Crisis transforms into an opportunity

Published 6:27 pm Monday, May 21, 2012

Randy and Carolyn Walker turned damage caused by Hurricane Irene into a restoration opportunity, one that earned then a Rena K, Terrell Cup. (Submitted Photo)

As part of the observance of National Historic Preservation Month, the Washington Historic Preservation Commission and Scott Campbell of Century 21 The Realty Group are recognizing restoration efforts of residential and commercial properties.

This week, the restoration effort at 203 W. Main St., the G.W. Walker commercial building, home to G.W. Walker and Sons Home Improvement, has been selected to receive a Rena K. Terrell Cup.

The three-story brick commercial building was constructed between 1911 and 1916. Originally home to a furniture store and funeral home, the building has many unique features. For instance, a floor vault or “honey box” can be found on the first floor. Honey boxes provided storage for precious items, including documents and money prior to the trusted use of banks or safes. On the mezzanine, evidence of a hand-fired coal stove exists. The bricks, still tarnished black with soot, are proof that the first quarter of the 20th century saw coal as the most abundant fuel source — not only for heating homes but also powering commercial and industrial processes. Amazingly, original knob and tube electrical wiring consisting of porcelain insulating tubes and porcelain knobs were used to power lights on the second floor until Hurricane Irene’s visit in August 2011.

Washington residents are aware of the damage Irene caused, none more so than Randy and Carolyn Walker. The tin roof, protecting their early 20th-century building, was peeled back by Irene’s strong winds. For hours, rain fell, creating a dam of water on the roof, and water leaked through three stories of the building. Portions of the store were saved, while others were exposed to the hurricane elements. The water built up, causing the lay-in, suspended ceiling to collapse and the 107-year-old pine floors to suffer water damage.

The Walkers reversed the tragedy into opportunity.

Immediately, the Walkers began restoring the original pressed-tin ceiling, which had been moderately exposed underneath the lay-in ceiling. The three-step process involved laying a protective, plastic sheathing from floor to ceiling while removing the rust, priming and painting the tiles. They refurbished the pine floors, replaced the transom windows and installed a new canvass awning on the front elevation.

Hurricane Irene damaged the building, but the Walkers turned crisis into opportunity, a primary reason they’ve been selected to receive the 2012 Commercial Preservation Upfit of the Year Terrell Cup.

In addition to receiving cup, a gift of $100 will be placed in the Historic District’s tree re-establishment program fund in honor of the Walkers.