2652 Grand Ave, Astoria, Oregon
ASTORIA — Claudia Bowman is a part-time resident of the Bay Area. She started making trips to Astoria and fell in love with its historic architecture. Her friends, Jack and Bonnie Ross, moved here from the Bay Area several years ago. By sheer coincidence, in 2018, the friends purchased properties within a block of each other on Grand Avenue.
The close proximity was beneficial. Bowman says they shared opinions and inspired each other while pursuing their restoration projects.
The house was constructed circa 1915 for John Edward and Edla Sophia Lebeck. The Lebecks emigrated from Finland in 1902 and had two children, Berger and Edna. When the family moved into the house, J. Edward was a ship carpenter for the Wilson Shipyard. Later records suggest he found work as a building contractor.
Bowman received a degree in art, but worked for many years as a real estate agent. Then, she discovered an affinity to not only older structures, but for their revival. “When I started restoration,” she recalled. “I realized I should have been doing this for 30 years.”
She said that while the Lebeck house was in escrow, she thought about the project constantly. She considered what steps were needed to bring the house back to life. “I visualize it first as it will be done,” she said. Bowman began by imagining the project “as a whole,” being mindful of everything from its structural needs to paint colors. She said, “I don’t see the house as it is, but as it will be when it’s completed.” Then added the Leback house was, “The biggest project for a home I’ve ever done.”
When Bowman first entered the house, it was full of personal belongings. The house was dark, too: dark wood paneling and dark paint colors. Acoustical tile hung from a lowered ceiling; floors were covered in multiple layers of linoleum. Nevertheless, Bowman could see the house had a good plan as well as historic woodwork.
“When I spoke with contractors, they said it was just too much work,” she remembered. The house needed a new roof and gutters as well as exterior paint. A lateral sewer was not functioning. The building’s foundation needed repair.
Inside, the kitchen needed to be gutted, its wainscoting reconstructed and its fixtures restored. Fir floors on the main level needed stripping and refinishing. An upstairs bathroom needed a do-over. And while she was at it, she added a half-bath to the first floor. Every room needed repainting. Historic light fixtures were missing.
“Now it’s cheerful and airy,” she said. “It was depleted. Now it’s a happy house.”
Bowman had a number of contractors on the project. She eagerly listed those to whom she was most grateful. “All of these contractors said what they were going to do and did what they said they were going to do,” she stated. “They were professional, responsible and turned up to do the work.”
The list of local contractors includes: Weatherguard Roofing, French’s Gutters, Jeff Hale Painting, J & J Hardwood and Alfonse Excavating. The list also includes Ram Jack West, a foundation repair contractor from Portland.
Importance of preservation
Bowman said preservation is her passion and Astoria fuels it. “I can see how special these homes once were and I want them to be again. There is a level of art in the craftsmanship, we will not see again.”
Now that the Lebeck house is complete, she’s taking on another project. The work gives her satisfaction, in part, because it is a way to improve the quality of life for those who live nearby. “I want to give the houses respect. It uplifts the community and puts pride in people’s soul.”
For more information about renovating an old home or commercial building, visit the Lower Columbia Preservation Society website at lcpsociety.org