Family worries about losing Mo. cave home

Curt and Deborah Sleeper live in a former mine cave in Festus, Mo., with their son, Perry, and daughter, Kian, at right. Curt and Deborah Sleeper live in a former mine cave in Festus, Mo., with their son, Perry, and daughter, Kian, at right. (Andrew Jansen/ Associated Press)
By Betsy Taylor
Associated Press / March 2, 2009
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FESTUS, Mo. - A lot of people are struggling to keep their homes in these tough economic times. One suburban St. Louis family is trying to keep its cave.

That is, a cave that's also a home. Curt and Deborah Sleeper bought 3 acres of property and a cave in Festus in 2004, after they spotted it online. They fell in love with the geography of the old mining site and figured out how to build a house inside.

But they have a big payment coming due on the property and don't think they can afford it. If they can't secure new financing, they have a backup plan - auctioning their cave home through eBay. Bidding starts at $300,000.

"I get the financing, or I sell the property, or I lose everything," Curt Sleeper, a self-employed Web designer and small-business consultant, said Thursday while giving a tour.

In the late 1800s, limestone mining created the Sleepers' bowl-shaped yard at the base of a hill. The 17,000-square-foot cave was hollowed out by sandstone mining through the 1930s.

Festus resident Sue Morris bought the cave in 1958. In 1960, she opened a roller rink there and hosted concerts. The rink closed in 1985. A glass recycling center moved in until 1990, when the property went to a private owner and then a realty team.

The Sleepers enlisted friends to help build the structure. A gray timber exterior was constructed at the 37-foot-tall opening of the cave. Thirty-seven sliding glass doors are used as windows throughout the three-story, three-bedroom home.

The interior walls and ceiling are made of cave stone. Three large dehumidifiers keep the interior from getting too damp or musty. The home also has electric, water, and sewer service.

One plus to living in a cave is climate control. The cave is at a constant 62 degrees. The home doesn't even include a furnace or air conditioner.

Curt Sleeper said the family paid about half of the $160,000 purchase price for the cave up front. The seller agreed to allow them to pay the rest of the property costs after five years. They have also invested $150,000 to build the home, he said.

But the balance of the purchase price is due in May, and the family doesn't have the money. Banks have been wary of offering a loan on the unconventional property.

The Sleepers also are not willing to accept donations. Hence the eBay auction, which has generated a lot of interest. The Sleepers have received about 6,000 e-mails in the last two weeks.

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