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Arts and Culture

There's no place like Oz home, but first it needs a lot of work

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Ryan Delaney
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WRVO
Kathleen DiScenna leaves the Neal House on West Onondaga Street in Syracuse. The house is where the author of The Wizard of Oz met his wife and DiScenna is trying to turn it into a historical site.

It’s been a long time coming for Kathleen DiScenna to get the "magic key to the magic house of Oz." It's really just a screwdriver "until we get our grants and re-do the doors and locks," she explained.

The large Neal House, at 678 West Onondaga Street in Syracuse, was built in 1871. But it’s fallen into disrepair, with broken windows, peeling paint and crumbling fireplaces. No Wicked Witch lived here, but the house on the West Side of Syracuse holds a lot of importance to fans of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its author.

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Credit Ryan Delaney / WRVO
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WRVO
Kathleen DiScenna uses a screwdriver to close up the vacant Neal House on West Onondaga Street in Syracuse.

DiScenna leads the Lyman Frank Baum Foundation, dedicated to the Wizard of Oz author.

They’ve been trying to save this house since shortly after it was sold in 1999 and became vacant. The Greater Syracuse Land Band seized the property for back taxes. That allowed the Baum foundation to purchase the house for a dollar this summer. 

DiScenna is a Wizard of Oz fan and historian. She helped start the Oz-Stravaganza festival held each year in Chittenango, Baum’s birthplace.

But it was in this house – and one room in particular – that another major milestone in Baum’s life took place. He met his wife, Maud Gage.

"And is this is the whole purpose and whole reason why we’re here," she on a recent tour. "Because, according to Frank’s niece, if her aunt and uncle hadn’t met here in this house, there’d be no Oz to talk about."

Story goes, Gage encouraged Baum to write The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from a tale he told their kids. The book is dedicated to her.

DiScenna was good friends with the Baum’s niece, who died in 2005.

The foundation wants to raise $250,000 through grants and donations to start renovations. 

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Credit Ryan Delaney / WRVO
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WRVO
Kathleen DiScenna outside the Neal House in Syracuse.

"The house is in a lot of need of repair. And for me, the saddest part is, watching a house deteriorate all these year and not being able to do anything about it," she said. "Well, now we’re here. I call it the 11th hour and I think she’s ready to be saved." 

DiScenna hopes to convert the house into a museum, creative writing space, and interactive homage to Baum’s life, called OzHome.

"We’re hoping this is going to be one of the most unconventional historical homes you’ll walk into," DiScenna said.

Of course, she’s thinking about replacing the long walkway up to the house with yellow bricks.