Homeowner figures he’ll finish restoration ‘when I’m dead’

By Joe Stumpe | March 1, 2024

Spend a few minutes in Cathy and Larry Mong’s house, and you won’t be surprised to learn it doesn’t have an internet connection.

The Texas transplants have a passion for objects from bygone eras, especially if they still serve a useful purpose. And Larry has a talent for bringing them back to life.

Antique electric fans? The Mongs own about 75 of them, including an iconic 1912 Westinghouse double gyro electric fan spinning noiselessly above their foyer. Some friends in a fan lovers club gave that one to Larry as a joke after finding it underwater in a basement.

Vintage bicycles? They’ve got their choice of 20 to ride, dating back to a 1915 Rollfast originally fitted with wooden wheels and hard rubber tires.

Lighted fish bowls? Yes, but that’s a sore subject ever since Martha Stewart popularized them in her magazine. “Something we bought for $20 turned into $500,” Larry grouses.

The biggest restoration project of all has been their home, a 1906 Victorian on South Topeka they bought for $50,000 23 years ago. Concerned that Larry’s job as an auto body man was hazardous to his health, Cathy, an educator, persuaded him to make fixing up the home his job.

He spent a year on each exterior side of the house, stripping and painting and earning the nickname “scaffolding man.” He jacked up the foundation, installed fireplaces with gas inserts, built a widow’s walk. He crafted handsome cabinets with wood salvaged from North High. He releaded a few of the home’s stained glass windows and created the rest from scratch. He replaced plumbing and ceilings, opened up the kitchen and mudroom and fitted a vintage Jenn Air cooktop over an antique Monarch stove.

He turned a barn out back that’s actually older than the house into a studio and has another workshop in his basement. He recently started tearing up the front room, which looked perfectly fine to untrained eyes.

“I try to work on the house every day,” he said. “It varies from a couple hours to, when it’s warm, I try to do 10 hours.”

The home now holds the couple’s collection of Victorian furniture, all of which started out as “junk,” in Larry’s words. “My wife loves to strip furniture.”

Larry said the home’s previous owner cared more that the home go to someone who loved it as much as she did than about money.

That it has.

“People ask me are you ever going to finish that house?” Larry said. “Yeah, when I’m dead, I’ll be finished.”

This article was republished here with the permission of: The Active Age