Birney Imes: By way of the river

 

Birney Imes

 

 

Friday morning around 11 o'clock Dick Leike stood on the widow's walk of Riverview and gazed out over the treetops toward the river and the black prairie beyond. The sun had cleared the oak trees in the front yard of the house, and the stained glass of the cupola behind Leike glowed like neon. The cupola is as large as a two-car garage and is, like every other feature of this Greek revival treasure, majestic. 

 

Leike might have been a captain standing on the bow of his ship scanning the horizon for land. Considering how he got here, the analogy is not far-fetched. 

 

Leike, a Realtor, and his wife Jo Anne bought the 160-year-old antebellum mansion earlier this year from Patty Debardeleben of Selma, Alabama, after, as Dick puts it, "spending 10 years trying to sell it."  

 

The Leikes are not sure what they are going to do with the house -- "something positive for the neighborhood, maybe a special events venue" said Dick. They own an antebellum a block up the street and have no plans to move. 

 

They are restoring Riverview's damaged masonry and woodwork, upgrading its HVAC system and supplementing the furniture included with their purchase. Riverview is 60 feet wide, 60 feet deep and 60 feet high; the ceilings upstairs and downstairs are 14 feet. The commitment is considerable. 

 

To call Leike, 73, a Realtor is an understatement. In 1977 he and Harold Crye rented office space in midtown Memphis and opened Crye-Leike Reality. The firm has grown to become the fourth largest privately owned real-estate company in the country with annual sales exceeding $6 billion. 

 

Since 2001, the Leikes have divided their time between Columbus and Memphis, spending the workweek in Memphis and weekends here. How they got here is, in part, a testament to a friendship and their love for boating. 

 

In 1967 the Leikes bought a 43-foot Viking cabin cruiser on Pickwick Lake. They viewed the boat as "their place in the country," a weekend refuge, an hour-and-a-half drive from Memphis. 

 

As boat owners sometimes do, the Leikes found another love, a 57-foot Chris Craft from Holland, Michigan. She was the "queen of Pickwick Lake," said Dick. It had three cabins (bedrooms) and 2½ heads (bathrooms). When it came on the market, the Leikes bought it and named it "Sovereign." 

 

Jump ahead to 1990, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida; the Leikes were visiting friends, the owners of a 71-foot Hatteras. A boat of that size requires a crew, and in this case, the captain and first mate happened to be husband and wife. By the end of their visit, Dick and Jo Anne had begun what would be an enduring friendship with the crew, Barbara and Chuck Bigelow.  

 

In the late '90s, the Bigelows, who had a business at Pickwick and knew people up and down the Waterway, were approached by a Mobile businessman who wanted to open a marina in Columbus. Local businessman Nutie Dowdle joined the group as a third partner and the marina opened in 2000. 

 

In large part due to their friendship with the Bigelows, the Leikes moved Sovereign to Columbus. Their timing couldn't have been worse. On the day of their arrival, the Leikes were having dinner at Woody's on Military Road when the 2001 straight-line winds hit Columbus. 

 

Part of the dock where Sovereign was moored had been upended making the boat inaccessible by land. The scene at the marina was chaotic. At one point, a firefighter approached Dick: "You gotta get your wife; she wants to swim out and get the dog." 

 

The Leikes' Labrador retriever, Sonny, was on the boat. "She was in a big kennel," said Jo Anne, "but she would have drowned if the boat had sunk." 

 

During their weekends in Columbus on the boat the Leikes began walking around looking at houses. They had always wanted to own an antebellum house. 

 

Ned and Sarah Hardin were selling White Arches, an antebellum that combines a variety of architectural styles; some have called the house, "The Wedding Cake House." The Leikes made an appointment to see the house.  

 

"I've sold homes for 50 years," said Dick. "I watched Jo Anne for five minutes and knew it was the right home." 

 

The Leikes bought White Arches in 2002. They've made improvements and upgrades to the house. Three Christmases ago, after owning it for 24 years, they sold Sovereign. "Once we had two houses, I didn't have time for boats," said Dick.  

 

The friendship with the Bigelows has endured; they are neighbors. The Leikes have embraced their weekend hometown. "... a wonderful town," says Dick. 

 

For now, Dick and Jo Anne Leike are spending their time in Columbus restoring Riverview to its original grandeur. In doing so, they are saving one of our foremost architectural treasures. We should be grateful.

 

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.

 

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