The abyss under my guesthouse

53 replies [Last post]
Arks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2010

As many of you know, I'm currently modifying a circa 1900 building to create a vacation rental "guesthouse". One of the rooms that will become a bedroom has a concrete floor that's rough and uneven. The architect decided to jackhammer it out and pour a new slab with a proper vapor barrier under it.

Yesterday the worker started jackhammering in the center of the floor. As soon as he broke through the 4-inch concrete layer, he almost lost his jackhammer into "black nothingness". They enlarged the hole enough to get a light and a head in and discovered they'd uncovered a long-abandoned cistern , and it's HUGE. For those who don't know what a cistern is, it's basically an underground water tank, a reservoir. In the old days before we had a city water system, people would build these underground holding tanks and channel rainwater into them to serve as a water source for the building.

This cistern is round, made of brick and lined with very smooth plaster. It's like an underground grain silo, 8 feet (2,44 meters) in diameter and 16 feet (5 meters) deep. It’s the size of the trailer of a tractor-trailer truck, sunk into the ground vertically! I calculate it would have held 6000 gallons (23.000 liters) of water. I cannot imagine why they stored that much water, unless they were selling it to their neighbors.

Anyway, what to do with it? The contractor wants to fill it in with sand and pour the new concrete slab over it. But it's such an amazing work of craftsmanship, I hate to think of it lost forever. One option would be to put a spiral staircase in it, light it, and make it a feature for interested guests to study. Of course the top of the stairs would need a rail around the opening like any staircase, and a child gate. But I know you're going to say that would be a strange thing to have in a bedroom.

Another option would be to cover it with a vapor barrier and concrete so it's capped off safely, but still there in case someone wanted to open it up in the future. I just hate to fill it in and forget it because it took such a huge effort for someone to build it!

__________________

All saints can do miracles, but few of them can keep hotel. ~ Mark Twain

 

Breakfast Diva's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/26/2009

Way cool!

Arks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2010

Without the flash it would be complete darkness. I don't think you could light it without the light reflecting in the water. I might consider photoshopping out the flash though.

Yes, it's fun to show it to people and ask what they think it is. Eye, outerspace nebula, there have been many guesses. Nobody has ever guessed cistern.

Madeleine's picture
Offline
Joined:
09/29/2011

Yes, that's what I meant...photoshop it out. Make it hazier somehow as I think that will really create the illusion of looking into an eye.

__________________

Everyday, for good or ill, we intersect with some else's story and become a part of it.

 

Arks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2010

True story: I made a high resolution photo looking down into my cistern with my digital camera. It shows water (6 feet deep) 10 feet below ground level. This place has been in total darkness under a concrete slab for about 100 years. Now it's the star attraction.

I took the camera chip to Walmart, stuck it into the slot in the photo department and selected Poster on the touch screen. Fifteen minutes later, for $19, I was holding a big 30" x 20" enlargement of my photo. For another $18 I got a frame for it and put this $37 work of art (below) in my sister's variety store downtown for $75. Today (3 days after I put it there) somebody bought it!! This weekend I'll make another one.

Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

 Well that is cool.  Do you have a "museum" setting on your camera for no flash?  Experiment with some different settings and see what you come up with. Maybe general lighting from top area somewhere. The this effect is actually kind of interesting. Like someone said...like looking into an eye.

Offline
Joined:
08/04/2008

Joey Camb's picture
Offline
Joined:
04/02/2010

you have to do a few and sell them as part of your gift range!

__________________

Don't mess with me today or I will kill you!!!!

 

Kay Nein's picture
Offline
Joined:
02/13/2012

 That is SO COOL!  What a neat picture.  Congrats on the easy profit =)

gillumhouse's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

We were set up at an art fair once years ago and the couple next to us started laughing - HARD laughing fit. We asked what was so funny. They pointed to a couple about a block away by now and told us that they had just for the heck of it, framed their paint rag (what they wiped their brushes on when doing their paintings) and that couple had just bought it.

