(Mystery) Help Me Find My Staircase!


Old 01-03-14, 01:37 PM
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Location: Philadelphia, PA, USA
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(Mystery) Help Me Find My Staircase!

Forgive me if this is posted in the wrong category, as I could not find one more appropriate. Feel free to move it!

Let me start by saying thank you all for your kind help in the past few years regarding questions from all aspects of home repair: Plumbing, Electrical, etc. This site and its members are great! I now have a big challenge ahead.

Just purchased a fixer-upper in Cape May County, NJ. It's from 1900, and is referred to as a "Colonial", but sure looks Victorian. While the bones are good, the interior needs a lot of work... it looks like it has undergone several renovations and expansions over the past 100 years.

The biggest mystery of all, and one that has stumped everybody so far, is where the staircase was. I know where it is NOW, but it obviously was not always like that, and I'll explain why. I'm trying to figure out where it WAS so that we can see how feasible it is to return it there.

I'll present you with all the information and pictures I have so far, and the investigation continues. Hopefully your suggestions will help me figure out where to look and save some time. The arrow on the map points to the front of the house.

We found out that when you walk in the front door, there was an entrance to the left room < see (A) on map>. It was sealed off, and made into a closet, but the original molding around the frame was still there. It's now been re-opened. I think there was originally a second door, either to the left of the door, or right in front of the main door, as seen in several episodes of Boardwalk Empire.

The stairway comes down, ends in a landing, and then branches off to the left and the right (B). While there is a door frame, and you can see up the steps from the main (Living?) room, it really wasn't meant to be accessible, being that the landing is about a foot and a half off the floor. You have to look at the picture to see what I mean. The two small sets of stairs to the side, as well as the platform, are newer add-ons, and when I ripped up the carpet and popped the steps up, I saw there was carpet underneath, indicating someone just built right over it.

There was a full bathroom installed under the steps (C)(shaded area). When I broke out the (new) sheetrock to the right of the staircase, I was looking right into the tub. Whether this shaded area was originally a closet, or part of the next room, or was just a toilet, I haven't figured out yet. I can tell you there is a full-size window in the exterior wall, as well as a radiator.

What makes me more convinced that the stairway was not originally here, is that when you reach the bottom of the steps, even a 5'7" person has to duck to get under the overhang. I smashed out the plaster of that low overhang, and found an original beam going straight across the stairway.

The small square on the right side of the staircase (when going up) is a small closet, that was obviously not original, because the sides were all made of sheetrock.

The rear-left of the house I believe was an expansion (see dashed area), which you can see from the siding on the house, a slight shift in the floor level, and cracking on the walls. The ceiling in the hallway also dips about 8"

The cellar is interesting, because the ceiling is so high when you first enter it, it's actually walled-off on the first floor.

I can also tell you that the ceilings in the two front rooms are in great shape, but do not appear to be original. I say that because when I smashed out the "closet" to the left of the front door, the ceiling above me is several inches higher than the neighboring ceilings, which tells me that my answer may be found if I smash up both ceilings, which I really don't think I want to get involved in

Pictures are attached, and I will be glad to answer any questions. Please keep in mind I may not have an answer now, but I will be glad to answer next time I get over there. I welcome ANY and ALL suggestions!
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Old 01-04-14, 08:57 AM
czizzi's Avatar
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Just when you think you have seen everything......

Wall off the entryway at the bottom of the stairs, that will get rid of the awkward landing at the bottom of the stairs. Questionable if you will be able to keep the stairs with the low clearance though. The permit office might have a say in that.

Regarding old stairway location. I would suspect that in many houses the stairs to the second floor were usually built and stacked over the stairs to the basement. Peel back some flooring upstairs to see if you can locate any adjustments made to the subfloor.
Old 01-04-14, 09:21 AM
Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: USA
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I think your staircase was there to begin with.
It was (A) steeper, and (B) probably had a landing at the TOP of the staircase, with 1 or 2 steps

I'll guess they added a 1st floor bathroom, jammed it under the steps,
and thus shifted the steps to the right.

Last edited by Hal_S; 01-04-14 at 10:46 AM.
Old 01-04-14, 07:23 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Philadelphia, PA, USA
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Believe it or not, I actually gave a brief thought to both of these.

Hal, I don't think the stairway was reversed because while walking down, the ceiling goes down on an angle with you, and I'm pretty sure that's because the attic stairs are directly above. Besides, I think it would be pretty silly to walk all the way across the house to get to the steps.

Czizzi, walling it off won't get rid of the awkward landing, it just means that it won't be as easy to pass items through that have to go upstairs The landing will still be there, and I will still bump my head.

As for being above the cellar, I don't know if I mentioned it, and I'm too lazy to check, but when you first go into the cellar stairway, there's a LOT of room above your head. I think the "hollow" goes all the way up to the second floor. So while there was plenty of room to have a staircase there, there's no indication that there WAS, so that would mean that someone went through an awful lot of trouble to cover up the fact that it was there.

Thank you both for your suggestions. When I'm there next, I'll look at the possibilities with further detail. My wife is convinced that in a house like this, the stairs almost always have a window at the top of the steps, whereas in this case we don't.
Old 01-14-14, 06:02 AM
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Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Philadelphia, PA, USA
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Ok, so I'm assuming the stairs were originally there, and they were just at a steeper incline than they are now, so they didn't come out as far, and you didn't bang your head.

I figured out the only way to do this would be to push the staircase back by about 17". In other words, start the descent earlier. There is plenty of room in the bathroom ceiling, because I popped the top step apart, and apparently, whomever redid the bathroom left the original ceiling there, and just built another "layer" on it, so the bathroom ceiling (already high enough) is actually about a foot below the landing about your head.

So the new question is, is a landing required at the top of the steps? The way I figure it, the current landing at the top of the steps, minus 17", would effectively make the current landing little more than another (bigger) step.

The only other option would be to LOWER the steps, and the way to do that would be to build a whole new frame above the bathroom wall, so that the landing at the top of the steps would actually be lower than it is now (currently, same height as upstairs hallway)

Thoughts? Comments? Insults?

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