ASTORIA — In 2002, Joan Herman left Astoria to get a master’s degree at University of Oregon. Although she was a successful journalist and businessperson, she wanted to teach English in a community college.
Herman was hired immediately after graduation by Lower Columbia College in Longview. Along the way, she met and married John Gaasland, who worked in the testing lab at Washington’s Department of Transportation.
“Every day, I missed (Astoria) terribly,” recalled Herman. When she retired on disability in 2014, the couple agreed to move to Astoria. After a year’s search, they found the right house.
The house was constructed in 1917 for Hiram and Lillian Leinenweber. Hiram was a local manager for the Standard Oil Co. By 1922, the house was owned by Owen and Pauline Mulligan. He was a driver for Swift & Co., a meat wholesaler. She was a nurse. In 1946, Charles and Mary Briggs lived in the house. Charles owned the Superior Quality Market. By 1955, the house was owned by James and Lorraine Leahy. He was the vice-president of Astoria Hardware Co.
One of a kind
When they began to look for a house, Gaasland and Herman developed a set of criteria for their optimal home. Like many couples, they wanted a view of the river. Craftsman-era houses were preferred over other styles.
Herman has mobility issues; she wanted a house where she could maintain as much independence as possible. That meant it had to be strategically located on the hill above downtown. She needed a place where she could power her electric wheelchair up and down the slope to Astoria’s commercial district. She also needed a house that could be easily modified to provide access to both floors and all rooms. And, the price had to be within the couple’s budget.
In spite of the narrow criteria, they found the perfect house in an ideal location.
“I cannot imagine living in a better neighborhood,” said Herman.
Preparing the house
Before moving to Astoria, they took initial steps to ready the house for occupancy. Their first priority was to make the house accessible to Herman. Ray Prom poured a concrete pad behind the house for parking. He also poured an adjacent sidewalk. There, a small wood ramp was constructed to enter the back porch. “We were fortunate to have only one step on the side of the house,” recalled Herman. Inside, they installed a stair lift. It climbs a formal stairway to reach the second floor.
After removing all the wall-to-wall carpets, J&J Hardwood Floors refinished the fir floors. A handyman, Dave Appleby, repainted the walls, replaced the bathroom sinks and toilets. Bogh Electric replaced the breaker box. Herman is most appreciative of her realtor, Deb Bowe, who recommended all of the contractors. She said they relied on the contractors to do the work without her or Gaasland on site.
“We did everything from a distance while work was going on,” she said.
Mike McKee removed the dropped ceiling in the kitchen then sheet rocked the ceiling. He also laid Marmoleum on the floor.
“It’s made a huge difference in the space,” said Gaasland. “Then, Ed Overbay gave us great suggestions to make the kitchen look and function better.”
Existing 1960s-style cabinet doors and hardware will be replaced with a Shaker style. Gaasland will do the work himself and will finish the countertops with Formica and wood trim.
Some time ago, virtually all of the house’s double-hung windows were replaced with fixed, single-light, thermal pane windows.
Last spring, Katie Rathmell restored a set of paired windows in the kitchen. The wood, double-hung windows have an unusual muntin pattern in the upper sash. Gaasland watched Rathmell work and learned how to cut and fabricate new sashes. He plans to do the rest of the home’s windows as time and money allow.
Importance of historic preservation
“Despite all the changes, we love the house,” said Herman. “I love thinking about who lived here before us…. If restored to its original design and character, it would be beautiful.”
For more information about renovating an old home or commercial building, visit the Lower Columbia Preservation Society website at lcpsociety.com.