The property at 1101 N. Washington St. was initially built in the early 1900s for a prominent auto industry businessman named J.W. “Billy” Johnson.
Nowadays, that address might be more recognizable as one of the furniture stores that have taken up occupancy in the past decades. Stores such as Shirley Home Furnishing and Granny’s Furniture once operated from the three-story building. Soon, Best Deal Home Furniture will move in.
The furniture chain’s South Washington Street location, which has been open for 19 years, will not close. There are also locations in Muncie and Anderson.
The building’s historical significance isn’t lost on Jerry Snow, manager of the shop. He remembered going to Shirley Home Furnishing when he was young.
He also plans to have a focus wall near the first floor counter that will display the slogan “Kokomo on the grow” and recount the building’s history via Kokomo Tribune articles.
“This used to be nothing but furniture city down at this end,” Snow said. “We just thought it’d be interesting to come up this direction and just see if we can get it to revive again.”
Best Deal Home Furniture’s northern location is not open yet. Snow explained there a few finishing touches to install before doors can open, but he hopes to let customers in next week.
A Jan. 8, 1988, Tribune article explained the red brick building was initially constructed in the early 1900s. The home’s architect Robert L. Young also designed Grace Methodist Church and the Elwood Haynes house (which is now a museum).
After Shirley Home Furnishings purchased the building in 1945, the furniture store underwent two expansion projects in the 1950s. The projects added more space around the first two floors.
Now standing at 22,160 square feet, Best Deal Home Furniture purchased the building in March 2021.
“I’ve spent a lot of hours in this building by myself,” Snow said. “Me and the building have bonded.”
The first renovations, Snow explained, fixed leaks in the building’s third floor.
But the majority of the changes have been cosmetic, the manager said.
For example, the shop’s old carpet has been replaced. In the store’s office area and in the basement, the carpet has been replaced with linoleum. There’s also a fresh coat of paint and new crown molding.
What was once the house’s side bay window has also been filled with a fake wall. Snow explained the bay window was filled in as a safety precaution — he didn’t want to take the chance of children jumping around furniture.
In honor of the building’s original architecture, a window was left in the fake wall. Additionally, a raised platform covered with fake grass will be decorated to match changing seasons.
Walking inside the barrier of the house’s original walls, Snow gestured toward a fireplace. It isn’t the original fireplace, he noted, but you can still see a pipe that fed gas into the building.
In the same room, the house’s original brass chandelier is hanging from the ceiling. Snow refurbished the light fixture, adding a coat of paint to make it feel more modern. There’s another refurbished chandelier on the second floor, Snow said, but it isn’t original to the house.
The wooden archways throughout the house are original, though. Snow said they just needed a bit of polishing when renovations started.
Also on the building’s second floor, the former bedrooms of the Johnson family have plaques indicating which family members slept where. There are four bedrooms — one for each child, one for the parents and one for guests — that now show shoppers how a room could be decorated with the store’s furniture.
The Tribune’s 1988 story notes “Men with last names of like Ford and Firestone were often guests … .” However, Snow isn’t sure whether the visiting automobile leaders stayed in the second floor guest room or the third floor.
Although the manager remembered seeing furniture on the third floor when he was young, Best Deal Home Furniture has decided not to display inventory on the top story.
The steep, narrow stairway didn’t seem like an inviting way to show visitors furniture, Snow explained. There’s also a chilly draft.
Instead of furniture, the space — still adorned with old green carpet and vintage light fixtures — will likely be used to store files. It’s closed off from the rest of the shop with a special door.
Snow mentioned rumors of the house being haunted, but he said he doesn’t believe in ghosts and none have appeared yet.
“If they do, I look at it this way, I’ve got beds and everything for them now. They could have a nice place to sit,” Snow joked. “They should like me.”