Wood Mansion headed for restoration

Contributed photo Noah, left, and Jon Breeden stand in front of the 1875 John Howland Wood House. Jon Breeden closed on the house June 20, becoming then new owner of the structure. Jon said he wants to completely restore the mansion and turn it into a living history destination for the public.

Bayside – After Hurricane Harvey ransacked Bayside, most people who saw the 1875 John Howland Wood Mansion figured the old house was done in.

The structure’s west wing was twisted and leaning 7 degrees off plumb, windows were broken, roof had a gaping hole in it and board siding was missing, yet it remained standing.

The Wood Mansion has seen numerous hurricanes throughout its history, but never one that screamed 140 mph and parked on top of it for most of the night Aug. 25, 2017.

Lynette Selzer, the owner, had no insurance to cover damages. And the house was not her primary residence, so FEMA would not offer any funding at all.

The widower of Michael Selzer, who had worked hard to get the structure listed on the National Register (1983) and later as a Texas Historic Landmark (1998), was forced to try and sell the house.

Many considered buying the house, but in the end, it was Jon Breeden who signed the closing of the sale on Thursday, June 20.

Breeden, 36, of San Antonio, said he fell in love with the place the first time he saw it.

“A friend of mine, whose father works in the Valley, found out about (the Wood Mansion),” Breeden said.

“He knew a project like that was way over his head, and he thought of me because of my experience,” he said.

Breeden, owner of a tile company in San Antonio, has restored smaller structures before, but the Wood House is by far the biggest project he has taken on.

Breeden said he had a conversation with his brother Noah at 7:30 a.m., and by 4 p.m., “I was in Bayside,” Breeden said.

“I had called Laura (his spouse) and told her he thought she might have to pick up the kids,” he said.

The couple has three sons: Jesse, 3 1/2; 7-year-old Jack; and Jonathan, 9.

When he arrived in Bayside, he saw the majestic and stately place.

“I think it is manageable,” Breeden said.

Others like Corpus Christi architect/contractor Trian Serbu, and historic home mover Lilly Wilkinson, also think the old structure can be restored.

Serbu helped brace the structure four months after the storm, and Wilkinson has been  spending her spare time trying to straighten the house.

“I came down and fell in love with it,” Breeden said.

“Noah came down a week and a half later,” he said.

Noah, 33, said he wants to help his brother restore the house, and he said he loves Greek Revival architecture.

Noah has an MBA in business strategy, marketing and planning.

Jon, on the other hand, said he graduated from the school of hard knocks.

“I want to be the extra hand and help with project management,” Noah said.

“I want to make sure it is getting restored where the whole community can come together,” he added.

Jon said the structure could serve as a vacation rental, similar to airbnb rentals.

“I want it to be a public education space where people can come learn about Texas history and the Civil War; it would take on a museum aspect,” Jon said.

“It would be a unique opportunity for everybody,” he added.

But Breeden said by no means does he have all the finances to get the restoration completed, so he is depending on acquiring grants to help.

The Bayside Historical Society has offered to help in any way it can – writing grants, cleaning up the inside of the mansion and garnering support for the project.

“Already, we have had lots of offers to work, help get it to its former glory,” Breeden said.

He called the project a “catalyst” for the community to turn around the sadness of Harvey’s devastation.

Noah said he liked seeing the resurgence of Rockport and Bayside.

And the welcome from people in Bayside has been uplifting.

“Bayside is very welcoming. It is surprising how positive it is. The Wood Mansion is precious to the town, and everybody’s positive attitude is unique after the devastation,” Noah said.

Jon said it will take five years for a complete restoration.

“That’s more or less our belief,” Jon said.

“We have reached out for sponsorships in the corporate community,” he  said.

Also, a community meeting is planned in conjunction with the Bayside Historical Society’s quarterly meeting 2 p.m. Aug. 10.

In addition to the regular guest speaker, the Breedens will present a short PowerPoint presentation. After the meeting, they will take ideas.

“We feel this is a necessity. We’ll pull together people’s thoughts and ideas, as well as historical components (not known),” Jon said.

Breeden scheduled recently to have the mansion’s roof inspected.

“This is the first priority – to get the mansion dried out,” he said.

Tim Delaney is the Refugio editor at the  Advance-Guard Press and can be reached at 361-526-2397, or at refugio@mySouTex.com.