In 1947, when singer and film actor Frank Sinatra walked into architect E. Stewart Williams’ Palm Springs, Calif., office, he commenced a business relationship that would eventually influence the design of two Galveston houses.
After Williams completed Sinatra’s contemporary residence in Palm Springs, Calif., Sam Maceo, then a prominent Galveston nightclub owner, visited the famous Rat Pack member.
Impressed with the dwelling, Maceo brought Williams’ talent to Galveston, where he would design two residential properties — the Desert Modern on Cedar Lawn Circle, the other a lesser known ranch-style house on Bayou Homes Drive.
The Bayou Homes Drive property, a one-story, 4,200-square-foot home, was commissioned by Sam Maceo’s nephew, Victor Maceo and his wife, Thelma Kay, in 1956.
After the Maceos moved out in 1998, the house changed hands several times. When Hurricane Ike caused significant damage to the structure, the house sat empty until the Schoenvogel family came along, buying the house in November last year after three years of house-hunting.
Patrick and Allison Schoenvogel and family were living in Spanish Grant on the island’s West End but wanted to move into town.
“We have three teenage boys and wanted to be closer into town for convenience, and they all will be driving soon,” she said.
The Schoenvogels toured the dilapidated midcentury modern gem, and decided to move forward with the brave purchase of a complete fixer-upper.
“When we first saw the house, it was all boarded up, so it was really dark,” Schoenvogel said. “It still had the carpet in it from before Hurricane Ike. Everything was mildewed. It smelled. My husband says I’m crazy, but I just got this feeling that this was going to be our home.”
Despite the damage, she fell in love with the floor plan, she said.
“For a house of this age, the rooms were really large,” Schoenvogel said. “People just didn’t build houses back then with such great spaces.”
Without an architect or a designer, the couple in December embarked on an arduous eight-month renovation.
“I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the house,” Schoenvogel said.
They enlisted a team of experts, including Jay Wilson, a builder in Galveston, and the couple set to work tackling a daunting set of tasks, from Sheetrock and structure to tile-work and termites.
“Even the people who did the termite treatment said they had never seen anything like it,” Schoenvogel said. “When they started taking the Sheetrock out and got back to the bare bones of the house, every piece of wood was rotted.”
After the major structural, plumbing and electrical work was complete, Schoenvogel began designing the spaces to fit her family’s lifestyle.
She enlisted the help of Nancy McCall at Designs by Dimension in Galveston.
Schoenvogel envisioned an open kitchen, with light but warm counters and backsplash and dark, durable cabinets.
“With three teenage boys, I cook every single day,” she said. “We love to entertain. So, I knew that I wanted a kitchen that flowed, where everyone could mingle and where nobody would be on top of each other.”
Because the ceilings were only 9 feet high, Schoenvogel wanted to make the space appear taller.
“So, we took the cabinets all the way to the ceiling,” she said.
In the kitchen, she chose travertine tile for the floor, a tumbled marble backsplash, and yellow river granite countertops.
“I just put together what I liked,” she said. “I didn’t say everything had to be traditional or modern. I just wanted it to be warm and comfortable.”
The master bathroom was another major undertaking.
The master bath is finished with travertine floors and marble countertops.
“That tile was the first thing that I bought, in terms of finishes, for the house. Everything in the bathroom was designed around that tile, because I loved it so much,” she said.
Essentially, the Schoenvogels built a new house, but they worked hard to restore some of the home’s original features, including the exposed beams in the living area and Arizona flagstone on the porches.
“The footprint is the same,” Schoenvogel said.
In fact, actual footprints on the front porch are marked with inscriptions that read “Little Vic” and “Anthony,” etched in stone by the first family to live in the house.
Schoenvogel knew Vic Maceo, Victor Maceo’s son, had grown up in the house. She called him and Maceo provided her with more insight into the history of the house, which is a time capsule with period remnants of midcentury Galveston, once belonging to members of an iconic family.
The house was the first in Galveston to have recessed lighting, Vic Maceo said. The interior beams in the living room are more than 100 years old and were pulled from the U.S. Army barracks in Fort Crockett.
An early intercom system once pumped music through the house.
“So, in the ’50s they basically had surround sound, which nobody had,” Schoenvogel said.
The most interesting find was two sealed floor safes crews found when pulling up flooring.
“They could have been jackhammered open, but we didn’t do that,” Schoenvogel said. “We just sealed them back into the concrete when we were putting in the new flooring.”
Although renovation of the house wasn’t easy, it was worth it, Schoenvogel said.
“I just knew that it could be a great house again,” she said.