Growing up in Houston in the 1960s meant hot summers with little to no air conditioning. During the summer weekends, Mom and Dad would pack up the kids, and head south to the beach in Galveston via the Gulf Freeway. Riding in the back seat of the station wagon, Houstonian Janie Mitcham, her big brother and little sister knew they were within spitting distance of Galveston’s Stewart Beach when they passed a certain landmark- the historic Lucas Terrace Apartments on Broadway. These summer pilgrimages were the launch of Janie Mitcham’s love affair with Old Houses.
Let’s back up and start at the beginning. Janie grew up in Houston working with her father in his paint and hardware store. She received her BS in Industrial Technology from Texas A&M University, and then her JD from the University of Houston College of Law. She rose up the ranks to a Senior Vice President in the male-dominated field of wholesale electric operations at Reliant Energy. During this time of her life, she married and had two girls, and then later had another two girls.
After the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent economic fallout, Janie had a light switch go off and came to the realization that after 20+ years in a high-pressure environment – working the corporate grind was not doing it for her anymore. She realized that being there for her family was actually the most important thing of all.
Yes, Janie is a doer, and while she doesn’t work in the corporate world any longer, she works side by side with her husband Stuart, purchasing and remodeling 1950’s ranch houses in Houston which they then sell or operate as rentals.
Back to Old Houses. In 2013, Janie’s sister – Jo discovered that the Lucas Terrace Apartments were listed for sale online. Jo immediately posted the listing on Facebook. When Janie saw the posting she instantly called the realtor, had a showing, fell in love with the property, and of course purchased it. The Lucas Terrace Apartments were originally built in 1887 by Thomas Lucas – a bricklayer from Nottingham, England. The original structure at 6th and Broadway was destroyed by the Storm of 1900. After the storm, Lucas picked through the rubble for the bricks and moved them to Broadway and 14th, where his wooden home miraculously survived. The Galveston Historical Foundation views the Lucas Terrace Apartments as one of the most significant properties on the East End of Galveston, as it is the only structure remaining built in the Art Nouveau style. After eight years of hard work and lots of cash, the restoration is complete (can restoration of an old house ever be fully completed?), fully rented, and close to breaking even on a cash flow basis.
Janie admits that she should have been content finishing the Lucas, however, Galveston had other plans for her. During the eight years of back and forth between Houston and Galveston for the Lucas, she passed a slowly decaying grand old house with a lone window left open on the top floor, further up Broadway. She jokingly shared with her friends that her husband better pray that it never came up for sale, because if it did, she would cash in everything they owned to purchase and save it. Janie’s husband is very supportive of everything she does and does help if asked, but if you can’t already figure out – she has a very independent streak.
Well, guess what happened? The J. C. League home, at 1702 Broadway was listed in late 2020. Janie closed on the property in early 2021. The house was built in 1893 and designed by noted architect Nicholas Clayton. There are over 8,000 feet of fabulousness – including three stories, seven bedrooms, five full baths, priceless stained glass, Italian marble fireplaces, a music room, a greenhouse, and wrap-around side and front porches.
Janie has accepted the challenge to restore this grand historic property. She is currently working on fixing/restoring the major structural aspects to stop any further decay. The fun part – restoring the interiors comes after all the expensive repairs that you really can’t see. She is chronicling the restoration on her website on YouTube.
I admire Janie. She isn’t afraid of hard work. She definitely isn’t bored in her retirement years. She also recognizes that old houses tell a story. That they have a history, and they give us a sense of place and time and a perspective on where we fit in this huge, sometimes impersonal world. She doesn’t consider herself the owner of the J.C. League House, but a steward to keep the house in good shape for the next generations. If we all take her approach to everything in life, I can imagine that the world would be a much better, sustainable place.