Restoring A Piece of History

Houston Couple Find Their Perfect Haven in an Old House
By Barbara Canetti • Photography by Anthony Rathbun

The renovation and restoration of the corner house in the Lost Bayou historic neighborhood in Galveston was more than a leap of faith.

The house truly was a dump, according to everyone who saw it. It sat unsold for months and months and finally John Manlove, who lived across the street, couldn’t stand it anymore. He bought the house because he was tired of looking at the blight and deteriorating structure.

“It was a big risk, but I am glad I did it,” says Manlove. “And from the moment I got started, there was so much interest.”

In fact, before the restoration was completed, he had sold it to Janet and Phil Leggett, Houstonians who were looking for a weekend house on Galveston Island. Now, just 18 months later, it is the Leggett’s haven –- a beautifully restored and comfortable 130-year-old house.

Manlove hired builder Chuck Morris to complete the renovation. It was more than either of them bargained for. This house survived the Great Storm of 1900, although it floated down the street intact.

Years ago, the 11-foot ceilings in the two-story, 1,600-square-foot house had been lowered to 7.5 feet. To accommodate the lower ceilings, all of the original sash windows were replaced with small aluminum windows.

Manlove pulled out the dropped ceilings and returned the rooms to their original height. But that left a problem with the windows. In order to meet the city’s Landmark Department for exterior renovations (in the historical districts), antique windows had to be found and retrofitted back into the building.

“That was the most challenging part of the job: finding the antique items and putting the house back to how it was,” says Morris, who has restored dozens of Island houses.           “We replaced doors, flooring and windows — all salvaged and reconditioned. It was not an easy job but between the Antique Warehouse and the GHF’s salvage warehouse, we got them all replaced,” he adds.

They also replaced the transoms over the interior doors and found exterior shutters for the windows. And they were able to rebuild the missing upstairs balcony because early photos showed that it had been part of the original structure. Vinyl flooring had covered the long leaf pine floors for decades, but Morris was able to refinish them in every room because they were still salvagable. He even put a compact powder room in the master bedroom in a small space under the stairs.

For their efforts, the house won two awards last year: one from the city of Galveston’s Landmark Commission, and a second from GHF’s Sally Wallace Preservation Award for the restoration of the building.

Once the work was done, the Leggetts took over. Decades ago, the couple lived in Galveston while Phil was a medical student. Janet longed to return to the island, but wanted to find the right place. She wanted something old with character and a house with a master bedroom on the main floor. She found it all in this house.

Rather than paint the interiors a variety of colors, she chose to do all of the rooms in white, despite urging from others.

“I wanted peaceful and serene — not a fussy house. I added color with the furniture and art,” she says. “I’m glad I did it this way.”

She combined a beachy feel with light blues and greens in the furniture, but gave the house a little more personality with ornate chandeliers and some oversized furniture. Because of the large windows, every room is filled with natural light, making the entire place look clean and bright.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the house are the exposed brick chimneys. There is one in the living room, which extends upstairs through the guest bedroom, which provided heat from a pot belly stove. A second one is in the kitchen, possibly used as the stove’s exhaust.

These had been covered up, Sheetrocked over and were crumbling in places. Morris says each brick had to be removed, re-mortared and cleaned and then rebuilt. The end result is truly a masterpiece.

The kitchen reflects a more contemporary look and feel — thanks to a simple solid countertop, stainless appliances, tile in the downstairs bathroom shower and zoned air conditioning/heating. But other than those upgrades, the rest of the house is back to its earlier design, including leaving an exterior wall (and window) in the living room, which once was a porch or a utility room.

Janet Leggett says she could have opted for a larger living room by removing that awkward wall, but instead chose to keep the character of the house intact.

“I just love the feeling here. It is not a lot but it’s enough,” she says.


Chuck Morris Coastal Homes

Javier Ayala


Gallery Auctions

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