Chocolate House a sweet treat on Tour of Homes

Deborah Wockenfuss wasn’t going to let a fire keep her from
participating in this year’s annual Siouxland American Red Cross
Tour of Homes.

“Even though I probably lost close to 60 percent of my Christmas
items,” she admitted. “And it was really tough to go through the
decorations one by one, because I had been collecting them for
years.”

The fire department was called to  JL Enterprises — the
Wockenfuss’ business — at 219 W. Seventh St., where a fire started
on the west side of the three-story brick building in the early
morning of Sept. 28, 2010.

“I was storing the decorations on the second floor,” Wockenfuss
explained. “They were Mercury glass decorations and they either
exploded or were blackened by the heat of the fire.”

Many were pitched, but Wockenfuss even held on to some of the
damaged ones.

“I wanted to keep my Mercury glass tree so it was important to
me to save as many a possible,” she noted. “I just put the ones
with the black parts on the back of the tree.”

Among the homes on display for the tour will be Sioux City’s
famous “Chocolate House,” the three-story structure owned by
Deborah and her husband John.

The house, located at 2900 Jackson St., was built during the
city’s most prosperous times: the 1890s. The Wockenfusses have
restored the home with the candy-moniker, which is also referenced
as the Palmer because the occupants who lived in the residence the
longest were members of the Palmer family of Palmer Candy Company
fame.

“We moved here from Sioux Falls, where there isn’t as much old
architecture, to Sioux City, which has so much old architecture
left,” Deb Wockenfuss explained. “I don’t think the people of Sioux
City know what they have here in architecture. I can’t get enough
of it.”

The Palmer Mansion is listed on the National Historic Registry
as the Mylius/Eaton House. The Shavian Queen Anne home, an
architectural rarity built in 1894, features zinc bull’s-eye glass
windows, 8 1/2-foot-tall doors — one with a split door to let air
in — and many different types of wood including quarter-sawn oak,
bird’s eye maple, mahogany and walnut. The house has five-plus
bedrooms, six bathrooms, a library, a drawing room, a formal dining
room, a breakfast room, a master bedroom wing and a ballroom.

Deb Wockenfuss, possibly more creative than Santa’s helpers, has
started the decorating process. The dining room was awash in a sea
of shades of red, with crystal that were given to her grandparents
on their 25th wedding anniversary and her own Old Country Roses
China.

“The last time the house was on the tour, I positioned an upside
down traditional Victorian tree to hang over the dining room
table,” she confided. “This time, I decided to go with the sheer
draping to add another effect.”

At the end of the room, two 3-foot tall Santas keep a watch over
the fruit centerpieces.

“I wanted very much to keep this presentation very Victorian,”
Deb explained. “That means the fruit on the table is not fake. It
would have been real as part of the opulence.”

Wockenfuss pays homage to Palmer Candy, but with a different
flavor from the Bing tree from last time.

“I have a mocha tree, in which all of the ornaments and
decorations are brown,” she said. “Of course, it’s to honor the
chocolate aspect of the company.”

The Wockenfusses have decorated their home with antiques and
reproduction pieces from the period. The only original light
fixture to the house is in the library, which Wockenfuss noted has
its own unusual story.

“This house was the first to have air conditioning, but not in
the library,” she said. “Men would smoke their cigars in here while
the women were elsewhere.”

To plug into the masculine look to the library, Wockenfuss has a
pheasant-themed Christmas tree.

“The skirt is pheasant backs and pheasants adorn the top of the
tree,” she said. “Then, I’ve added red cardinals and blue-jays as
accents.”

Displayed on either side of the not-so-cheep tree are two
striking porcelain Nativity sets.

“I wouldn’t be without them,” Wockenfuss insisted. “They remind
me of what the season is all about.”

With the loss of many of the Mercury glass ornaments, Wockenfuss
decided to incorporate a softer look on what traditionally had been
the tree for that presentation.

“I got some soft, plush figures at Sam’s Club and incorporated
them around the other decorations,” she said. “What won me over was
the proceeds from the purchase of the toys were going to St. Jude’s
Children’s Hospital.”

Since the Wockenfusses purchased the home in 2004, they have
redone all four floors. They have refinished more than 80 percent
of the hardwood floors, renovated the kitchen, refurbished the
ballroom on the top floor, remodeled the master bedroom wing and 
custom-tiled the floor this summer.

“This one,” she said, referring to a white-flocked tree with
very pink highlights, “was one I purchased on the Red Cross Silent
Auction. I really liked the lightness, with its gingerbread men and
ice cream cone ornaments.”

The Chocolate House was featured on the 2008 tour. But
Wockenfuss stressed participants will not get the same experience
this time.

“We are decorating all four floors and our refurbished carriage
house, which has never been on the tour,” she said. “It was built
two years after the house, and we restored it with the original
horse feeders, the original barn door and windows.”

In this area, Wockenfuss has a country tree with lanterns and a
black and red plaid ribbon draped around the ornaments.

“We felt like because this house is on the historic registry, we
wanted a rustic look,” she said. “I also feel strongly about never
forgetting those in the military service, so I plan on decorating a
tree in a red, white and blue theme.”

The decorations will continue outside with a sleigh and
life-sized Santa on the patio. The Wockenfusses will also have
their business, Premier Services, at 914 Jackson St., on the tour
of homes.

“That home has beautiful stained glass windows and a fireplace I
can’t wait to decorate,” she said.

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