Busy Busy Dizzy Dizzy

Our renovation project work has been super busy this week, though most of the progress has been made in the planning area. Emails are flying back and forth between us and our architect, the structural engineer, and the city so fast I can barely keep up. We’ve gotten our structural improvement plans for the eastern third of the building (where the two bedroom and efficiency apartment will go) through the first level of approval by the city. And details are being worked on to lay out the plumbing and electrical. We are also getting our quotes for fire suppression as required by the city because our building is both commercial and residential.

Putting in a fire sprinkler system will be fairly uncomplicated in the eastern third of the building, since we are already going to be replacing the old drop-ceiling in our wood repair shop tenant’s business. The challenging part will be next year, when we have to rip in to already existing ceilings of the dance studio and law office. But we’ll worry about that later.

This past weekend, the father of one of my closest friends came to share his masonry expertise with us. Frank, the masonry expert, and my husband, Heath, tore down several existing brick sections that needed to be leveled for doorways. They also started filling in some of the holes in walls with reclaimed brick. Check it out:


First hole completely filled! Small hole that is in a wall between a kid’s bedroom and the bedroom of the two-bed apartment. I think there was previously a vent pass-through here.


Originally a window opening, we are filling this in as it is going to be the back of a closet in one of the kid’s bedrooms.


Needed to remove brick from another window opening to go down to the sub-flooring.


This is yet another window opening that we broke open the bottom all the way down to the level of the floor joists.

Shout out to our crew of teenagers and friends for helping us haul¬†TWO pallets of “Old Chicago” reclaimed bricks from the sidewalk up into the loft! Thanks Tavary Family and Kulow Kids! I don’t have a picture of the kids, unfortunately, but look at all of these bricks we hauled! And this photo is only half the load! Did I mention that there is no elevator? Basically, we start with a wheelbarrow at the top of the back stairs, and a line of people on the stairs passing bricks one-by-one up to the top. Once the wheelbarrow is full, one of us jogs it over to the designated drop area (needed to balance the floor load), another few folks unload it, the wheelbarrow goes back empty, and the process starts all over again. A bit tedious, but it’s the only way.


This photo shows only half the load! There were more stacks to the right.

Oh, and this was only two of a total of seven pallets that we’ll eventually need. Can’t overload the floors with too many bricks, plus there’s not really enough room for that many. Luckily the brick company (Rudloff Bricks – great team!) will hold on to the rest of ours until we need another load delivered.

So, our current weekend job is filling holes in walls with bricks, and performing necessary structural improvements dictated to us by the structural engineer. Any one wanting to try their hand at masonry is welcome to come on over! ūüėÄ And those of you who have been to demo days know that we’re not kidding.

P. S. I suffered my second job injury (the first was getting my feet tangled up in old wiring, and falling very hard on my left knee). Twofold stupid: I was wearing sandals, not my work boots, because it was supposed to be a quick meeting with the brick company representative and our master mason – and I wasn’t paying attention. There’s a missing floor plank in the very middle of the building. I stepped right into it with my right foot almost up to my hips. Oddly enough, I was saved by my phone, which was in a side cargo pocket, and prevented me from going all the way down. The phone bruised me badly, and I got scraped up on either sides of my leg. Thank goodness for my friend Heather’s homemade skin healing lotion! So… wear proper footwear, and pay attention, kids.


My bruise, several days later, from the phone saving me. Thanks, Otterbox! And you can see a nearly-healed scrape on the bottom of the leg (Thanks again, Heather!).


Floors coming up

We decided to post-pone the removal of the middle section of ceiling for now for a variety of reasons, and have gotten started on carefully removing the floor beams in the eastern third of the building. This eastern third will eventually contain the efficiency apartment and the two-bedroom apartment that we’ll be opening up to lease to the public. Take a look:


View of the back room (south-east corner). After we redo the floors and seal them, the windows will go, and this whole area will be a deck (foreground), part of a bedroom for the two-bed apt (middleground), and a small balcony for the two-bed apt.


Closer view of the back room. Unfortunately, the ceiling in the shop below is in very poor shape. But on the up side, we will be able to access everything underneath this third of the building easily, replacing the ceiling for the tenant in the process.


