Restoring Saginaw's Hill House could cost $1.5M

1/20/2013 7:00 AM
By Associated Press

SAGINAW, Mich. (AP) — Nearly one year after it sold for $1 to the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History, the Hill House still stands empty and in disrepair in Saginaw.

But some progress has been made.

Paul Virciglio, chairman of Friends of Hill House, said the group has cleaned up inside the manse and secured several small grants, with plans to begin renovations in the spring of 2013.

Virciglio said restoration plans for the Hill House have been drawn up by an architect, and the project will cost $1 million to $1.5 million.

The last time readers learned about the Hill House, architecture lovers had rallied around it after it was featured in "This Old House," a national home improvement magazine. The headline on Dec. 1, 2011, was "Saginaw's Hill House sells for $1; fundraisers hope to convert former lumber baron's home into architectural museum."

Virciglio said the board will meet soon to discuss its next move.

"We've got our research done, now we have to have a meeting of the full board to lay out our long-range plans," he said.

Virciglio said the group has made trips to the Whaley House in Flint and the Hackley House in Muskegon, two restored historic houses, to get a better understanding of the process, time and money required for the Hill House project.

Muskegon's Hackley House, built by lumber baron Charles Hackley in 1887, was in better shape when it was acquired by the Hackley Heritage Association in 1971.

The restoration took about 10 years, Virciglio said.

"It was used, whereas the Hill House has been vacant for years," he said.

"We've been talking to the gentleman who took on the Hackley House to see what he went through with a full historical restoration," he said. "He was thinking ahead to maintenance. For example, he over-ordered the molding to have some extra around for repairs, and that increased the budget."

Tom Trombley, deputy director at the Castle Museum, said Hill House was built by Clarence and Susie Hill in 1886.

It was designed by local architect Fred Hollister and remodeled in 1912 or 1913 by W.T. Cooper. The renovations included the addition of a garage and the home's current front porch.

"The house really embodies a certain period of Saginaw history," Trombley said. "The fact that a house of this scale was constructed of wood — white pine — really reflects how the family made their fortune."

When the Castle Museum acquired Hill House from Neighborhood Renewal Services in December 2011, there was the possibility of receiving federal money in the form of a neighborhood stabilization grant. However, the city of Saginaw did not receive the federal funding it expected, Virciglio said.

The cost of the restoration of the Hackley House and neighboring Hume House was partly paid for by a millage.

"When you look at the Hackley house, there was a terrific buy-in by the community with the millage," Virciglio said. "That definitely makes it easier."

Once Hill House is restored, Virciglio said it will be house an architectural museum.

"At the historical society, they have all kinds of architectural drawings and no place to display them," he said. "We want to make (the house) a depository that architects and architecture students could come visit and look at lumber-era architecture."

The restoration itself could become an educational experience for students as a way to cut costs, Virciglio said.

"We could get architectural students to do projects in restoring to help defray costs," he said.

Virciglio said that because all new construction projects use drywall, not plaster, like the walls in the Hill House, it is difficult to find a plasterer for these projects. Contractors could use the restoration as an opportunity to teach their employees plaster techniques.


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