AAUW presents Homes for the Holidays
Tour of five area homes, all decorated for the holidays, takes place Sunday, Dec. 1, 1-4 p.m.
Ticket price is $30. Sales start Nov. 1. Ticket holders must be 16 years or older. Tickets available at Walgreen's
The home of Dr. Ralph and Mary Blasier was the original residence of William Oliver, namesake of the Oliver Auditorium in Escanaba. Although the home has undergone considerable renovation, much of its original beauty and charm has been preserved.
Proceeds from the annual tour of homes support educational and economic benefits for women and families
ESCANABA - The current residence of Dr. Ralph and Mary Gail Blasier has been a fixture near Ludington Park for more than 100 years. The home at 700 Lake Shore Drive sits at the corner of Lake Shore Drive and Fifth Avenue South where it overlooks both Ludington Park and the Bay beyond.
The home, believed to have been built in 1902, was originally the residence of William Oliver, the namesake of the Oliver Auditorium at the old Junior High School. There have reportedly been four or five owners since that time, including the James Fitzharris family, who purchased the home in 1962. The Blasiers became the most recent owners of the Oliver house, having purchased it in 2007.
A new job for Dr. Blasier and a retirement for Mary Gail sparked the couple's move to Escanaba. Mary Gail is a native of Escanaba and a graduate of Holy Name High School. As they began the search for a new home, Ralph's one requirement was that they needed to "find a house with a view." And, indeed, they have done that.
When the Blasiers bought the house, they felt it was important to maintain as much of the original beauty and charm as possible; but they also wanted to make it comfortable and update it with modern conveniences. Mary Gail says that the changes made to the house should be considered a renovation, not necessarily a restoration. The updating was done with an effort to work with the original look and feel of the house, although all changes may not necessarily be historically correct. The end result of that renovation is a remarkable and inviting home filled with unique architectural details and vintage character.
Through the main door at the front of the house is an original floor-to-ceiling oak-framed mirror in the small entryway, which then opens up to the main living area. The entire house has beautiful original hardwood flooring throughout as well as much of the original oak woodwork and lovely painted radiators, all of which add to the Victorian charm.
To the left of the main entrance is the living room, which features an original green ceramic fireplace surrounded by oak bookshelves. A bay window on the east side provides a panoramic view of the park. The crown molding around the ceiling edges is original. A "crack" that ran between the two separate pieces of molding was almost caulked and "repaired." That is, until a little research found that the crack was actually an intentional feature used for hanging pictures. Mary Gail has since hung several pictures from cording anchored to the picture molding in much the same style that was used in the early 1900s.
A small parlor at the front of the house next to the living room has been refashioned with an elaborately carved wooden bar and an antique washstand dating from the same time period as the house itself. An ornate wooden family crest was inlaid into the hardwood floor during the refinishing process.
Mary Gail's passion for color is evidenced throughout the house and is particularly noteworthy in the formal dining room with its deep rose colored ceiling with white plastered beams, large flowered wall covering, and wainscoting with blue painted panels framed in oak. A huge chandelier hangs in the center on a specially crafted medallion that builder Greg Sayers created for just that purpose. The room also includes several original leaded and stained glass windows, which were incorporated into the new design. When more privacy or quiet is desired for dining, the etched glass pocket doors leading into the living room can be closed.
On the opposite side of the living room is the kitchen and a small eating area. The kitchen is one of the two rooms in the house (the other being the master bath) that was completely gutted and redone. Mary Gail, who loves to cook, created a chef's haven with modern stainless steel appliances and a large island with granite countertop. The cabinetry in two different tones helps to seamlessly blend the old with the new. They also added an inset fireplace near the kitchen table with a newly fashioned oak mantel and surround.
The removal of the dropped ceiling uncovered the original gas piping and allowed room for the creation of a pan ceiling over the kitchen table. It features a faux verdigris-covered tin at the apex, which is a perfect accent to the vivid rust color of the walls. The kitchen also has a doorway to a small covered porch where Ralph and Mary Gail enjoying sitting outside and looking out over the Bay.
The original house did not have a bathroom at all on the main floor. But, like many houses of that era, space was carved out under the staircase to add a small powder room, which remains much as it was when it was first added. The half bath, which is two-steps down off the hallway, includes a black and white tile floor as well as an ornately decorated stool and a pedestal sink.
The beautiful oak staircase next to the powder room provides a dramatic climb to the second story. At the landing on the north side of the house is a huge stained glass window which came from the old St. Joseph's school. The gold colors of the stained glass are echoed in the painted walls which lead into the small sitting area at the top of the stairs.
The second floor has two bedrooms including the master bedroom suite. The master bath is the second of the two rooms which was completely gutted during the restoration. The newly designed bath is painted in a cheery green apple color and includes a free-standing shower and walk-in tub. When the brick from the original chimney was uncovered during the renovation, the owners decided to incorporate it into the design, and it remains on one wall. The two bedrooms and an office on this floor remain largely unchanged from their original design.
The third floor of the house, which is not included in the tour, contains two additional bedrooms, a bath, and an open sitting area. This portion of the house would have originally been the servants' quarters but is currently being used to house some orphaned cat families taken in by Mary Gail, who is now working as the assistant manager of the animal shelter.
The house, which was all white when it was originally built, has been completely re-sided with new windows and new trim. To be done in true Victorian style, a home must have a minimum of three colors; and they have chosen to do the outside in a moss green, brick red, and tan. The original roof corbels where removed, sand blasted, painted, and reinstalled. Two large new porches were built, and a reproduction wrought iron fence now surrounds the attractively landscaped yard.
Visitors are sure to enjoy seeing the many unique features of this fine home. And it will, no doubt, be even more captivating when decked out in Holiday splendor.