View looking into the rear-room. You can see that it is slightly higher right now. We’ll be lowering it to meet with the rest of the building.


At the top of the stairs (left side of photo) coming up from Main Street, floor boards are slowly being removed to expose the beams. A temporary walk-way has been created with some recycled plywood boards.

At this point, our plan seems to be that we’ll be completely building out the eastern third of the building so that these two living spaces are complete. We’ll then put most of our belongings into storage, and live in these two spaces while we finish completing our own space. Of course, plans may change. But that’s what we’re thinking right now.

The big question is when. We still don’t know. As the months get hotter, it will become much more difficult to work up in the loft for any length of time. We’re trying to avoid as many social commitments as we can for the month of May so we can spend every spare minute picking away at the structure. I’d like to hope that we’d be finished with the eastern section by the end of November, but I could be severely under-estimating our progress.

In the next few weeks we’re supposed to have our next meeting with our architect, which will also include a consultation with his structural engineer. We’ll be examining all of the beams that have been exposed in the ceiling and in the floor, and any plan of action that might be needed. So far, in our uneducated opinion, our girl looks great! There’s one beam that is badly damaged by termites that will need to be replaced. And another beam got butchered where an over-zealous plumber got really creative installing indoor plumbing. But other than that, we seem to be okay so far.

As usual, if you have some free time on a weekend, we’d love to have some help. You don’t need experience, just a willingness to work. We’ll feed you, give you a place to sleep if you are coming in from out of town.

Post-Demo Results and Finds

We’ve got some great progress to share from our demo weekend. I¬†can’t think of why I haven’t taken my wide-angle lens to the loft before to take photos, but I did yesterday. Perhaps those who have never seen our project in person can better see the scope of it now. I took a shot standing in each corner, and you can really see how much work has been done.


View from the north-east corner, ceilings gone all the way!


View from the North-west corner: ceilings gone for most of this section. You can see that ceilings still need to be removed in the middle. Also, some of the dropped ceiling still remains in the right back-ground. To the left is all of our lumber. To the right is debris that will end up in a dumpster on our next demo-day.


View from south-west corner: in the foreground on left are some tools and metal cabling (the latter being saved for recycling). Beyond the red tool case is the debris pile. To the right, just out of sight is the back stairwell, and the doorway leading to the back room which will be the future deck.


View from the south-east corner: all of the ceiling has been removed. We’ll remove the rafters but keep the roof. Floor will be re-done. Back wall/windows on left will go, replaced with wrought iron railing. This area is our (and another apartment’s) future back covered deck.

And I think that’s about it. Before we pull down the remaining section of ceiling, we are going to skip ahead and pull out the flooring! Ha! We want to start exposing some areas for the structural engineer, plus we need to start streamlining the process of restoring our flooring, especially on the east-side of the building, where it isn’t as well-kept. After we remove a section of the flooring, we’ll partially cover the opening with some temporary plywood so we can move all of the lumber out of the way of the ceiling demolition. And after the final ceiling is removed, we’ll move on to the floors – can’t wait to see what we find under there!

Speaking of finds, here’s some of our found objects of the weekend.


Metal fuse boxes and we found Prince Albert’s can!


After Heath went and bought needed extra hammers for the crew, a hammer fell out of the ceiling. Seriously. Looks like the end was sawn off.


Difficult to see in the photo, but it says “Belknap” on the top, “Trade” on the left, “Mark” on the right, “Bluegrass” in the middle, and “Louisville” on the bottom. Probably 1930’s to maybe as late as 1960’s era.


And as usual, a ton more hand-wrought square-head nails. I’m saving them for lots and lots of future craft and art projects.

That’s all for now, folks. We’ll be picking away at smaller projects just about every weekend we can, so if you are interested in taking a whack at some demolition, just let us know. And keep watching this space and your Facebook Events page for the next demo day! Thanks for keeping up with our project.

Demo Day Review

Saturday was a blazing day with a full crew of people. Unfortunately, we lost a few folks due to injuries and weather threats, so Sunday went a bit more slowly. The upside is, 4/5ths of the ceiling is now down, with only the last section in the middle to go. That includes two heavy air conditioning units hanging from the ceiling. But that’s in the future. Let’s share what we just did. First, the fun stuff.