Congrats on the sale.

Madeleine's picture
Offline
Joined:
09/29/2011

What does it look like without the flash? I find the flash distracting. But it is a cool photo.

Weaver's picture
Offline
Joined:
01/24/2012

How cool!!

It looks like an iris of a person's eye.

 

Offline
Joined:
10/07/2008

 Quite possibly the oddest story I have heard...all day. But money was made, and interest was had! 

You had my concern with this funky cistern

that it could have been a real downturn

but you turned on the lantern and knocked out the nocturne

to display this wonderful cavern

__________________

Gluten free is never free. - Joey Bloggs

 

Ice
Offline
Joined:
02/22/2010

Sweet!

__________________

"Do not put off until tomorrow what can be put off till day-after-tomorrow just as well." Mark Twain

 

Arks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2010

Click here then scroll down to the photos of the wine cellar!

Happy Keeper's picture
Offline
Joined:
10/24/2011

love it

__________________

Take a leap and a net will appear

 

YellowSocks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

http://www.snopes.com/horrors/freakish/window.asp

Slight variations, but true.

Offline
Joined:
08/04/2008

Whatever you decide- as long as you don't fill it in, cover it up, and lose it forever.

Happy Keeper's picture
Offline
Joined:
10/24/2011

wine cellar

Offline
Joined:
10/07/2008

 Hey you are the one who called it "The Abyss"   now you compare it to a 12 foot ceiling in a room below.  This is what I mean, you can use it or conceal it. ie let people know about it or not. For what it's worth, be sure to wear your closest Indiana Jones hat when you do it.

Arks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2010

Joey Bloggs wrote:

 Hey you are the one who called it "The Abyss"   now you compare it to a 12 foot ceiling in a room below.  

Yes, the wording needs to be worked out. It's definitely closer to sleeping on the second floor of a 2-story house than being suspended over an abyss.

Maybe I should describe it as a two-level bedroom with the bed upstairs and a water reservoir in the lower level.

No, that's not the wording either, but better than the abyss!

Offline
Joined:
10/07/2008

Arks the real question is AFTER you do what you do, what will you tell people? I wouldn't stay there with that below the building, me personally, it creeps me out.  It could be a pro or a con.

Arks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2010

Joey Bloggs wrote:

Arks the real question is AFTER you do what you do, what will you tell people? I wouldn't stay there with that below the building, me personally, it creeps me out.  It could be a pro or a con.

Would you sleep in a room with a basement under the floor? Or a second floor room with 12-foot celings in the room below you? Would you walk out onto a hotel balcony suspended off the side of the building? Will you drive over a bridge?

Yes, I know, this is still different, and will never be popular with 100% of the people.

One nice thing is that, if it proves to be a problem I can always fill it in and be done with it later, but if I fill it in now, it's gone forever.

gillumhouse's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

Could it be a suite? Rather than a spiral staircase, a staircase that goes around the wall with the TV and chairs (perhaps hide-a-bed chairs or sofa) that would make it usable as a second bedroom for a family or 2 men/women needing 2 beds and privacy. Other than than, I like the plexi idea - but you would have to explain it on your description. Someone with vertigo would NOT like that room!]

Other than that, you might want to retain it as a possible cistern again. One never knows what will happen with water systems - could be used to water your landscape and save on your water bills.

Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

  I don't think I would want to climb down 16 feet to be in an 8 foot round room... and no windows....sounds like torture chamber to me. No way!  Personally, I like the plexiglass idea or just cover it all up.

Offline
Joined:
05/30/2008

I agree, Catlady.  Four words come to mind, "Silence of the Lambs"....  creepy.

__________________

People don't notice whether it's winter or summer when they're happy.
~ Anton Chekhov

 

Arks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2010

Samster wrote:

I agree, Catlady.  Four words come to mind, "Silence of the Lambs"....  creepy.

