Cranston couple hopes to restore Bristol's Gibson House
Set back a few yards from a heavily traversed Hope Street, and nestled beneath an overgrown lot looms a 19th-century historic home.
The paint is faded, peeling in most parts. The dilapidated porch, once a welcoming architectural front, now rests tiredly upon heavy wooden beams. Even in broad daylight, the darkness from within filters through the weary windows.
The 1848 Gothic Revival home at 1200 Hope Street called out to Cranston resident Margo Katz.
Almost daily, Ms. Katz traveled Rte. 114 for work, passing by the abandoned home, which housed a prominent family when Russell Warren was commissioned to build it.
Ms. Katz felt compelled to act and find out more about the house.
"I just had a gut feeling that something had to be done," she said. "It needs to be fixed, and repurposed. It has great bones and history."
Last week, Ms. Katz and partner Craig Kratovil took a few baby steps in their larger project of restoring the old Gibson House, known to many as Longfield. The two are putting together a nonprofit organization to hopefully garner the funds needed to buy the property and bring it back to life. A friend is creating a video, which will circulate on the internet and hopefully garner interest in their mission.
"We see Longfield primarily as an artists' residency, silmilary to one I took advantage of in my playwriting days," Ms. Katz said. "Longfield will provide retreat-like, live-work rooms for six to seven artists and scholars at a time. We'll eventually build a stone and wood barn that will serve as studio space for visual and performing artists."
Their plans also include opening up the home to public programs: developing a novel curriculum that connects history, art, and literature for public school students, and offering internships for local college students in hospitality management, historical preservation, and horticulture.
But that's if they can generate the funds to purchase the home.
Initially the couple wanted to buy the home, previously owned by Bristol resident Ethan Tucker and his Chicago-based partner Debra DiMaggio, for personal use, but the cost to do so at nearly $1 million far exceeded their budget.
So Ms. Kratz and Mr. Kratovil decided on another route: Establish a not-for-profit organization - The Longfield Foundation, solicit donations and restore the home for public use.
"A Google search would lead you to believe that there are federal and state grants for a project like this, but the truth is, there's little to no money out there," said Mr. Kratovil.
Resurrecting the past
The home was purchased from Jim Towers, a Bristol-based contractor, by Mr. Tucker and Ms. DiMaggio in 2009 for about $550,000. The home was already in rough shape: Mr. Towers had gutted the house to convert it into condos. But realizing that the condo market was drying up, Mr. Towers said he opted to sell the home as a single family residence instead.
"I loved the house and wanted to restore it," said Mr. Tucker. "But we bought it a month or so before the financial crisis and almost overnight our plan vanished."
Mr. Tucker invested nearly a half-million dollars into the house, an effort that is hardly gleaned from its current condition.
"We couldn't get any funding after that," he said. Ms. DiMaggio took full ownership afterward and has since been saddled with a property that cannot be torn down or modified externally because it's on the National Historic Register.
Mr. Tucker's vision is similar to that of Ms. Katz and Mr. Kratovil. He wanted the house to serve as a green inn, and as a small venue for functions and weddings.
"The design and layout of the first floor played well into that business model," Mr. Tucker said.
But that project, similar to that of the would-be investors, was lofty, large and required a large sum of money.
"I think it's a great idea to restore the house," said Mr. Tucker. "I want it to be restored 150-percent and available for many people to enjoy. But it's a very difficult project event in a great economy."
That revelation is not lost on Ms. Katz and Mr. Kratovil. Both recognize that it's going to take a lot of fund-raising efforts to bring the home back to its originally glory, and neither will "hammer one nail until we have complete funding to purchase and restore the property."
"If we start this project, we intend to finish it," Ms. Katz said. "But it's contingent upon full funding."