We had one last “dropped” ceiling hiding the real ceiling that needed to go. It was barely attached to the last remaining non-brick wall, so the guys decided they could just yank the entire dropped ceiling down instead of piece-by-piece. It was by far the faster and easier route, and also a bit more amusing. Also mildly dangerous. Check out this video by our friend and one of our lovely volunteer workers, Miranda:

(Charity had some great videos, too, but you’ll have to be a friend of hers on Facebook).

Here’s some shots of us in action throughout the day:


First find of the day: bird skeleton number 374


Scott gets started on the ceiling in the northeast room of the building.


Kaylea and Connor pull nails from reusable lumber.


Heath had to build more saw horses because we had so many crew members.


Mike sticks his head up in the southeast room’s ceiling.


Miranda knows that Charity’s beatings of Zad will continue until morale improves.


Zad and Charity take a much-deserved break.


Scott is a prime example of how filthy things got. There was a lot of nasty dirt and debris under the rear room ceiling.


And I do mean filthy… the clean part is where his glove stopped.

I’ve got pictures of the final results of this weekend coming up soon!

Much thanks to the Shelbourne Family, the Tavary Family, the Norris/Jackson Family, Miranda, and Jill who all helped out whether it was actual demolition, cooking, or keeping the kiddos out of our hair.

We’ll definitely be doing more demo weekends in upcoming months, hopefully before it gets too hot. Just keep watching this space for more details and/or your Facebook Events page.

Latest Progress – Ceilings crashing down!

Thanks to friends who are parents of kids in our middle child’s preschool class, the entire northwest quadrant of the ceiling has been removed, beams exposed. Everything looks fabulous so far…


Our friend Jonathan helps Heath pull down the ceiling in the west side of the building.


You can see framing where a previous owner cut through the beams for a previous ceiling attachment. Hopefully we can restore the original beams and cross supports.


Kind of hard to see from this picture, but we’ve got a great solid pitched roof above original solid beams in the oldest part of the upper story. Can you believe that these beams are about 160 years old?!?! So awesome!


All gone! View facing north from south end of building, showing beautiful beams. Also, the camera lens warped the middle – the beams are straight, not hanging.

… except for the window that got smashed on Sunday. We’re still not ready to replace it, so for now we have to get a plexiglass pane. Apparently the city doesn’t want us to just cover it with plastic or plywood because it is on Main Street. Oddly enough, the building directly across from us has had plywood over its windows since we purchased the building over a year ago. Oh well. We will play nice. ūüėČ


Lower pane of window is gone. Got all of the glass out of the street. The entire window and frame will be replaced, but we’re not ready to do that just yet, so a cheap plexiglass will have to do for a few months to keep the birds and the rain out.

Another bit of work done was to secure the wall where the cross beam is attached, as it is a little crumbly.


Further braced a crumbling support wall and beam. Odd to think that 160 years ago, that arched window looked out east over Brenham, before it was bricked up and make into a wall.

Interesting finds of the weekend included a 1960’s era empty Coca-Cola can (forgot to get a photo of that), a¬†blob of plaster and palette with the mason’s final swish through it, and a mysterious foot-long iron hook hung high up in the rafters.


Frozen in time


Large hook hung from the ceiling found underneath dropped ceiling. Any guesses? Maybe it was installed to hold original electric lines?

So what’s next? Removing the rest of the ceiling. And there’s still a lot to go – a little more than half. Also, all of the wood we recover needs to have nails pulled and sorted by type and/or size. And we have another dumpster full of debris building up. Lets not forget the back stairwell – that will take some careful handling and likely some construction of scaffolding.


More dropped ceiling to be removed, and the last wall that needs to be taken down. Also, the last of the carpet is in this “room” hiding more hardwood floors.


Freshly removed tongue-and-groove planks from the ceiling, all needing nails to be removed before sorting and repurposing.

Due to a number of other obligations keeping us busy, we’ll not be working more than a few hours here and there during the entire month of March. Frustrating, but necessary. We’ll pick back up in April, including a large, open-invite work weekend April 15th and 16th (please join us!). After the ceilings are gone, up comes the floor, and then ¬†actual construction can begin!

