Do you remember how close we came to losing one of our most precious structures? Steve and Debra Walker spent many months and many dollars completely restoring the Harnisch House at 523 King William from roof to basement. On Saturday, August 14, 1999, just before 10:00 p.m., several fire trucks screamed through the neighborhood and converged at the corner of King William and East Guenther.
The Walkers were spending the weekend at their ranch when they got an urgent phone call. They turned on their TV to the 10 o’clock news to see their house engulfed in flames.
SAFD pumped water out of the river for hours until the firemen were satisfied that the fire was completely extinguished. Early the next morning the City Building Code Supervisor visited the burned hulk and declared it a total loss, using alarming words such as condemnation, dangerous structure and worst of all, demolition.
Neighborhood architects, the Conservation Society and King William neighbors came together as one force to say “SAVE THIS HOUSE!” The Walkers had architects and building experts thoroughly inspect the remains. Due to construction methods used in the late 19th century, the three-course brick walls and sturdy stone foundations were declared to be structurally sound.
The same construction team who had previously restored the house returned to perform an extraordinary job of restoration, including replicating damaged parts of the intricate porch details. It’s a new house inside, but the late Victorian Style exterior looks exactly as it did when it was built in 1884, the design attributed to architect Albert Beckmann.
Never underestimate the power of a group of dedicated people who are passionate about a cause – in this case, saving our history.
- Bill Cogburn