Island home with Gulf views becomes a sanctuary for couple and feathered friends
Dr. Jim Rohack and wife, Charli, knew that downsizing was in their foreseeable future, so, a few years ago they began looking for a smaller property and found one across from the seawall on the island’s East End.
“We’d been living in a 5,000-square-foot house on three-quarters of an acre in Galveston’s Denver Court neighborhood, and Jim was yearning to be closer to the water,” Charli Rohack said. “But when we found this place in 2018, it had multiple problems. We were skeptical, but after a second look, we knew it had potential, plus the view was the major selling point.”
Charli, a wildlife rehabilitator and falconer with all the required permits, also had to downsize the facilities she needed for injured birds.
“I really had to minimize since there was no room for flight houses, so we constructed a small courtyard with outdoor accommodations and set up a stabilization and triage area in our detached garage,” she said.
Their smaller home, built in 1914, originally was a one-family house.
“But in the 1920s, the downstairs of the house was converted into two separate apartments and the upstairs was eventually transformed into rooms for rent,” Jim Rohack said. “Our main concern during renovations was to keep the bones and original footprint intact, while bringing everything up to date for a single-family dwelling.”
The vast feeling of spaciousness expands outward in every direction in the 3,200-square-foot home with soft taupe walls and coastal décor.
“All I wanted was for everything to be open, no front stairwell and no carpet,” said Charli Rohack, who praises Jim’s talent in designing the house. “He didn’t consult with an architect, and kept a binder full of drawings, plans and detailed notes.”
Twenty percent of the house still harbors the original wood. Some of the shiplap was salvageable, and although the rustic oak columns were left intact, they were wrapped in pine and stained, he said.
The craftsmanship of the suspension curve of the open stairwell, now in the back of the house, is eye-catching, as is the beadboard ceiling, and the picture window rated to withstand a category 5 hurricane.
A round, marble table with shell-shaped chairs are in front of the window that offers a magnificent view of the Gulf of Mexico.
Solo, a mature female owl, sits atop a hand-painted cabinet.
“She was an orphaned baby bird found under a palm tree in Bolivar,” Charli Rohack said. “All her siblings were preyed upon, and she was the only survivor, so we named her Solo. Since her right wing was slightly luxated, she is not able to fly long distances, so we use her as an ambassador. She’s also on my falconry permit, so she hunts as much as she can, but she mainly hangs out on her perch during the day and retires to her very own bedroom upstairs at night.”
Most noticeable about the first floor is the absence of walls. The living room flows right into the kitchen with its striking 11½-foot-by-7-foot island that doubles as an eating area and buffet table for entertaining.
White cabinets and drawers add to the light and airy atmosphere, but one thing is missing — an electric dishwasher.
“It’s just the two of us, so we didn’t want one,” Jim Rohack said.
To ascend to the second level, there’s a suspended staircase or the pneumatic vacuum elevator.
Jim’s office is on the landing where a window above his desk provides him with a view of his alma mater, University of Texas Medical Branch.
Their daughter Elisha’s bedroom, all in pink, is nearby, as is Solo’s night quarters. A few steps away is the master bedroom with outside balcony.
“The view up here is just as spectacular as the view downstairs,” Jim said. “You can actually see the Pleasure Pier all lit up at night.”
Back downstairs, the courtyard, guest house, garage and quarters for two red-tailed hawks are in a compact, but inviting space filled with a variety of plants and hanging baskets. A separate gazebo is for pre-release songbirds and the garage houses the stabilization and triage area.
The main attraction is a mural by Galveston artist Gabriel Prusmack depicting a female falconer surrounded by birds in flight that covers a 25-foot-tall concrete wall.
The 600-square-foot guest house above the garage is quaint, beachy and full of rattan furnishings and provides the perfect accommodations for out-of-town family and friends.
The Rohacks met when Jim was in medical school and Charli was editor of the yearbook — almost 40 years ago.
Now happily ensconced in their forever home, they are enamored by the constant changes of the Gulf and being in a busy area.
“When I see people out walking with their children, they’re making memories,” Charli said.
What Jim likes best is the yard, he said.
“There’s not a blade of grass to mow, and that makes me happy,” he said.