Seeing the Light at the End of the Demolition Tunnel

For St. Valentine’s weekend, we decided to celebrate by breaking down walls – literally! Our dear friends Scott,¬†Charity, and Mike visited, and we had help from our local friends, too!

In all honesty, it has been¬†hard for me personally to see the end of demolition. I thought we’d be doing it forever and ever and never move on to construction. We’re still not there yet, but after this weekend’s demo party (and previous work done in February), I think I’m beginning to see the light. There’s a ton of changes, so take a look!

Let’s start at the top. Here’s a ceiling in progress of being taken down.


Center rooms ceiling coming down.

And here’s how it looks now.


Cleaned up center room.

You can see that we still need to the rafters in this picture, but by the end of the weekend, the rafters were exposed. Still have that massive air unit hanging from the ceiling, though – going to be a challenging job to get that beast out. There’s also the giant York air compressor, which will have to be disassembled entirely before removal.


Anybody want a 2-ton air compressor?

Next we have the dropped-ceiling in the SW corner room. Previously, the ceiling tiles were removed,¬†exposing a bunch of nasty old brown insulation, 2×4 cross-pieces, and oddly enough, a bunch of tongue-and-groove panels that must have been repurposed from elsewhere in the building (and we’ll repurpose them again!).


Heath and our friend Scott nearly single-handedly removing the dropped ceiling. The brown insulation dust clouds were awful, and filled that whole side of the building.


These bags are all filled with old insulation. UGH!

Oddest find of the demolition this weekend? A butter knife in the ceiling. I forgot to snap a photo of it. But when Scott and Heath were taking down the ceiling and insulation, a silver butter knife fell out! I’d love to hear the story about how that got up there!

We still have some of the lower ceiling structure that needs to come down (the lighter beams on the bottom in the picture below), but above them is the original structure from the original second-story construction in the mid-1800’s! The beams are beautiful and larger than the rest of the ones found in the roof structure (the other 2/3rds of the second story¬†was constructed later than the west side). Forgive my lack of technical terms, but look at those lovely criss-cross structures! So exciting.


We’re hoping we can leave some of the beams exposed.


Exposed beams, you say?

Next, we have the changes in the north-east corner of the building. All of the walls in the bathroom above the front stairwell have been completely removed.


No more walls protecting the stairwell – watch out!


Only thing left are sewage pipes, which will need to be removed and/or repositioned.


Lunch Break!

Unfortunately, there was rather extensive termite damage in the bathroom areas, so we won’t be able to save all of the flooring in this area. That’s okay, though – we’ll probably be doing some tile in the bathrooms and kitchens.


Termite Damage in former bathroom.

Next we have this wall in the front third of the building, near the stairwell on Main Street. I don’t know why I don’t have a decent “after” photo, but it is GONE! Here’s some photos of demo in-progress.


View from the NE corner of the building – no more walls on the right foreground, and Tony and Mike are headed towards the last bit of wall to be taken down.


Tony poses with the wall before he destroys it. Mike does not look amused (just tired – we worked them hard).

After the wall came entirely down, we found something really unique, that I don’t think we’ll be able to uncover any where else in the project: hand-stenciled designs painted directly on old plaster.


Design painted on plaster, hidden behind a wall for 100 years.


Less clear design painted on plaster.

We’re not quite sure why one side is faded, and the other much brighter. Obviously, the pattern probably continued along the wall, but layers of paint and wall paper on the plaster will make it impossible to uncover more. Hopefully we can find a way to leave these interesting sections exposed.

Speaking of wall paper, we found even more of it. I’ve already sent the best samples off to a framer to have them matted and mounted.


Even more wall paper: a brown leafy design, then a brown and red floral border, and underneath and reddish brown pattern.

We also made a realization that not all of the brick is the same. To recap – the first level of the Zeiss Building was built in 1850. Sometime in the 1850’s a second story was built above only the west third of the building. We know that sometime before 1885 (we have a fire map of that date), the second story was added to the other two thirds of the building. For the west (first) side of the second story that was built, the bricks used are very crumbly and dry, and will simply come off in your hand. We uncovered a brick in the rear stairwell (part of the original) that had a stamp on it.


Brick with stamp reading SEL RE CAN

Unfortunately, we can only read one section of the three lines:




So, some research will need to be done there.

