Richard Langrell chuckles as he tells the story about his kids, the pancakes and their gritty garnish of sheetrock dust, but it’s pretty clear that this tale, however silly it might sound, was at least inspired by real events.
It is perhaps the perfect anecdote, the only one that could compress into a couple of sentences one family’s 39-year commitment to their house.
Langrell, 62, is walking in the basement of that 118-year-old house, at the corner of Second and Estes streets, when he picks the pancake story to illustrate what it was like for him and his wife, Lynne, to raise their four children — daughters Frances and Robbie, and sons Asa and Sterling — in a home that was being restored.
“To this day my kids don’t like pancakes without a little sheetrock dust on top,” he says.
The purpose of this little joke, of course, is to try to explain, to someone who wasn’t there, just how much the restoration — the thousands of hours of measuring and sawing and nailing — became enmeshed into his family’s history over four decades.
“We’ve enjoyed the house,” Langrell said on Monday afternoon. “We raised our kids here. We’ve done what we set out to do. Now we’re ready to go on to another project.”
Which explains the “For Sale” sign wedged into one window.
But there is quite a lot more to this story than Langrell might imply with his “we’ve done what we set out to do” comment.
This was not simply a matter of a couple buying an old home and then sanding off its rough spots, both figuratively and literally, in a leisurely fashion.
Because in the Langrells’ case what they ended up doing was much different from what they originally planned when they bought the home from Richard’s fath er, Grier Langrell, in 1979.
“We were going to make it into six apartments,” Richard Langrell said.
But then fate, partially in the form of the federal government, intervened.
First, in the early 1980s, the Housing and Urban Development agency built more than 100 subsidized units in Baker City.
Langrell wasn’t pleased about this at the time, but he acknowledges now that the feds’ construction boom, and its effects on the local rental housing market, ended up being “a good thing.”
And that’s because not long after, around 1982, the Langrells learned that the home they bought — Richard describes it now as a “huge pink square’’ — was all but unrecognizable from its original form.
This revelation came from the granddaughter of Orson Taylor, the first person to live in what became known as the Kolb-White House, a two-story, 2,800-square-foot Queen Anne-style brick home at 1503 Second St.
She gave the Langrells several historic photographs of the home before its many modifications, but those weren’t the true treasur e.
The Langrells also inherited, as it were, the original blueprints drawn by Michael P. White, a Baker City architect who designed several of the city’s finest homes and buildings, including the Natatorium (today’s Baker Heritage Museum) and the White Apartments on First Street between Washington and Court avenues.
The Langrells then made a decision that turned out to be a momentous one -— they would see whether it was possible to restore the home to its original appearance.
This was not an easy question to answer.
Previous owners hadn’t merely altered the interior — although they certainly had done that, including removing staircases and interior walls. But they also obscured the home’s graceful lines by tacking on walls, a garage and a porch.
“We spent two years tear ing off additions to see if there was enough house left to restore,” Langrell said.
They were pleased to find that there was.
Indeed, Langrell said the house, despite its seemingly haphazard treatment over the decades, was structurally sound.
“It was solid and level,” he said. “Usually when you restore an old house the first thing you have to do is make sure everything is straight.”
Which is not to say the Langrells, armed with their photos and blueprints, had a straightforward restoration ahead of them.
Open House Saturday
Although the Langrells’ home was on the Christmas parlor tour Dec. 8, Richard Langrell said he wants to give residents another chance to tour the historic building.
The home, at 1503 Second St., will be open this Saturday, Dec. 15, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
See more in the Dec. 12, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.