Victoria contractor salvages old wood from McCabe Building (video)

David Clifton talks about the wood inside the McCabe Building
  • J.H. McCabe Building

  • • Constructed in 1908

    • Entered the National Register of Historic Places in 1986

    • Had an apartment upstairs and a store downstairs

A lustrous glimmer of sunlight streams from a window atop a narrow staircase.

Each step is painted a soft periwinkle blue, and the white walls surrounding the scanty area stretch high into a parlor, where a yellow-tinted 1974 page of the Daily Sun newspaper sits on the floor amid piles of wood torn from the walls.

Characteristics of the home still give off the essence of an era when craftmanship was at its finest; however, after several years of neglect, the structure sinks into its faulty foundation, and its demolishment looms.

Mingled in the pile of wood, David Clifton sat on a rusted Dearborn space heater. His weathered hands grazed a piece of wood he pulled from the pile in front of him, and a smile stretched across his face.

"That's always the coolest," he said, referencing the side of wood many wouldn't find beauty in. The longleaf pine was needled and rough to the touch.

The wood was soft and shimmered on the other side, but Clifton wasn't interested.

The rough side portrayed a period when material was crafted by hand, he said.

The building was constructed during the dawn of the industrial era, he said, and that detail was reflected in even the smallest of references, such as pieces of wood being hammered by nails with both circular and square heads.

In August, the century-old J.H. McCabe Building was purchased by a neighboring tire business, and after abiding by a 60-day moratorium put in place to respect the building's placement in the National Register of Historic Homes, demolishment began Monday.

The owners said in August they planned to raze the lot to expand. Clifton was hired to clear it out.

"I had wanted to do it for a long time," he said. "I knew sooner or later it would happen."

Clifton, who opened his woodshop across the street from the building about four years ago, said he admires the New Orleans aura of the structure.

While Clifton refused to put a number on his age or the years he's been working with wood, he said his craft truly developed when he became a Christian 28 years ago.

"It happened overnight," Clifton said. "I was painting old houses at the time, and one night, I woke up and said I wanted to build furniture."

His work is referenced as "early Texas with a German influence," and to give his beds, wardrobe chests, tables and armoires that stamp of authenticity, he uses lumber salvaged from old homes built in Victoria.

Jeff Wright, executive director of Victoria Preservation Inc., said the McCabe Building harkens back to a different era in Victoria.

"Our historic buildings tell the story of Victoria and its people," he said. "When we lose them, we lose a little piece of who we are and where we've been."

Wright wanted the structure to be saved but said he considers salvaging the next best option.

According to Victoria city records, the McCabe Building was built in 1908, and although it changed hands several times throughout its history, it remained a grocery store until 1981, when Gilbert Ramon purchased the structure as a residence.

Building ownership was transferred July 29 from Ramon to MMS Tires of Victoria, and the building has an assessed value of $147,760.

At the time, Wright said he and his colleagues with the Victoria Preservation Inc. researched the property to see whether it was a candidate for preservation; however, cost was "the greatest enemy."

Clifton's first project with the material will be a couple of big tables and a corner cabinet, which are expected to be finished by Christmas.

"There's no time when it comes to making furniture," he said. "It's different every time. Every piece has its own personality."

The entire structure is expected to be completely demolished in two months.

"The last board the craftsmen put up will be the first one I tear down," Clifton said.

After that, the building will come down quickly, he said, but they plan to take it apart board by board.

"I like to take discarded structures left to ruin and make something beautiful with them," he said, smiling after finding an old blue marble on the kitchen floor. "That's goes along with my belief that's what Jesus does with us."