The rest of the brick in the upper level is different – not dry and crumbly, and a darker, less rich color of red. Supposedly one of these two kinds of brick is local Brenham-made brick, and the other is a brick imported from England, that was originally part of a ship’s ballast. Again, something I need to research more.

We also met some more of our neighbors, one of which told us that an elderly family member tells lots of stories of gambling going on in the saloon and/or Elks Lodge that was located on the second story.

For our demo party, we ordered up another 30 yard dumpster, knowing we would fill it. The company messed up the order, and gave us only a 20 yard dumpster, which we filled really quickly.


Full dumpster seen out the window on the left, and stack of more debris that didn’t make it in on the right.

I’m still waiting to hear back from them regarding pick up, and to confirm that they know they delivered the wrong size, and will only be charging us for the smaller dumpster. We didn’t see it being delivered this time, and they are closed on weekends, so we couldn’t have them fix their mistake. Oh well, next time. Because we still have a lot that needs to go:


Debris waiting for an empty dumpster, and ladders positioned to take down more ceiling.


Dry wall that needs to go into the dumpster, and wood to be sorted for reuse.


Random stack of flagpole bases found.


A still life: Afternoon light drifts over a table that Heath constructed for folks to eat at and dump keys on, etc. A broom, which has just finished sweeping up masses of nasty brown insulation, leans on the table.

¬†Normally when we are working on the building, my primary job is watching the kiddos (mine and anyone else who brings theirs), running errands and supplies, and cooking and/or delivering meals (and cleaning up after said meals). Occasionally when someone needs a break, or there’s a spare teenager, I get to head up to Zeiss Lofts to help out. This weekend, my job was pulling nails. Lots and lots and lots of nails. We have a ton of wood of all sizes that we want to reuse in the project. The wood¬†has been pulled down from all manner of structures, and generally has at least a few nails hanging out of it. Our pile of “lumber¬†to have nails pulled from it” had been growing steadily, so myself and several other workers were assigned to nail-pulling.


Say hello to my little friend. I love this tool for nail-pulling. That, and a good hammer.

We managed to completely clear a huge pile of usable lumber of nails, and sort it for reuse while the rest of the demolition was going on. Yay!

My husband Heath and I have to take a moment to thank a very special family, the Tavary’s. Either they like us very much, or are very bored, because¬†nearly every weekend, for at least a few hours or more, we’ve had at least one Tavary family member come up to the lofts and help us out. Tony and Heather and their five children have not only helped with demolition, but they’ve also contributed to meals, helped baby-sit smaller children, and even run errands. We met this lovely family through our eldest’s son’s participation in youth football this summer.


Tony and Heather Tavary – our newest and coolest friends here in Brenham, and not just because they’ve been helping us out with the Zeiss Lofts Project.

Thank you sooooo much, Tony, Heather, Brittney, Jordan, Andy, Joey, and Patrick! Us Westfields owe you BIG time!

And last, but not least, announcing our next demolition weekend on April 16th and 17th! Please come join us – no skills needed, just bring a pair of work gloves or gardening gloves that fit you. We’ll feed you, beer you, wine you, and entertain you. We’ll even give you free lodging at our place, should you need it. Need an invitation? Check your Facebook Events page, or drop us a line. We’d love to see you!

Post-Demo Days Update (and Announcing a Demo Day for February)!

So, for two weekends in January, we had a huge crew of our friends come to Brenham and help us smash, bash, and chuck debris into a dumpster. The changes are colossal, but there’s still more to go.

First, we had to butter up the crew by showing them a good time in Brenham. Those early arrivers on the first weekend got introduced to our local Home Sweet Farm Market where we got to catch up, and those who didn’t know each other introduced themselves.


Our friend Miranda and my husband Heath in the biergarten of Home Sweet Farm Market.


Our friends Scott, Charity, and myself getting wacky at Home Sweet Farms Market in Brenham, Texas.

Many of our friends (including us), have at least one very little child, too young to help out at the Zeiss Building. So they got to have play time with each other at our temporary home.


All the “littles” stayed home out of the way, playing video games and running amuck.


Younger kiddos hanging out while the teens and adults worked.

We are so lucky to have found a place to rent that is a short walk from our renovation project. Made it very easy to run supplies, and helpers who needed a break (or injured themselves) could come back to take a break.


