A small cottage near collapse is transformed into an energy-efficient home
Galveston history is full of survival stories, tales of catastrophic events with heavy tolls that people ultimately rise above.
This resurrection tale, however, is about a structure that, with the help of a team of experts, showed the nation how a period home could flourish with new life.
Built in 1891, the 1,000-square-foot island cottage survived the 1900 Storm, but was severely damaged during Hurricane Ike in 2008. Storm surge collapsed the foundation piers, causing the house to topple onto a massive amount of crumbled debris. Its fate seemed sealed; it was headed for demolition.
Galveston Historical Foundation had a plan, though, and contacted the owner, who agreed to donate the house if the foundation would just take it away. The Galveston Historical Foundation did, moving the house 17 blocks, raising it 7 feet and beginning a restoration to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — requirements.
Completed in 2011, the house was awarded a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating of Platinum, the highest possible, making the foundation’s “Green Revival House” the oldest single-family residence ever to win a Platinum rating in the United States.
Dawn McCarty and Rick Altemose bought the house before it officially hit the market.
“GHF wanted to make sure the right tenants would appreciate the home’s history, LEED status, and lovingly care for it,” McCarty said. “So, we were asked to write an essay. We passed.”
McCarty, a professor of social work at University of Houston-Downtown, and Altemose, a retired college professor, have spent most of their lives in the social services sector, and often live part-time with families at Casa Juan Diego, a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality in Houston.
“We were especially moved by the fact that the proceeds obtained by GHF from the sale of the house would enable them to move on to their next project,” McCarty said. “We also wanted to be as much off the grid as possible, so this was the perfect place for us.”
The house was completely restored using energy-saving techniques, while retaining the original architectural elements of the house. New insulation, four solar panels and two rainwater cisterns were installed. The house has only a fraction of the carbon footprint for a house of comparable size, character and age, according to the Galveston Historical Foundation.
Brick pavers leading up to the front steps were part of the original fireplace.
“The floors of both the front and back porches are made from wood that was atop flooring inside the house,” Altemose said. “After that top layer was removed, the longleaf pine floors were exposed.”
Walking through the original front door, now painted yellow, visitors encounter a long hallway stretching the length of the house. Twelve-foot ceilings add an illusion of space.
To the left is the living room, which Altemose also uses as an office. Tall windows are framed by the original wood, except for a few corner blocks. An antique mirror hangs above a small table made from a piano bench.
The original, wide pocket door — still intact — opens to the kitchen that was once a bedroom. Energy Star-rated appliances and paper composite countertops are evidence of environmentally friendly touches. The kitchen table’s pedestal is actually an old pump that can be raised up and down.
“Everything in here is repurposed or used,” said McCarty, who points to an old pie safe, dishes, canisters and wall art that came from resale shops. Kitchen chairs were purchased at an estate sale.
Two massive shelves made from heavy doors accommodate storage items along the hallway. Various coat and hat racks throughout the house were made from rustic wood by island artist Catherine Stroud.
A guest bedroom with armoire and futon also substitutes as McCarty’s office. A handmade piece of furniture she found has become her stand-up desk.
The one and only bathroom was added to be in close proximity to both bedrooms.
With just one closet, which is in the master bedroom, the couple has constructed innovative ways to store necessary items. Baskets under a bench hold an assortment of shoes, and clothes hampers make for nifty storage bins.
The impressive headboard is an architectural piece from First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Galveston.
What appears to be a skylight above the bed is not. Galveston Historical Foundation opened up a space to reveal a window in the attic for natural light and exposed beams.
“It adds a nice touch,” McCarty said.
A screened-in back porch, added to accommodate solar panels, provides a pleasant sitting area to hear the surf roll in from the Gulf.
Because of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, new windows weren’t installed, but Magnetite windows, which are sound- and weather-proof, were allowed to fit over the inside of existing windows.
“You can remove the Magnetite, and all 15 windows open for airflow,” Altemose said. “We have exterior shutters that we can close and tie for storms.”
The attic is still intact and the space below the house will soon be turned into a livable outdoor area.
Photos of how the house used to look are hanging in the hall — a testament to the miracle transformation made possible by the Galveston Historical Foundation.
“So many people in Galveston and beyond have toured the house before and even after we moved in,” McCarty said. “We feel like it’s Galveston house.”