Buffalo Rising headed up to Lockport to find one of our most spectacular “then and now” stories. This little Victorian cottage in one of Lockport’s faded but still quite beautiful historic neighborhoods was remodeled to a point that the original building had been virtually erased. A recent renovation is so extraordinary that the “now” picture could easily be passed off as a completely different building. All of its original exterior detail had been striped off or covered with bland siding in a misguided attempt at improvement and elimination of maintenance. The mansard roof shape and elegant proportions were muddled with a secondary gabled roof plopped on top. Even with this extra roof, previous owners had allowed years of leaking water to destroy much of the interior. The house was a complete disaster, on the fast track to eventual demolition. Was, but no longer!
Enter James Updegraph (AKA James Darkride*) and his wife. Three years ago they bought the house and transformed it into this little wedding cake of Victorian perfection. As you read James’ story below you will quickly realize that he has more than restored this house. He recreated it. So much of the house was destroyed that it was not possible to know what it originally looked like. He used his passion for historic architecture, amazing creativity, skill, and strong will to bring this house back from the brink. But, this transformation is more accurately describe as an original creation of architecture. Here is James’ story in his own words:
My wife and I purchased the house three years ago. It was in a condition where no one could live in the house. I was told by a neighbor that the roof had been leaking for over 6 years. Needless to say, when it was raining outside, it was raining inside the house. All the water over the years destroyed most of the plaster and wood floors. It was a mess. Most people would have walked in and immediately turned around, but I was infatuated with this home. The home had tall 10′ ceilings, interesting layout, great staircase, and I was in love with the Second Empire design. The previous owners had covered the home in vinyl and constructed a gable roof over the flat mansard roof. Of course when they had vinyl installed, any architectural elements were ripped off.
At $16,000, this home was a bargain, to me anyways. So between making masks and my home restoration, that is all I would do for the next three years. We moved in with my parents while I was gutting the house. This really helped us save money and put funds towards our home. Although living with my parents at age 29 was unbearable, I sucked it up. I was new to any type of construction/restoration, so some mistakes and learning from those mistakes were invited. I did 90 percent of the work myself. Occasionally friends or family would stop down to lend a much welcomed hand. Youtube videos and the Lockport public library were valuable resources when it came to understanding how to restore a home. I had to learn electric, plumbing, framing, drywall and finishing, detail, roofing, and most importantly I had to learn design.
The home became an obsession. I couldn’t stop after just drywall in a room and call it a day. I had to build wainscoting, I had to wallpaper, I had to add plaster medallions, I needed Victorian lamp shades. If it wasn’t custom, and didn’t look authentic, to me it would be garbage. My love for old homes goes back to my childhood. The smells, the creaking floors, the drafts, the beautiful details and everything about old homes just takes me to a great place. I think the fact I am an artists really helped me in achieving an authentic restoration.
It sounds odd to some people, I have been told, but I truly felt this house found me and guided my restoration. I love Lockport. It has potential to be such a great small little corner of the world. So many great old homes here in need of restoration. I can really say efforts in Buffalo and other cities were my inspiration. Buffalo is growing and with that I would love to see all of western New York grow. No town or city left behind. I believe we as western New Yorkers deserve it and it’s long overdue.
Interior condition prior to renovation
Hallway after. I made an error by painting the railing. Don’t know what possessed me to do it but it is being returned back to a stain as we speak.
James sent me this late note:
Also I forgot to mention a few things. My wife, brother-in-law and I are working on a house across the street we purchased which will be our second restoration. I can send pics of that house if you would like as well. As far as the paint schemes and details go, Allentown in Buffalo was a major inspiration to our design efforts. Many trips to Buffalo with a camera and sketch pad followed. The homes we purchased are in a part of Lockport that comes with a stigma. Large Victorian homes were divided up into many low-income units and soon after they fell to neglect and disrepair. Crime and drugs soon followed. Blight and slumlords are major problems we have to overcome. The area is however changing. We have lots of great neighbors and people really stepping up. If others hop on board and take advantage of this really great housing stock, it can become a very beautiful historic neighborhood. One of our main goals is revitalization through preservation.
*AKA James Darkride, for his horror mask business. More on that in a future story.