Texas oilman, preservationist and museum founder turns his focus on an 1887 island home
With the proper care, talent and budget, almost any historic house can be revitalized. Take the example of the 1887 two-story home of museum founders J.P. and Mary Jon Bryan on Avenue M in Galveston.
Their house, restored two years ago after decades of neglect, is now a three-bedroom, 2,250-square-foot Victorian that at one time housed four apartments and a disastrous floor plan.
“It was in very poor condition,” contractor Alex Gonzalez of Creative Combinations in Galveston said. “But we thought it could really be beautiful and we were right.”
Gonzalez also handled the restoration of the Galveston Orphans home, which was rebuilt two years after the 1900 Storm and which Bryan opened as The Bryan Museum in 2015.
Bryan purchased the Avenue M house so he could live near The Bryan Museum, where he houses his collection of thousands of items relating to the history of Texas and the Southwest.
The real challenge was “trying to figure out how to put the house back together” with modern conveniences, yet maintaining the ambience and dignity of an earlier age, said Bryan, a retired Houston oilman.
The Bryans have decorated the house with art and artifacts not usually found in people’s home, including a huge stain-glassed window of an angel, nautical paintings by 19th-century Galveston artist Julius Stockfleth, antique mirrors from the 1800s and furniture reminiscent of a bygone era. The woodwork in all the rooms was refurbished or replaced and the original transoms over all the doors have been restored and some decorated with period designs to match the stenciling on the walls and ceiling in the living and dining rooms.
Perhaps the most interesting aspects of the house are the walls on the main floor. Gonzalez removed Sheetrock, plaster, layers of paint and dilapidated cheesecloth, which held antiquated wallpaper, only to find original shiplap wood encasing all the rooms and the ceilings.
“Cheesecloth was attached to the wood walls with hundreds — thousands — of little nails, which had to be removed by hand,” Gonzalez said.
Once the shiplap wood was cleaned, caulked and insulated, his team applied two different finishes. In the living and dining rooms, the walls were “washed” with a translucent white paint, allowing the natural imperfections of the wood to be visible. Bryan chose to have the walls in the study across the hall stained and sealed with a coat of polyurethane or varnish to highlight the grain of the dark wood.
The end result is beautiful. The living room is simple: two chairs and a couch all in white atop a large light-colored area rug. It leads into the dining room, featuring a round table and four white chairs around it. In the background, he placed a large open hutch and an antique mirrored chest, with silver serving items on top. The room is lighted by a rustic chandelier with two “candles,” as well as more modern can lights in the wooden ceiling. The wood floor continues into the kitchen, which has been furnished with black cabinetry and stainless steel counters.
The nearby study was designed with floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with an array of mostly non-fiction books — J.P. Bryan’s favorite kind. Bryan is a huge history buff and a lifetime member of the Texas Historical Commission. The sixth-generation Texan and collector of rare books also has an eye for art. Serene landscape paintings, including two by Fredericksburg artist Nancy Bush, hang on the walls. A massive painting of a woman with a sailing ship had been in another house but Bryan said, “I thought she would be happier here near the water.”
Off the study, Bryan added a large screened-in wraparound porch, which allows for outdoor entertaining and relaxing. A garden of oleanders and magnolias gives the room privacy without blocking the Gulf breezes most days. The house needed a new roof, so Gonzalez suggested a silver, metal roof, which was period appropriate. Custom shutters were ordered from The Bank Architectural Antiques in New Orleans and Gonzalez had a wrought-iron fence erected around the property.
The upstairs houses three bedrooms and bathrooms and additional outdoor space. The plaster walls are textured slightly and painted in muted tones. Lots of natural light from the large windows makes the rooms bright and airy. To keep the architectural integrity of the house, one of the porches in the front is accessible only through a walk-through window, but it’s in the master bathroom.
“Probably won’t be using that much,” Bryan said.
Bryan likes living in a historical Galveston neighborhood and close to the museum, he said. Almost all houses surrounding his home have been restored and the 19th-century neighborhood continues to flourish.
“This area demonstrates the benefits of restoration,” Bryan said. “The Victorian assets in this city are enormous, and, as a city, we can do preservation and promotion. We have something here that is truly unique. We need to do more about protecting our history.”