I had the oddest dream last night — I dreamt that somebody decided they wanted to make a reality TV show about restoring the Harry Flavel house and asked me to be on it. In the dream, I was tearing layers upon layers of soggy floral paper off the walls when the wall caved in and trapped me under it. None of the camera men would stop filming to help me.
Oh my word. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I woke up and realized it was just a dream. I guess that’s what happens when you spend an entire evening watching nothing but HGTV.
As scary as my dream was, I have to admit that for many years, I have fantasized about restoring the Harry Favel house. Every time I drive by it, I imagine transforming those weather-worn walls back into pristine white ones. I imagine prying boards off of the windows and hacking away all of the brush. From the outside, the house still looks structurally sound. The leaded glass windows are mostly intact. The interior would be the hard part — it’s full of rot and junk that the Flavel family left behind after they decamped.
Of course, it’s not up to me to restore the Flavel house. A restoration crew has been hard at it for months! The house was sold earlier this year, and workers are doing everything they can to bring the place back to life. You can check out their progress here.
I think everyone in the city of Astoria is happy to see this restoration happen. In this town, we care deeply about historic preservation — and that big rotting house made us all feel a little ashamed. Of course, legal red tape had a lot to do with it. The Flavel family still owned it. The city had lots of liens against them for not taking care of the property or keeping it up to code. Part of the deal to auction off the house was agreeing to let the Flavel family slide on some of those city fines.
The house spent 20-odd years in a state of neglect, so the restoration process is going to take a long time. Thankfully, the guy who bought it has a very realistic understanding of how long it’s going to take and how much work it’s going to be. Here’s a tip: if you don’t have a lot of experience with restoring old houses, don’t take on a house that’s been severely neglected. The poor house will just end up abandoned all over again, trust me. Leave the hard houses to the people with the most knowledge, experience and fortitude.