Miranda, the dog-whisperer, taking a break when she reactivated an old foot injury.

Here’s our entire¬†crew from the first weekend, including my uncle, who is a licensed electrician, two of my husband’s coworkers (and one of their wives), a collection of friends old and new, and a pile of their teenage children.


First January 2016 Demo Day Crew

After work, we fed everyone, and those who were staying on to the next day showered off the dust. And then most of us moseyed back to Home Sweet Farm, which is also within an easy walking distance.


We had the sillies!


Very tired after a day of hard work.

Our crew made some awesome finds, like wall paper, and old signs.


Several different wallpaper samples that were uncovered. We’ve sent some to a framer to preserve them and hang them up in our new place somewhere. Fascinating note: They all had fabric backing.


Found between drywall and brick: House Rules for the Elks Lodge that was located on the second floor for many years.

Our crew the second weekend consisted of some of the same folks, and a few new ones. Due to a huge wine festival the first weekend, we were unable to occupy parking spots outside the building for a dumpster, so we had one for the second demolition weekend. My husband, Heath, built a great chute using leftover air-conditioning ducts. In addition to tearing down more walls, our crew filled an entire 30 yard dumpster in one weekend!

So many changes happened over those two weekends, it’s hard to document them all. The next four pictures are part of my “four corners” series.


View from the NE corner. All remaining drywall from this area is gone, and half of the shiplap and walls have been removed.


View from the NW corner. Half of the light fixtures are gone, thanks to my uncle. The walls in the center of the building (just behind the orange ladder) are nearly gone, as well as a lot of the unneeded duct work.


View from the SW corner. In the foreground is a pile of metal we’re collecting for recycling. The wall between this area and the dancefloor is gone, as is an unused AC duct and the drywall surrounding it.


View from the SE corner: Original window openings now exposed. All shiplap and drywall has been removed. Most of the debris will probably go in the dumpster, but any usable lumber will be reused.


View from the middle of the east wall. On the right are hand-made sawhorses that my husband constructed. The stack of lumber in the corner is waiting to have nails pulled from it so we can sand and reuse them. Straight ahead, this hallway is no longer a dark storage room, but flooded with light.

We have another demo weekend on Valentine’s Day! A lot of folks have off on Monday the 15th for Presidents Day, so we decided to throw together another work weekend. We’ll be working only a half day on Saturday, February the 13th, so anyone who is going out that evening will have plenty of time to clean up and relax. Sunday the 14th we’ll be up in the Zeiss Building as early as we can manage, but will put in a full day. We’ll do another half-day on Monday the 15th. Feel free to join us if you can – check your Facebook Events Page to find more details and sign up. Don’t make our kids do all the work! ūüėČ


Our three kiddos (no, we don’t really let them work in the building).

So what’s next? After we take the last of the walls down, we’ll finish taking down the dropped ceilings and remove the ceiling tiles that are glued up in the main dancefloor area. We’ll also need to remove any remaining fans, lights, AC units, etc. And get even more debris out of our way. Hopefully, with a little help, we can knock out most of that list on our next demo weekend.

After the walls and the ceiling, comes the tricky part – removing flooring. We need to get a look at floor joists and parts of the subfloor. We’ll be soundproofing the floor, running plumbing and electric lines (as far as we know, there aren’t any right now), and anything else that needs to be done under our feet.

Removing the floors will be nearly the last step of our demolition process. The very last demolition section will be removing the wall that is on the back deck as well as the only existing (and functional) bathroom on the second level. Can I dream and say this will happen in April? Hah! Of course, before we remove the walls of the deck, we need to fix all of the flooring issues so we don’t flood our tenants on the ground floor.

Our Valentine’s Work Weekend will likely be the only official work weekend of February, however, we usually spend at least a few hours every Saturday and Sunday pounding away. Some of our local neighbors have been very diligent about helping us out at these times. So very¬†grateful to get to borrow Tony and his teenagers!

Between our eldest’s birthday, spring break, and Easter, March is pretty much a wash as far as work goes, so look for future demo days happening in April.

After the floors are exposed, construction begins. When? I have no idea. For how long? Again, no idea, but I really dream of being settled in to our new home by Christmas 2016. A big dream. A very big dream.