Home once used to advertise Houston’s Heights 125 years ago gets a makeover

It would be hard to find a home that identifies more with the heights of Houston than the one now owned by Jan Rynda Greer and Tyson Greer.

Built in 1892 as a specification house by the developers of the Heights – Omaha and the South Texas Land Co. – it was intended to make a statement about the quality of what was to come to this neighborhood that sprung from the ground over 125 years as its own city before being annexed to the city of Houston in 1918.

Stately and imposing, the two-and-a-half-story house on Harvard Street has a full basement and enough gingerbread toppings to prompt many to call it a “life-size dollhouse.” Adapted from a house plan by prominent architect George F. Barber of Knoxville, Tennessee, it is one of only two original Omaha Society houses still standing in the highlands.

Bart Truxillo—an architecture graduate from the University of Houston and has spent his career restoring and remodeling old homes and other structures—purchased the house in the 1970s and restored it. The house is both a City of Houston Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Truxillo, one of the founders of what is now Preservation Houston, died in 2017 at the age of 74. His house sat vacant for a few years as the many properties on his estate were sold.

In 2019 it was purchased by the Greers, who worked with Gray label construction on the restoration that extended into the fall of 2020, suffering shutdowns and restarts related to the coronavirus pandemic as well as the passing of Greymark founder Leslie King.

The Greers were already living up high and looking for a new place when the Truxillo property – the main house, a garage/shed and another small house – came on the market. After losing other options, Tyson searched the internet and told his wife, “I think I found a home for you.”

“I’ve always liked the old stuff,” said Jan, an Oklahoma native who came to Houston after college for a consulting job at Quorum Software. “My mother and I didn’t have a lot of money, but we went to estate sales together. My mom used to get more practical things and I liked old things. I have such good memories. »

It was at Quorum that Jan, now 38, and Tyson, 42, met. Tyson, originally from Jackson, Mississippi, still works there, but Jan quit her job to raise their children. his son John will soon be 10 years old and Moses is 7 years old. The couple have been married for 11 years.

For their efforts, the Greers received a 2022 Good Brick Award from Preservation Houston.

From the start, the Greers wanted a restoration – not a renovation – and they soon realized that everyone who knew the house had an opinion on what could and should be done.

Neighbors who liked the house made it clear they would be upset if it was painted anything other than white. The Greers painted it white, but considered other colors because, while stripping the front windows, they discovered that brown and two shades of tan were once used on the exterior.

In fact, gloss white paint may have been its color for many years, but it couldn’t have been its original color because gloss white paint wasn’t available for house exteriors until the 1920s. .

Another sign of true restoration are the newly installed copper gutters. The Greers could have opted to install more contemporary standard gutters and save a lot of money, but they thought the copper ones would be true to the house’s history.

When the rotting front stairs collapsed, the city had to come out to assess the damage and then approve how they could be replaced.

Tropical Storm Imelda revealed a leak in the lobby so had to be taken care of. And when they removed an aviary from the back of the house, extensive termite damage to that structure prompted them to stop to assess similar damage there might be elsewhere. (Turns out there wasn’t, because the old wood is so hard the termites wouldn’t eat it.)

Many changes have been made to the long life of the house. What was probably a side porch was closed in and used as a breakfast room at one time. The kitchen was hectic and disorganized, and the main bathroom on the second floor, created with small steps up and down to its various parts, has likely been changed several times over the years, said Kelly Kirk, new president of Greymark and Cabinet Daughter. late founder.

On the ground floor, the Greers opted to keep all the walls where they were, keeping a formal living room up front, plus a living room – now their TV room – and a formal dining room, in plus the breakfast room which has rows of windows including stained glass added by Truxillo.

The kitchen has had a makeover, but still has an atmosphere of yesteryear.

Jan fell in love with the red tiled floors in The Breakers, the Vanderbilt family’s summer “cottage” – actually a Gilded Age mansion that is now a house museum – built in the 1890s in Newport, RI (You’ll also find similar floors laid in wickerwork style in the Julia Ideson Library in downtown Houston.)

She found similar floor tiles for her own kitchen at Pyramid Imports Tile and Flooring in Houston and hired craftsmen at Dan’s Custom Woodworking in the Heights to create a butcher block for her oversized island, using a wax seal of her own. bee instead of a glossy poly seal.

A pair of antique chandeliers, made the same year the house was built, hang above the island from a stamped tin ceiling. The light fixtures were one of Jan’s first finds, shipped from an antique lighting dealer in upstate New York.

It’s a beautiful kitchen that practices every day, whether the Greers cook their own daily meals or entertain friends.

“Here, we prepare two meals a day during the school year and three when the boys are not at school. Today I made French toast; this kitchen is seeing major action,” Jan said. “I really like to cook, so the kitchen had to be functional, but it also had to be more than that.”

At the end of a long hallway on the second floor is a whimsical library, with stained glass windows and shelves laden with books lining the walls up to the attic, now used as a playroom by the Greer boys. During the COVID lockdown, the boys used the attic as a classroom.

Truxillo had installed ladder-like stairs that led up to the attic – with a disco ball hanging from the ceiling above. The Greers version has a sturdier iron circular staircase and a beautiful chandelier in place of the disco ball.

John and Moses love their “Harry Potter” themed bedroom and special playroom. Jan says even they get questions about the house and love showing it off.

“There is a special room that the children have for themselves. I will say they like the house, but I think their friends like it more,” Jan said. “They like people wanting to visit. They like other people to like it.

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