What image does the term “fixer-upper” conjure? Maybe a shabby but charming house, needing only a fresh coat of paint and a dab of landscaping? Or what about a house that needs a bath and kitchen makeover?
To Rob Brent, Jane Murdock, and Jason Riggs, it means those things and a whole lot more. It means extreme renovation in the form of removing a storm-damaged second floor, installing a roof where there was none, and even towing a house five blocks from one location to another to prevent its demolition.
All three tell their stories over the course of the next month at events dubbed “Renovators’ Happy Hours” and sponsored by the Preservation Resource Center. Each of the Happy Hour events takes place onsite at one of the projects and offers the opportunity to tour the works-in-progress, learn how the projects developed and find out the secrets behind handling the ultimate challenges that these renovators faced.
3527 Tchoupitoulas St.
OWNER: Rob Brent of Historic Home Recyclers
When a friend asked Rob Brent if he wanted to buy and move a historic shotgun double to clear the way for new construction, Brent turned him down flat. A veteran renovator, Brent knew from experience that it could be expensive and convoluted to move a house to a new location.
But when the associate offered to give Brent the house instead of sell it to him, his interest was piqued.
“I had a vacant lot next door to my house and it would fit there,” Brent said. “So I told him I’d take if it was free and if he helped pay for the move. He agreed.”
Orleans Shoring handled the five-block move after raising the house on I-beams and building a trailer underneath it. A pair of Bobcat tractors towed the house to the location, then carefully backed it up and shimmied it into place.
“It was a tight squeeze because of the location of a utility pole but they managed to get it in,” Brent said. “We had laid the roof down flat to reduce the height of the house for the move, so the first thing we had to do was reconstruct the roof.”
With the house still up on blocks, Brent’s crew completed the construction of the piers that would support it and then Orleans returned to set the house down on its new foundation.
“I made sure to install strapping so that the house is connected to the foundation all the way down to the grade beam that I poured,” Brent said. “When I am dead and gone, my name won’t be in the history books, but some of these houses I have worked on will still be standing.”
Brent’s floor plan provides for a three bedroom, two bath residence, but can be altered slightly should a commercial use seem more appropriate. He expects interior framing to be complete by Thursday’s event.
928 Euterpe St.
HOMEOWNER: Jane Murdock
Jane Murdock knows a one-of-a-kind house when she sees one. Having grown up in New Orleans’ Lower Garden District, she became well-acquainted with some of the city’s finest architectural inventory. But the house on Euterpe Street was a standout.
“I stalked this house for years. It has a wrap-around porch on three sides and 14 pairs of French doors opening out to it,” she said. “It was built about 1840 and designed by Mondelli and Reynolds as a single-story house, but someone added a second floor sometime in the 1920s.”
Although the second story hardly complemented the delicate rounded arches on the first floor, Murdock was willing to tolerate it, until Hurricane Isaac blew through.
“The damage was just too bad and so I decided to rip it off and restore the original roof line,” she said. She has worked with architect Donald Maginnis to effect the exterior changes and plans for the restored home to include three suites: One in which Murdock and her son will live, a second for family members, and the third a guest suite.
“At one point in the project, I couldn’t figure out how I could afford to continue,” she said. “I was lucky, though, because I owned two other properties at the time and I was able to sell them. I poured all the proceeds into this project.”
By the time Murdock welcomes guests for the upcoming Renovators’ Happy Hour, major work will have been completed, including replacing the foundation, rebuilding the porch, and restoring the roofline.
“I hope I’ll have 15 guys over there finishing Sheetrock and painting,” she said, “because I can’t wait to move in. It will be like living in my own theater.”
622 First St.
HOMEOWNERS: Jason Riggs and Susan Phillips
Jason Riggs knew it would not be easy or fast to acquire title to the blighted house on First Street via a city tax sale, but he thought it was worth a try. It took a couple of years before it became clear there was a better course of action.
“I researched the property and found out that there were seven total heirs who owned the house,” Riggs said. “I wound up having to negotiate with all of them to get title.”
In the meantime, the condition of the long-vacant camelback was deteriorating. A structural member on the right hand side had failed, causing the wall to bow outward and separate from the roof. Daylight poured in and nature introduced vines and other vegetation.
“The condition didn’t scare me because we have renovated other houses in bad condition, including our own house a few blocks away in the (Irish) Channel,” Riggs said.
After getting the go-ahead from the Historic District Landmarks Commission and obtaining a building permit, the project encountered a setback.
“There was a two room deep camelback added to the house at some point and we had planned to keep it. But once we got into it, it was obvious that we couldn’t. It meant revising plans and going back to the HDLC and the city,” he explained.
The renovated structure will feature a newly constructed camelback, built according to plans devised by Stephanie Adler of Adler Design Build and it will house three rental units. All usable materials from the deconstructed camelback will be incorporated.
“I reuse original materials whenever I can,” said Riggs.
The project has been delayed while the permitting process has progressed, but Riggs foresees that framing will be complete by the time he and his wife, Susan Phillips, welcome guests to their Happy Hour event at the end of July.