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Saving a Historic Firehouse Breathes Life into an East End Neighborhood
By Sandra Cook • Photography by Jack Thompson

A few years ago, Michael Skelly and Anne Whitlock made a journey from west to east, which took them back in time to discover their future. The couple took a remarkable leap across Houston’s residential landscape, from their polished West University address to the historic, yet rather unpolished, Second Ward area of the Greater East End. It wasn’t a posh residential development that lured them to this area, but a boarded up 1910 firehouse.

While Skelly, founder and president of Clean Line Energy Partners, had hoped to find an old electrical substation to restore, he was instantly taken by the historic firehouse that architect Joe Meppelink of Janusz Design had shown him on a bike ride through the historic East End. Once Skelly and Whitlock fell in love with Firestation #2 and its parcel of surrounding property, they sniffed out a cluster of little Victorian houses Meppelink was also fond of, which were located a eight blocks away, but in jeopardy of being torn down by a townhome developer. 

The charms of the small Victorian houses inspired the couple to consider moving one of them to the firehouse property as a guesthouse. When they approached the developer about moving one of the houses, he said they could have them all if they could move them within two months. Challenge accepted.

Today the restored Firestation #2 is the centerpiece of what has come to be known as the 2East development, rounded out by the six Victorians. Shining as a symbol of the power of preservation and the beauty of adaptation, the project received a 2017 Good Brick award from Preservation Houston.

“It’s wonderful to be among a community of people who value and undertake the stewardship of preserving our city’s history,” says Whitlock. “Old buildings attract people — there is a tangible soul to them. The award also rewards the human ingenuity in adopting new uses for old spaces.”

Skelly and Whitlock employed Meppelink and his wife, architect Marisa Janusz of Janusz Design, and Martha Finger of Martha Baxter Interior Design to reinforce and reimagine the firehouse and the additional cottages as a beautiful home and gathering space. Urban Craft Custom Builders LP was hired as the contractor. The team met weekly at 7 a.m. for two years to complete the conversion of the old firehouse into a residence and renovation of the additional six houses for future occupants.

For the firehouse, the first-floor fire engine bays were transformed into a large entry and event space outfitted with a kitchen/bar, which features an eye-catching custom firehose design within the countertop, created by craftsman James Dawson. The intent was to give neighbor folks a space to gather.

Whitlock says she is thrilled to have created the downstairs as a truly public space for building all types of community. “Neighborhood groups and friends use the space for meetings, fundraisers, retreats and we even have our first wedding in April,” she says.

The second floor, formerly the quarters and offices of the firefighters, was reinvented as an elegant, yet easygoing residence for Skelly and Whitlock with accommodations for visits from their grown children and guests. “I wanted to create a modern living space inspired by New York warehouses I had seen in Soho and Brooklyn, but with a cleaner design,” says interior designer Finger.

Anchored by an open living/dining/kitchen space, Finger says she worked to create smart storage and utilize every inch of space for a specific purpose to facilitate the open feel. “We built in china cabinets with large drawers beneath and a window box seat for essential storage,” she says. Clean, white walls, a recessed black stone fireplace and a large white marble island also enhance the spacious feel — as do the views of downtown Houston.

Whitlock says she loves having eight-foot windows on all four sides of their second-floor home. “It makes me feel like I’m living in a tree house with a birds’-eye view of the neighborhood happenings.”

Another design objective that Finger made a priority was to carve out pockets of intimacy within the floor plan. “Anne wanted very saturated colors, so I created an eggplant jewel box for the cozy TV room, which feels almost magical at night,” says Finger.

To create harmony among all the structures, Finger was inspired by museum campuses, such as Houston’s Menil Collection, that feature a unified design and color theme. She selected the paint colors for the exteriors and interiors of all the Victorian houses. Finger wanted to present a clean slate against the chaos of the broader neighborhood. “Each house is painted a combination of two whites on the exterior — one white on the horizontal surfaces, one white on the verticals — to give them more depth,” says Finger. She drew inspiration from the traditionally Hispanic East End for the bright colors of the exterior doors.

Whitlock explains that moving the smaller Victorian houses to the site to create a community has been one of the most rewarding things about the project. “We all live our independent lives, but invite each other over for spontaneous dinners around the pool, plan events together, walk each other’s dogs and borrow a cup of sugar,” says Whitlock.

In terms of wider community impact, Whitlock and Skelly are flattered that a similar project has blossomed across the street, in which the property owner moved three old houses onto vacant property and renovated all three plus two existing houses. “We have now made a nice community around Champ Burger, a small but significant counterpoint to the onslaught of townhomes happening all around us,” says Whitlock.

Since the completion of 2East and the May 2015 opening of the Metro Rail Green Line, the Second Ward has experienced waves of preservation and renewed interest. The venerable Champ Burger — since 1963 — continues to attract new customers and regulars, while the nearby blocks are now home to a local furniture maker located in the former Admiral Linen building, soon-to-open Sampson Lofts (in a 1912 warehouse), artists studios, all mixing in with churches, residences and existing local businesses. 


Janusz Design

Dungan Miller Design Ltd.

Urban Craft Custom Builders LP
1505 Elmen St.

James Dawson Design
3130 Navigation Blvd.

Martha Finger of Martha Baxter Interior Design

Lush Outdoor Living Inc.
2200 Southwest Freeway
Suite 602

Designer Stone Center
11811 Brittmoore Park Drive



David Denenburg
Rehabilitation and adaptive re-use of Fire Station No. 3 (1903) in First Ward
Denenburg Construction Group, Contractor

Tony Herrada & Peter Boyle
Rehabilitation of their Victorian home (1905) in the High First Ward Historic District
Langridge Enterprises Inc., Contractor

Laura & Evan Michaelides
Rehabilitation and adaptive re-use of the Dentler Building in the High First Ward Historic District
Laura Michaelides, ASID / Four Square Design Studio, Designer
Steve Ista, Ista Construction, Contractor

Luis Roger, Ignacio Torras and Fivos Kazilas
Adaptive re-use of a historic house (1920) as BCN Taste & Tradition in the First Montrose Commons Historic District
Agustin Orozco Design, Architect
Fivos Kazilas, Contractor

FW Heritage LLC
Renovation and sympathetic addition to a historic house (circa 1912) in the Near Northside
David Jefferis/Grayform Architecture, Architect
FW Heritage LLC, Contractor
Lin Chong & Dominic Yap
Rehabilitation of their historic home (1908) in Woodland Heights
Laura Michaelides, ASID / Four Square Design Studio, Designer
FW Heritage LLC, Contractor

Rehabilitation of the Gov. William P. Hobby House (1929) in Old Braeswood
GSMA Inc., Architect
Pintail Construction, Contractor
Moss Landscaping, Landscape Design

Deer Park Independent School District
Renovation of Wolters High School (1930) in Deer Park
George Watanbe, AIA / cre8 Architects
Brae Burn Construction Company, Contractor

City of Houston & Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation
Rehabilitation of The DeLuxe Theater (1941) in the Fifth Ward
Smith & Company Architects
Prime Contractors


Houston Web Design Company