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Corpus couple restores landmark Refugio home (w/video)

By JR Ortega
Nov. 24, 2013 at 5:24 a.m.
Updated Nov. 25, 2013 at 5:25 a.m.

Standing on the weathered plank porch of their new project, D.L. Johnson, his wife, Ann, and great-granddaughter McKinley from Corpus Christi are tackling a restoration of the Lambert-Hynes- Whitlow home built in Refugio back in 1905.

REFUGIO - The three-story, Victorian-style structure may be the oldest house on the block, but that just makes it all the wiser.

From the outside, the 108-year-old home standing at the intersection of Alamo and Empresario streets tells a long history - one that D.L. Johnson and his wife, Ann, have always been curious about.

But it was not until last year, when the Corpus Christi couple bought the home, that they truly realized the history inside.

"We've always loved this house," said Ann Johnson as she stood in the downstairs lobby of the 10,000-square-foot home, which for many years has been known as the Lambert-Hynes-Whitlow house.

Stepping inside is much like stepping into a time machine.

The walls are still alive with history.

One wall wears the wallpaper installed in 1905; some of the light fixtures are also original; they are a faded gold with cloth-covered black wiring.

The wood, D.L. Johnson said, is true 2-by-4 and 2-by-6 lumber made of cypress, making the house sound, even after more than a century of standing.

But it's not just the structure of the house that interests the Johnsons; it's also the objects inside.

Scattered throughout the third floor are items left from past tenants. What may seem like junk - like an old ceramic Santa Claus - looks like treasure to the Johnsons, making it hard to get rid of anything, Ann Johnson said.

Take, for instance, a page from the Houston Chronicle announcing the start of World War II that continues to yellow atop an antique dresser.

Farther over, one can get a glimpse into the 1960s, as a cherry red poodle skirt in almost perfect condition rests over a chair. Behind it, inside a closet, a dusty hoop skirt from the 1920s rests on the floor.

The Johnsons have also had a few surprises because they did not expect the inside of the home to be as full as it was.

"It took nine, 30-yard-long dumpsters to remove the trash," D.L. Johnson said as he looked through more items left by previous tenants.

The house was last lived in 20 years ago, his wife said; however, over the years, many have broken into the house, stealing items, writing graffiti on the walls and leaving junk behind. The last owner was Jack Whitlow, the mayor of Port Lavaca.

After being vacant so long, the house and area around it began to deteriorate.

In 2011, the city of Refugio put the house on a list of homes to be condemned.

That's when the Johnsons, both 65, stepped in and bought the house. Once restored, the home will be worth about $450,000, but D.L. Johnson said he and his wife have no plans of flipping and selling the house.

The two have every intention to move in.

"It's just old and beautiful," Ann Johnson said. "Like everyone else at that time, I only got to imagine what it looked like inside."

After months of removing trash and stripping wallpaper, the Johnsons are starting to see their dream house come to life.

With two living rooms, a walk-in lobby, a kitchen, four bedrooms, multiple crawl spaces, a front and side balcony and an old bomb shelter, the possibilities to make the home their own are endless.

"We have conflicting ideas on how the house should look. I want it to be more modernized, and D.L. wants to keep it looking like it did in the 1900s," Ann Johnson said. "We'll have to compromise on that, I guess."



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