Yes, I'll need to keep a throw rug to put over the "window" for people with vertigo who find it unsettling, but I think there are a lot more people who would find it fascinating to inspect.

Indeed, going down there would not be for people with claustrophobia. My brother won't go into a cave to save his life, but I love them.

gillumhouse's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

Thank you for understanding what I was getting at - it would be something VERY different and not for everyone. Since the guest would have to turn on the lights, they would probably never know it was there otherwise - without the lighting it would be so dark it would not be noticable probably.

I was serious though about gathering the rainwater if you did not do the lighting route. Put a floor over it and use the water for landscaping so you would not have to do testing etc but would be GREEN by saving water. It would appeal to the GREEN crowd.

Arks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2010

gillumhouse wrote:

I was serious though about gathering the rainwater if you did not do the lighting route. Put a floor over it and use the water for landscaping so you would not have to do testing etc but would be GREEN by saving water. It would appeal to the GREEN crowd.

Yes, that's another advantage of keeping it. No end to the future possibilities that way, vs. filling it in. Then it's gone forever, because if we fill it in the contractor wants to fill it in with sand mixed with a little mortar so it gets hard and seals better than sand alone.

Joey Camb's picture
Offline
Joined:
04/02/2010

you know what would be doublely cool? use it for water but plexie glass over it so it is like a water feature for that room! Sell it as a green feature of your place ie grey water is used to flush toilets that sort of thing?

Silverspoon's picture
Offline
Joined:
10/16/2011

I love the idea of plexiglas and lighting as well.  One of my big disappointments was destroying  the cistern that was in the basement of this old house when we put the addition on.  We were told that there was no way to get a foundation for the addition without sacrificing the cistern.  I always wonder if we might have been able to save it with a more creative solution like you are considering.  Go for it!  It will make a unique feature for your B+B and, the way the climate is changing, you may need it for water storage one of these days.

__________________

Gardens are not made by singing "Oh, how beautiful" and sitting in the shade.
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

 

Arks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2010

I like the lights and plexiglass idea too! That way I could bypass, for now, the expense of building stairs down into it and worrying about the extra cost of liability insurance for people to go downt there, but it could still be seen and appreciated, and it would still be there if I ever decided to make greater use of it in the future.

I'll just have to convince the architect that his engineer can come up with the proper grade and thickness of plexiglass to be safe to walk on.

Madeleine's picture
Offline
Joined:
09/29/2011

The one I saw was actually set up like a wishing well with a wall around it. You could look in, but not walk on it. The plexi was for those idiots who would climb over the wall! If it's right in the middle and having a 'wall' would be really odd, then having the throw rug handy for the vertiginous would be nice. You could also set chairs near it with a moveable table on top.

Arks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2010

Madeleine wrote:

The one I saw was actually set up like a wishing well with a wall around it. You could look in, but not walk on it. The plexi was for those idiots who would climb over the wall! If it's right in the middle and having a 'wall' would be really odd, then having the throw rug handy for the vertiginous would be nice. You could also set chairs near it with a moveable table on top.

Yes, I want some of that unbreakable stuff, stronger than Plexiglas, that you can walk on, like they used on that thing that hangs off the side of the Grand Canyon. I've also ridden in an elevator with that kind of floor so you could look down the elevator shaft and see the workings of the thing.

It's not in the center of the room, but toward one end. One side of the bed would be above one edge of the cistern, but the "window" to see the thing would be 8 feet from that, over near a wall.

Madeleine's picture
Offline
Joined:
09/29/2011

Not thinking you need anything the strength of that skyway! But, hey, you know guests. Someone would jump on it.

Arks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2010

Madeleine wrote:

Not thinking you need anything the strength of that skyway! But, hey, you know guests. Someone would jump on it.

Exactly. It will only be a window about 3 ft. x  1 ft., resting on a steel support, but yes, I was imagining college boys jumping on it.

