Your Chance to Get “Up-Close and Personal” with Historic Preservation

One of the featured houses on King William Street is still a work in progress. Len Ambrosio told me he fell in love with the house, which was in serious need of repair. “Hell, no!” was Tim Ziegler’s first thought. With your ticket to the KWA Home Tour on Saturday, December 6, you can see for yourself how well they have succeeded in preserving the lovely Sanger House, built in 1906.

Six years ago, Len and Tim moved to San Antonio from Hawaii. Len would be taking a job at Ft. Sam. Tim’s real estate agent assured him that the property they got near 1604 and Culebra was close to Ft. Sam - not so. After four years, they decided to find an apartment to rehab and rent out. They had experience doing this before. A new real estate agent told them, “You guys need to be downtown.” They researched other historic districts and looked into the permitting process with the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) before making a decision.

IMPORTANT LESSON: You need the right real estate agent.

Work on their new/old home has been a labor of love - lots of labor. Fortunately, both Tim and Len have the skills to do most of the work themselves. The research they did in advance helped them to avoid potential problems in working on an historic property. Their neighbor, Jessie Simpson, told them, “Focus on one room at a time, and don’t get depressed.” Jessie has restored three houses in King William, so knows whereof she speaks. She is also a Co-chair of this year’s Home Tour.

Neighbors have given them a lot of support and encouragement, becoming friends in the process. The former owner of the home, Carolene Zehner, has become a friend and frequent visitor. The process of permits, approval and renovation has been pretty smooth.

IMPORTANT LESSON: Do research before plowing ahead; get to know the neighbors and listen to their advice; get support from friends to carry you through the project.

The basic structure of the house was not changed, so Len and Tim did not need to hire an architect. They worked on the inside rooms first, before tackling the exterior. The first room they did was on the second floor, which became a comfy living room area. Eventually this will be turned into another bedroom. At this writing, they have yet to do the large attic space, the kitchen and the garage. The house is absolutely lovely. It is hard to imagine how challenging it was when they started. One fireplace on the first floor had actually sunk to the lower level.

The wooden floors, made of different types of wood, were in very bad shape. They found Joe Miller, who did an awesome job of restoring the floors. There had been a lot of termite damage. Len and Tim completely disassembled a gorgeous teardrop chandelier, cleaned it, and put it back together. It is stunning in their dining room. On the first floor, they retained the original picture rail and added additional trim to the walls. They furnished each room as it was completed. On average, each room took about a month to complete.

IMPORTANT LESSON: Sign up with a pest control service ASAP – this is Texas!

Tim can’t imagine how anyone could live here without heating and air conditioning, so they added that first thing. They started on the exterior of the house after much of the interior was done. They scraped down the trim paint and uncovered only three layers of paint. The original color was a yellow that Tim figures had faded over time. The yellow they chose to paint is bright and more intense. The gutters needed to be replaced, so they decided to replace the asphalt shingle roof, choosing brown instead of the original green.

IMPORTANT LESSON: Restoration of historic homes is possible without too many hassles.

The costs of the restoration are higher than they anticipated. It is fortunate that they have the skills and willingness to do much of the work themselves, saving a lot of labor cost. Len said, “You have to love the area and love restoring houses.” Tim added, “Don’t run out of money. A passerby asked, ‘You bought the house? I hope you’re rich!’ We are not, but we save everything and reuse it where we can.”

Len was impressed by how these homes were built 100 and more years ago. Tim feels great respect for the workmanship of the original builders. They learned a lot.

VERY IMPORTANT LESSON: Expect to spend twice as much money and time as you think the project will take, and enjoy the adventure!

- Nora Peterson