Historic island home blends the past with the future
An 1899 Queen Anne home that helps pay its own energy bills might seem an impossible dream, but for owner David Bowers, it’s a dream come true.
Even with its almost 12-foot high ceilings and 42 windows, Bowers’ Galveston home is today generating most of its own electrical power requirements, and in one recent month, even paid its owner a dividend.
“Green energy is the way of the future,” said Bowers, adding that advances in technology are moving forward with such speed that solar panel systems similar to his are rapidly becoming not only affordable, but more companies are capable of their installation.
Bowers considers conservation yet another way to honor his lifelong commitment to historic preservation, he said. A former president of Galveston Historical Foundation, he was introduced to the specifics of renewable energy during the group’s Green Revival Project, a restoration initiative begun in 2010 that resulted in the nation’s first historic home to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum certification.
For his own home, Bowers, a Realtor, worked with Sunpro Solar Energy Specialists to design and install a system that would meet not only city building code requirements, but those of his Silk Stocking Historic District neighborhood.
“This was pretty much unchartered territory for all of us,” he said.
But Sunpro provided information and documentation needed to meet all the requirements, he said.
“For much too long, we have ignored the potential of our island’s abundant year-round sunshine as a viable — and valuable — source of electrical energy,” Bowers said. “It is my hope that what we have accomplished here will help advance the fact that energy efficiency is possible without detracting from a historic home’s architectural integrity or charm.”
Other than the 12 solar panels mounted on the south-facing part of the home’s roof, and an exterior box the size of a piece of carry-on luggage, the high-tech components required for Bowers’ energy-smart home are surprisingly inconspicuous. A small monitor similar to an air-conditioning thermostat — mounted in the main hall next to an antique crank-style wall phone — is the only visible element in an interior that today is reflective of its elegant Victorian origins.
The home has come a long way since Bowers bought it in 1984.
“It was not in very good shape, yet it had good bones,” he said. “There were about a dozen layers of black enamel paint on the vintage woodwork, the bathroom was barely marginal, many of the lights didn’t work, and a kitchen on the back porch was literally falling off — but I fell in love with it anyway.”
Today, after decades of major work that has included adding a new kitchen with floor-to-ceiling cherry-finished cabinetry and two back porches, the home’s spacious foyer — large enough to accommodate a grand piano, winding staircase and wide hallway leading to both the front parlor and dining room — opens into what has become one of Galveston’s showcase residences.
In addition to rebuilding and restoring many of the structural elements of the house, Bowers has furnished the home with an extensive collection of antique furnishings and decorative items from both his family, whose Vermont roots go back to the 1700s, and other sources, near and far.
Notable heirloom pieces include marble-topped Eastlake tables and a 227-year-old grandfather clock. The front parlor features a lithograph over the couch that has been a feature of Bowers’ family’s various homes since 1890. An early 1900s windup Brunswick Victrola still plays old-time favorites and overhead lighting is provided by an aluminum chandelier original to the home.
Notable collectibles include a massive set of longhorns that sit atop a vintage 12-foot-long walnut table and a pair of chairs, crafted by state prisoners, and once used in the offices of the Texas House of Representatives.
Each of the upstairs bedrooms boasts its own antique tester bed, the oldest being an ornate handmade Prudent Mallard design that dates to 1840. Other bedroom furnishings include Bowers’ grandparents’ bedroom china arranged atop an 1880s dresser.
The home’s upstairs area opens out to a small backyard shaded by a giant magnolia tree that abuts a second-story back porch. The porch’s ornate woodwork is custom crafted to match the home’s front porch design.
“I designed this porch specifically so I could just step out onto the upstairs back balcony and pick magnolia blossoms right off the tree, “ Bowers said.
Artwork throughout the home includes an original pencil and paper sketch by famed French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir and a framed copy of the last photograph made of the Titanic as she left Southampton on her ill-fated maiden voyage. Locals artists represented include René Wiley, Carlotta Barker and Richard Kelver, whose works are displayed among such rare items as an early map of Galveston created for Union forces during the Civil War and a feature on the Battle of Galveston from the Jan. 31, 1863, edition of Harper’s Weekly.
Links to the past are central to Bowers’ quest to keep history alive while making his island home a better place for all.
“There is so much satisfaction in being an active participant in helping bridge our past and present with the global future,” Bowers said. “Whether you see such efforts as preservation, restoration or conservation, it all has to do with stewardship.”