1912 Mount Royal Home Lovingly Restored

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1912 Mount Royal Home Lovingly Restored

Postby newsposter » Sat May 13, 2006 11:44 am

Lovingly restored
Couple has spent more than a decade turning historic 1912 Mount Royal house into dream home

Lin Connery
For the Calgary Herald

Saturday, May 13, 2006


CREDIT: Leah Hennel, Calgary Herald
Although it's approaching its 100th year, this 1912 Mount Royal home is still elegant and stylish.

CREDIT: Leah Hennel, Calgary Herald
Mahogany panelling in the dining room dates to the '40s.

Mary Lou McCormick yearned after this Mount Royal house for five years, often driving past just to admire it, until the heart-stopping moment when she saw a realtor's open-house sign out front.

"I pulled over, ran in -- and literally my heart was in my throat," she recalls.

Instantly, she felt a strong connection with this house -- it had the warm atmosphere of her grandmother's home, and it was also reminiscent of the antique-filled home she'd grown up in.

She remembers thinking: "If we'll ever have a chance to get this house, it's now."

Until that moment, the house had seemed hopelessly unattainable -- Mary Lou reasoned that when someone owned a home like this why would they ever want to sell?

She had good reason to covet this 1912 vintage beauty with its 4,000 square feet of space, four fireplaces and six bedrooms, all on a half-acre (0.2 hectare) in the heart of Mount Royal.

An unexpected extra was the elegant master suite on the main floor.

Mary Lou and John McCormick put in an offer the same day and got into a bidding war that night.

All this happened 13 years ago, when competing offers were almost unheard of.

"You're not even looking (to buy) and then boom, you own two houses for four months," Mary Lou says.

The McCormicks spent their first year in the house getting to know it and making plans.

For the past 12 years, they've been carefully preserving and restoring their vintage home -- though Mary Lou does like to kid neighbours about maybe slapping up some aluminum siding.

"We've always lived in older homes," she says, and they recognize that old homes tend to be more expensive if they're kept firmly in their era. "We value old."

They didn't bother with a home inspection. They just assumed this house was like other older homes they had owned -- it would need things done.

As expected, the McCormicks had to do some urgent basic maintenance on their new address.

When Mary Lou called city hall to inquire about utility costs, a skeptical clerk told her: "That's not a house. It can't be. The water usage is way, way too high for a house. It must be an apartment building or something."

The toilets in all six bathrooms were dribbling non-stop, and the underground sprinkler system was leaking throughout a quarter-acre of garden.

And all four fireplaces required work on their flues.

Fortunately, the house still had almost all of its original beauty intact. The handsome quarter-sawn oak panelling on the main floor -- the woodwork in some rooms inset with ivory buttons to summon staff from the coach house -- is evidence of the exceptional quality of the finishings and craftsmanship that went into this home.

Gorgeous leaded windows have survived in perfect condition, original light fixtures are still fitted with their original glass and much of the original hardwood flooring is in remarkably good shape.

It's also easy to guess that the charming, slope-shouldered bedrooms upstairs haven't changed much since the house was new.

"It's a great house for kids," says Mary Lou. "It's a great Christmas house."

The few alterations that had been made over 80 years were a mixed bag.

The fine mahogany panelling in the dining room likely dates back to 1940s and integrates beautifully with the original woodwork -- it's a lovely addition to the home.

Around the same time, the impressive main reception/living room was expanded out onto a front veranda, creating a lavish volume of interior space that fills daily with sunshine.

Not so timeless was the 1960s kitchen renovation, but when the sunshine ceiling was removed, the same 11-foot room height that distinguishes the rest of the main floor was revealed.

Five layers of linoleum and tile were removed and replaced by hardwood flooring that blends nicely with the original.

The McCormicks' kitchen renewal also tightened up the work triangle -- eliminating a long trek to the refrigerator -- and an island was added. The old butler's pantry was annexed to make more room in the kitchen. What had been the servants' domain in 1912 became a modern family space.

A snap decision to buy, an offer to purchase with no conditions, followed by a tense bidding war -- but it all came together beautifully in the end.

"It was wild, but I think sometimes you have to act," says Mary Lou.

"I'm a realtor now," she says. "I say to clients -- we're going to know as soon as you walk in the door whether you want the house."

Since the McCormicks moved into their home, it's not unusual for people to knock on the door and ask if they would be interested in selling.

But the question still remains: if you own a house like this, why would you ever want to sell?

The Home's History:

People in the neighbourhood have contributed bits and pieces about the history of this home. Some say it had been a rooming house in the Second World War, and others report that movie star Vivian Leigh once visited this home.

But the biggest volume of information came from the city, says homeowner Mary Lou McCormick.

n Thomas Maxwell Fyshe, an engineer and contractor from Nova Scotia, built the home -- Fyshe House -- in 1912 at an estimated cost of $12,000. (Which works out to a mere $215,000 in today's dollars, according to the Bank of Canada. Mount Royal real estate has been a good investment.)

n Fyshe and his partners built a number of Calgary landmarks of that era, including the Calgary Herald Building, Canada Life Building, Canadian Western Natural Gas Co.'s office building, the Isis Theatre and Kolb's Restaurant.

Fyshe left Calgary during the First World War. Subsequent owners included Wilfrid J. Watson, secretary-treasurer of the Calgary Herald, and John I. McFarland, who became head of Okalta Oil Co. and a stockholder in Royalite and Imperial Oil.

n After McFarland's death in 1943, the house changed hands four times before Peter Bawden bought it in 1962. Starting at age 22, Bawden created a drilling company that employed 500 people, operating 34 rigs in Canada and many more abroad. Bawden was elected a Conservative member of Parliament in 1972 and re-elected in 1974. He died in 1991, at the age of 62.

n Mary Lou and John McCormick bought Fyshe House in 1993 -- and they intend to stay for a very long time.

© The Calgary Herald 2006
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