The Queen Ann style showplace facing Kellogg Park in Plymouth was built in 1901 by William F. Markham, President of the King Air Rifle Company. It was the first of many small manufacturers producing the toy guns which made turn-of-the-century Plymouth the "Air Rifle Capital of the World".
Markham built the 17 room residence, not for his wife and two children, but for a young Secretary named Phoebe he had hired shortly after her graduation from high school. Apparently she had qualifications in addition to her stenographic skills.
Originally, in the side yard, a continuously flowing fountain spilled over into a large reflection pool. A pergola, gazebo and statuary were focal points on the extensively landscaped grounds. The grounds also proudly displayed exotic plants, unusual trees and rare shrubs that Mr. Markham imported from around the world, including Amabilis Peonies, and Ginkgo, Black Magnolia and Copper Beech trees.
Markham’s wife would not agree to a divorce, so he built the big house facing the town square and lived there quite openly until his wife died. Even after he had married Phoebe, the townspeople continued to reject her and she was quite unhappy. It is reported that local mothers would instruct their children to turn their backs to "that hussy" when they encountered her on the streets. The shutters on the second floor of the front porch were installed to provide more privacy because passers by would point their fingers and hiss when they saw her relaxing in her porch swing.
Markham sold the house to George and Harriet Wilcox in 1911 and moved to California where he bought land that later became Hollywood. He was very wealthy when he died in the late twenties.
On the first day in his new home, George Wilcox took a hammer to the wrought iron "M" (for Markham) in the grill work over the front gate, removed it, gave it a half twist and reinstalled it as a "W" (for Wilcox) where it identified many subsequent years of ownership by the Wilcox family. George and Harriet raised three children in the house, Julia, Katherine and Johnston (Jack).
During World War II, the federal government asked to use the house as a residence for war workers. The government made it into apartments and removed most of the special millwork and extensive landscaping. When Jack Wilcox returned from Navy duty after the war, he bought back the lease from the government and continued to operate the apartments. He did most of the maintenance work himself and was able to acquire nearby real estate with the eye to eventual consolidation and development of this important downtown location.
In 1985, after consulting several different developers, Jack chose a group headed by a local friend, Buzz Ray, to build a condominium project. Buzz and his associates lacked the ability and experience necessary to complete a project of this magnitude. They couldn't arrange financing and he was eventually required to resort to painful litigation to dissolve the venture and start over with a clear title again in 1989.
He entered into an agreement with the Marcello and Silvio Building Company to develop the project. The exterior of the house was redone. A new roof was put on, new redwood siding was installed (six linear miles at 40 cents a foot), new front pillars were hand made, thermopane windows were installed, and the original stained glass window was reinstalled along with many new pieces of wood trim that were copied from the originals. This project also eventually failed.
By the late 1990’s, Jack was now over 80 years old and his heart began to fail. He was in and out of the hospital. In 1999 he met Tom Pomerolli who introduced him to his partner, Stan Dickson. They presented him with a plan that perfectly matched his longtime vision. They proposed to develop a six story condominium project around the house which they proposed to restore to its original grandeur as a single family residence. Jack took them at their word and trusted that they would fulfill their promise and develop his long awaited project, even though he knew that he might not live to see its completion. Jack, in fact, passed away in 2000.
Tom Pomerolli and Stan Dickson has a falling out and dissolved the partnership with Stan acquiring sole ownership. Thereafter, the original zoning for Jack's approved condominium project was lost. The property was later put on the market. Stan was willing to develop the property with a new partner or sell it. The recession came along and property sales and development generally stalled.
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