Historic House Hit With Graffiti After Iowa Town Refuses Owner Demolition Permit

Landmarked house covered in graffiti after town refuses permit to demolish it.

July 14, 2010— -- Residents in the historic section of Davenport, Iowa, awoke recently to what appeared to be a horrendous incident of vandalism. Someone had painted huge graffiti -- phrases like "can't we just get along" and "free love" -- on John Wisor's 110-year-old, two-story, clapboard Victorian house. It was a shocking eyesore in a landmarked section of the city.

The East Davenport neighborhood consists of small homes and businesses, which Davenport City Council Alderman Bill Boom described as a "quaint area."

"It looked like [Wisor's house] had been hit by a gang of graffiti artists," said Boom.

The incident has prompted a civil war of sorts in a town which was established on the banks of the Mississippi River a decade before the Civil War. And at the center of the controversy is John Wisor himself.

Several months ago Wisor filed a request with the Historic Preservation Commission to demolish his house.

In a written statement sent to ABC affiliate WQAD and published today, Wisor said the house is "uninhabitable, with burst water pipes, rotted-out sofits, and a leaking roof." And he said, "The house was not on any historical register at the time of purchase."

In the same statement, he made it clear he bought the house, "with the intention of tearing it down and building new." Wisor said he had no interest in restoring the house.

The neighbors are angry, and suspicious.

"When he came, he was quite clear that he wants to tear massive numbers of buildings down and build condos with retail on the ground floor," said local historian Karen Anderson. "His development plan looks like a strip mall."

Wisor's request was denied. The commission said that because the house is in a historic district, it is a landmark and must be protected.

The East Davenport neighborhood is rich with history going back to the war of 1812. Two battles were fought in the area. It was at one time an incorporated town. In 1856, the first railroad bridge spanning the Mississippi River connected East Davenport with Rock Island, Ill. The bridge was the subject of a lawsuit, and the railroads hired a young attorney named Abraham Lincoln to defend their interests.

But Wisor was undaunted by history or the historic commission's decision, which he appealed to the Davenport City Council. His request was denied again. Boom, who is the council liaison with the historic commission, thought that was the end of it. Case closed.

Landmark House Hit With Graffiti After Owner Denied Demolition Permit

Then, something strange happened. According to Boom, workers on Wisor's property used a small tractor to smack the side of the house -- not once, but 15 times. Boom alleged that Wisor had removed the support structures from the basement hoping the house would fall down with the blows.

In his written statement, Wisor called the incident, "a construction accident." He said neither he, nor his contractors have ever been contacted or interviewed by the police about the incident.

Wisor has purchased other properties in the area, with similar plans for new construction, said Boom. Concerned about Wisor's intentions, residents put up posters calling for the protection of the neighborhood.

According to Boom, Wisor responded to the posters with the graffiti, mocking the neighbors by bringing in some helpers to spray-paint the house with phrases like "No Nukes" and "Save the Whales."

"Saving the whales is not a big issue in East Davenport," said Boom.

"He is destroying hundreds of people's property values," said Anderson. She called Wisor, "the ghost of Christmas past, coming out of the blue saying who cares about history.'''

In his statement, Wisor said, "The spray painting of the house is meant to show how out-of-control the situation is and to trivialize a few neighbors' attempts to sway public opinion."

Wisor has the legal right to paint his house any way he wants. He does not face any criminal charges. But Boom said the historic commission could slap Wisor with a $750 civil penalty for violating the commission's regulations.

Boom said that the graffiti "makes a mockery of the East Village," and is simply "disheartening."

ABCNews.com left numerous messages at Wisor's business office, but he did not return calls. He was expected to appear before the Historic Preservation Commission on Tuesday in an attempt to prove that his home is not fit to live in. But the session was canceled and the issue indefinitely postponed after Wisor said he would not appear, Boom said.

Boom called Wisor, "a very determined individual. He does not do well with authority. He feels, and he has stated in public meetings, that 'money talks' and he feels he should be able to buy his way into anything."

Said Anderson, "We've dealt with worse than him, and we will surely overcome this too."