Written by Joe O’Donnell
Photography by Chuck St. John
It is coincidental that a modern tool like Zillow displayed on an iPad could lead you back almost 100 years to a brick home in Avondale, sitting vacant for the seven years previous. But there it was, first on the iPad and then in person. My wife found it, and when we walked in, we knew that somehow this could be ours.
Built in 1925, the house (two stories with a full basement) was turned into four apartments sometime in the late 1940s. Originally, it was a single home built for the Hinkle family in the mid-1920s. I went to the library to get some background on the house after we purchased it in March 2014. I found a photo and some ownership documents. In the 1930 census, Victoria Hinkle is listed as living in the house as a widow with four children, two boarders, and two servants.
As far as we can tell, two other families owned the house after the Hinkles, but the details are murky. When we walked into the house for the first time in the spring of 2014, the main floor was a large apartment entered off the porch through the sunroom. The front door led to a foyer and stairs to two upstairs apartments. We opened that front door and saw a beautiful staircase bathed in light from windows on the landing. You could tell this was a house that was lovely just beneath the surface.
It took about nine months to uncover that loveliness with the help of contractor Mike Holliday of MP&K Construction. The goal was to turn the house back into a single-family home that would have the authentic feel of the original 1920s construction. The electrical, plumbing, and heat and air all had to be replaced, but the walls remained (with the exception of a couple that had to come down to reopen partitioned rooms). The moldings and woodwork were all salvageable with the electrical work pulled through the baseboards to preserve the plaster walls. The two fireplaces were originally coal-burning. They were restored with gas coal fireplaces. The heart pine and oak floors were reworked with tung oil applied for a natural finish.
My wife took heirlooms from the homes of her grandparents and used those antique glass door knobs and light fixtures (even a dough board now placed in a new cabinet) to merge pieces of her family history into this newly restored home.
We moved in mid-June 2015. I was walking down the front steps on a Sunday morning when a car with Texas plates pulled up to the curb. The window opened and a man leaned out and asked if these were still apartments. No, I said, we renovated the house and just moved in a few days before. Two brothers were in the car with their wives. One lived in Texas; one in Georgia. But they had spent their early teen years in this house, and their father later created the apartments and sold the building in the 1960s.
We walked through each room and they told stories of how their father had delivered groceries here to Mrs. Hinkle in the 1930s. He had always loved the house and when he grew up and had a family, he bought it. They remembered records in the sunroom and opening the door onto the porch where they danced in stocking feet late into the night.
As they were leaving, one of the brothers teared up and said he had always hoped that someday he could buy this house, that his father had never really wanted to sell it. I now know the feeling.
Gallery: Home Renovation
Gallery: The Finished Home