A Vernon-area landmark has risen from the ashes, quite literally.
Severely damaged in a May 2010 fire sparked by an electrical storm, Campbell House, an 1898 heritage home situated atop Suicide Hill on 30th Avenue, has been restored to its original glory.
The 114-year-old residence, owned by Heath Anderson, sustained major fire and subsequent water damage from the fire fighting efforts to snuff out the blaze. The aftermath left Gavin Parsons Homes, winners of the restoration contract, with an intriguing puzzle. The structure required a complete removal of the interior, right back to the original framing.
“It took old-school knowledge to rebuild the rafter roof and install a new interior support structure to bring the home up to current building codes,” said Gavin Parsons, who operates the company with his son, Taylor. Both are journeyman carpenters.
“Over the 100 years or so the house has been around, there were a lot of renovations done to it that were done poorly, and a lot of things were taken away from it. It’s had very poor maintenance over its life.”
Parsons, 64, has been carving out a niche as a custom home builder and renovator since he moved to the North Okanagan in 1975 from Port Moody. Some of his handiwork includes Victorian-based theme homes at Silver Star Resort, as well as The Elms, a set of tall, narrow heritage homes on 34th Avenue. One of his current projects includes the restoration of a 1920s barn in Coldstream.
However, the restoration of Campbell House, which began in February 2011 and was ready for habitation in early 2012, presented Parsons with a unique set of challenges. Before any restoration work could happen, W.A. Marsh Engineering of Vancouver was called in to assess the structural integrity of the building.
“He had to do a study on the house, and we had to frame it to today’s building code,” said Parsons. “There wasn’t a building code back then.
“We had to dig down and put footings in the centre because it never had footings. They had a bunch of old jacks down there.”
However, with the crawl space measuring just two feet deep, they had to go through the floor, dig out the crawl space, slide in some beams and jack the house up in the centre to level it as best they could.
Parsons also installed modern plumbing and electrical systems to replace the caste piping and knob and tube wiring. The boiler system was refurbished with new piping and replacement radiators. Energy concerns were addressed by installing insulation in previously empty or sawdust-filled stud spaces and attic voids.
“With an open house, in a sense, it’s easy to upgrade all those things,” said Parsons, noting Anderson was able to access energy grants for the project.
“You can get a fair bit of money back from the federal government.”
New drywall replaced the former lath and plaster. Twelve-inch baseboards, six-inch casings, original doors and hardware were painstakingly cleaned and restored to their former elegance.
Parsons’ crew also stripped back layer upon layer of flooring to reveal the original fir floors, which were then refurbished. Period lighting, bath fixtures and a new kitchen were installed, and for a final touch of Victorian style, a pressed tin ceiling was added to the dining room.
Using historic photos as a reference, Parsons also reinstalled the old back porch, and is in the process of doing the same for the front porch, which was covered in some time before 1908.
Anderson has owned the property for about seven years, but his interest in it goes back more than a decade. The Vernon entrepreneur was in a bidding war with the previous owner, and kept periodic contact with her until she was ready to sell.
Although he is now the proud owner of a brand new character home, Anderson says, other than his dealings with Parsons, the process has been a bit of a nightmare. He has had to move four or five times while the project progressed, and lived in a fifth-wheel trailer in his front yard for the last seven months.
“The only good part of this whole process was dealing with Gavin,” said Anderson. “The improvements they’ve done are amazing, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend the process.
“As far as I’m concerned, they can use my home as a show home. They’ve just done an amazing, passionate job of taking care of the house.”