Revival on the Boulevard
A Look at the Determination to Restore One of The Houston Heights’ Originals
By Susan Fox
After photography by Anthony Rathbun & Miro Dvorscak • Before photography by George Szontagh
Editor’s Note: At press time, we were alerted this house is on the market — represented by Blvd. Realty. The owner says he is ready to pursue new projects. We know he will continue to do what he has done here: lovingly save a piece of Houston’s history. And, we wish him much success.
If you’ve ever driven up and down Heights Boulevard, perhaps you’ve seen this house — with its rather unique dual cantilevered upstairs windows, gracious front porch, and a long seasonal front garden flowering against a stately wrought-iron fence.
If you possess a really long memory, then you might remember its past as a thoroughly disgusting flophouse that attracted vagrants, drug users and vermin. Sadly, the house — built in 1906 by a Heights developer, William A. Wilson, who was known for building well and with fine architectural detailing — had spiraled into decay over the years as previous owners became less than responsible stewards. (Wilson also later platted The Woodland Heights and designed Hermann Park.)
It so happens Tim Fabio has a fascination with dilapidated houses with good bones and great potential. Back in 2003, the house caught Fabio’s eye as he drove nonchalantly by it on his way to work. He noticed the “For Sale” sign repeatedly thereafter. He saw the sign removed and then re-planted back into the ground, and then it was removed again and reinstated as well.
Little did he know at that time of the journey he and this house would take together. In the end, not only did Fabio successfully restore the home — thanks to sweat equity, loans and friends — but he was awarded the 2009 Good Brick Award, the Stewart Title Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation from the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance.
Fabio also went on to receive from Preservation Texas an Award for Excellence in Preservation, in addition to a Community Improvement Award by the Houston Heights Association.
Everyone who knows him agrees: Fabio was drawn to the house like a magnet to steel. His colleagues called it his “house crush.” Whatever it was, he was hooked at the get-go. He began drawing sketches and visualizing how it once looked — and what could be done to restore its glory and historic significance.
That fateful day, 12 years ago, he came into his office and announced to all that he had made an offer to buy the crazy horrible Heights Blvd. house. This occurred after more than a year of watching the For Sale sign go up and down without ever closing. Everyone thought he was crazy, thinking it was too far gone to be saved.
“Against all advice from friends, I pursued financing,” says Fabio. “Lenders were very enthusiastic until they actually saw the house. One look at it and their interest in the project vanished. Comercia Bank finally agreed to fund the purchase, but only if it funded the restoration as well. So rough plans were drawn up and a hasty made construction estimate prepared. Suddenly, the house was mine.”
“I knew the budget was tight, so after my contractor pulled permits, I went to work removing add-ons, opening old doorways, and giving away appliances from nine tiny kitchens,” he says. Previous owners had turned the historic old home into an apartment building and had even tacked on a poorly thought-out duplex to house more tenants.
Fabio’s work was cut out for him. “A friend and I removed, repaired and reinstalled each window in its original opening — all with new ropes and the original weights that were recovered from inside walls where they had fallen.”
“As crumbling wallboard was removed, the house gave up more clues to its original floor plan. Some areas had gone through so many states of evolution that I couldn’t be absolutely certain of the original design. But studying plans of similar William Wilson houses helped fill in the gaps,” explains Fabio.
“Two years, two contractors, one loan increase and countless anxiety attacks later, I moved in. I love coming home to this house, and I think it really contributes something to the boulevard again,” says Fabio.
The house was built 107 years ago for George T. and Rosetta C. Jones. George Jones evidently was at one time a Realtor, a grocer and then a chicken breeder. After he died in 1926, it appears, thanks to a review of city records, that Rosetta Jones began taking in boarders. Fabio thinks that was likely the beginnings of the carving up of the house. That trend continued through the 1930s. A cast iron kitchen sink in one of the converted upstairs bedrooms was dated 1940.
Among the residents who lived at the house in the 1950s, according to city directories, was Lottie C. Jones, who was believed to have been George and Rosetta’s daughter.
John S. Pfister
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