Ask “This Old House” senior producer John Tomlin for his first impression of Detroit, and he will tell you something so true that it will make your heart feel all squeezey.
He’ll say: “It’s fascinating what’s going on here.”
Granted, he and the This Old House crew have only been here about two weeks, prepping for their big production within the city. But in the few hours they’ve been inside Detroit, they already sense the things that the rest of us know but take for granted.
And, perhaps most importantly, that our neighborhoods are worth saving.
“You drive around the neighborhoods in the city, and they have some of the most beautiful houses in America. You hate to see them empty and abandoned the way they’ve been,” Tomlin said Tuesday, doing a round of media interviews shortly after This Old House announced its Detroit project.
“When you meet the people who want to put them together again, you want to be a part of it. That’s what got us interested in being here,” Tomlin said via telephone. “These are the kinds of positive stories that are worth telling.”
Hmmm….there’s that word again. That Detroit has worth. It has merit. It has amazing housing stock that is valuable.
Now, This Old House coming to town is exciting. That they’re helping a homeowner get a house back into shape is great. But what is even better is the partnerships that are being forged with this project. And what’s also great is that this won’t be the first or only project, Tomlin said. It is just the start.
“We don’t do the whole project typically – we’re going to help the homeowners get it done so we need all the help we can get on it,” Tomlin said.
For example, This Old House worked with the Detroit Land Bank to identify a property and a homeowner to collaborate with during the project. The house selected was one of thousands that had been abandoned and were waiting new owners via the Land Bank.
Together, This Old House experts and retired Detroit firefighter Frank Polk and their family will pour their sweat and money into the 1939 two-story property in the Russell Woods neighborhood. The Polks recently purchased the house at auction with the promise that they would improve it, move into it and love it, for worse and, hopefully, for better.
“We are excited that this award winning show will be focusing on Detroit. Hundreds of buyers just like the Polks are renovating great old houses in Detroit. It is fantastic that the rest of the nation will see what’s taking place in so many of Detroit’s beautiful neighborhoods,” said Craig Fahle, Director of Public Affairs for the Detroit Land Bank.
Expected work includes a new roof, kitchen and baths, plus new mechanicals to replace vandalized equipment in the basement. The team will look to preserve historic details such as leaded stained glass windows and archways as the homeowners blend their modern aesthetics with the home’s historic details.
To look at the windows, Tomlin said they met this morning with Amy Nicole Swift of the marvelous Building Hugger. “The house has some beautiful casement windows with some stained glass in them, and that’s her expertise. We asked her to come out, and she took a look at them to give us her read on it,” he added.
The house, which is a stunner even in its troubled state, is a mix of challenges and opportunities, Tomlin said.
“The main thing is these houses have been empty for a long time and that causes several problems for any structure – the outside wants to come in,” Tomlin explained. “That means everything from the elements to the criminal element. Yes, they took the furnace, they took the water heater. The good news is this particular house has a ceiling in the basement; that made it hard for thieves to rip out pipes.
“So we will deal with furnace, hot water heater, the pipes that are usable. The roof also was in disrepair; that probably happened before it was abandoned, so there is great deal of water damage,” Tomlin said. “But we have best experts in the world. Tommy Silva (a general contractor) is out there, accessing what needs to be done here and how we can bring that part of it back.
“There was a lot of damage in the bathrooms, so (heating expert) Richard Trethewey, our heating, A/C and plumbing expert has come through and accessed everything and tell us how to bring that back. We’re going to bring a mason out to help with some of the brickwork that needs doing,” Tomlin said.
Everything will take time to fix, and those 10 episodes will reflect that. The shows will likely air in 2017, and we’ll all be eager to see the results. But the most important thing to happen to date, Tomlin said, was the warm welcome the whole This Old House crew has received.
“What’s encouraging is the people in the neighborhood. As soon as they see a house is being renovated, they’re all very happy,” Tomlin said. “They’ve thanked us and thanked the homeowners. The neighborhoods are what it’s all about, really.”