Seems like I remember a few years ago about a young man working in a high rise office building who liked to run and jump against the windows, to scare the women in the office, and one day he was showing off and the window broke and he fell to his death. Can't remember if it was true or urban legend, but imagine the regrets he felt as he fell 50 stories.

gillumhouse's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

Seems like I remember a few years ago about a young man working in a high rise office building who liked to run and jump against the windows, to scare the women in the office, and one day he was showing off and the window broke and he fell to his death. Can't remember if it was true or urban legend, but imagine the regrets he felt as he fell 50 stories.

True

Offline
Joined:
03/11/2009

My B&B still has a cistern but not in use,its outside. Has a heavy wood top, now with pots on it. Its my kitchen herbs garden. Also have a rental with a well in the back sun room, was outside the house years ago but as the house grew it was swallowed up by the house. It is covered up with a heavy wood top. My well is in the parking lot but covered by a cement slab and gravel. Old homes have all sorts of quirks.

__________________

Mary in Virginia

 

Joey Camb's picture
Offline
Joined:
04/02/2010

Im with the lighting and plexie glass brigade. Ill have to take a photo of something similar we discovered in my street - an ancient well so the council made it into a feature with lighting and a plexie glass cover that way anyone can see the feature and it isn't lost. I am sure this could be done for your tank.

Madeleine's picture
Offline
Joined:
09/29/2011

saw a neat idea on HGTV- cover the hole with plexi so you can still see into it and make it a feature in the floor. It would need lighting. But it could be a real conversation piece.

(We have an inground pool under our driveway.)

Offline
Joined:
02/18/2012

Madeleine wrote:

saw a neat idea on HGTV- cover the hole with plexi so you can still see into it and make it a feature in the floor. It would need lighting. But it could be a real conversation piece.

(We have an inground pool under our driveway.)

I think I saw that special too. It was below their kitchen, and they had a portion with plexiglass on it maybe 2-3ft in diameter and had a switch to turn the lights on at night in the hole.  Turned out really neat.

Offline
Joined:
05/30/2008

Very cool.  That's a pretty large one.  People here have found them under their homes near the river. 

Arks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2010

Weaver wrote:

 How about a meditation room, sanctuary, reading room?

 

I suspect they'll be up to hanky panky down there.

I really do think it could be a unique feature to offer. Nobody else has one!

Hillbilly's picture
Offline
Joined:
10/22/2011

I think you would have some guest that would really like to use that for some Hanky Panky.  Could be some fantasys forfilled down there!!  Kinda weird,

but you know its true!

__________________

Hillbilly

 

Arks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2010

Bob wrote:

I think you would have some guest that would really like to use that for some Hanky Panky.  Could be some fantasys forfilled down there!!  Kinda weird,

but you know its true!

Ah yes, the dungeon. Put in some chains bolted to the wall, and one of those Iron Maidens. It does indeed take all kinds to make a world!

Weaver's picture
Offline
Joined:
01/24/2012

If it twer me, I would keep that feature alive and make it a real show stopper.  So many possibilities.....

Weaver's picture
Offline
Joined:
01/24/2012

How about a meditation room, sanctuary, reading room?

OH and the best one, wish I had one: Cheese cave.

 

YellowSocks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2008

Tornado shelter?

Kiva?

Spare bedroom?

I was at an innkeeper meeting once and someone asked if anyone else ever had dreams about finding more rooms. I do! All the time! Last week I dreamed there was this whole section in a basement under my first floor bedroom... and you've actually found one. Wow!

=)
Kk.

Arks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2010

Yes, my thought too! But we can't serve wine and I'm not storing own down there. Guests would drink it!

Arks's picture
Offline
Joined:
05/22/2010

No, no moisture problems. I guess the 4 inches of concrete over it blocked it well enough.

We'll probably put a vapor barrier over it and re-cover it in steel and concrete and leave it alone. I can't bring myself to fill it in permanently. We'll get lots of photos while we have it open. It's kind of historic.

Innkeep's picture
Offline
Joined:
06/04/2008

 Wine cellar?

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.