elements, such as the bathroom tiling and the wood panels by the fireplace, remain, but most of it, including the ceiling and some walls, had to be replaced.

Telling the stories

The historic homes tour, now in its 28th year, features docents who provide information about a house's history. The docents get their information from the Wauwatosa Historical Society's home researcher, who has prepared information on all six tour homes.

The tour costs $14 in advance and $17 on tour day. Proceeds will go to the Historical Society's preservation and education mission.

For information, visitWauwatosahistoricalsociety.org.


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