Saving The Little Old Houses

Outlook September 2020 - Saving the Little Old Houses

David Chapman walks four miles through downtown Edmond every morning. Not only does this keep him connected to the town he loves, he’s checking on the many properties that he owns in the area. He specializes in historic real estate, but his niche is unique, because he and his wife, Julie, love to restore “little old houses” that are old, neglected and unnoticed—places that most people would demolish and rebuild.

“One or two room homes along the railroad have made great Airbnb homes for us. Our sweet spot seems to be buildings from 1905 to 1920. I really like that time-period, and people love staying in them.”

He recently bought two houses on West Edwards Street that were little more than shacks. One was empty and boarded up, and the other had so much termite damage that David described the wood as cardboard. “The value is that this street is the only place that African Americans were allowed to live at the turn-of-the-century, so there’s a story in that architecture,” David said. “I wish the walls could talk. Unfortunately, the only thing holding up the walls was the roof, so we jacked it up, re-poured the foundation, pulled the walls over, and screwed the baseboard into the new foundation.” 

David finds that each building has some redeeming feature. One of his properties still has the tiny detached garage built for a Model-T Ford; others have great hardwood floors or sliding pocket doors. Once a building is done, he and Julie decorate it with period pieces they find at antique stores. 

“I’m not a stickler about keeping everything original,” David said. “I like to keep the buildings’ footprints, but sometimes aspects are unusable or a maintenance nightmare.”

He once saved a two-story house with an original one-way light switch on the stairway. “Renters kept calling to tell me that the stair light didn’t work, not realizing that you had to turn it on or off at the same location.” So he replaced it with a modern two-way switch. 

Currently, David is restoring a property along Boulevard that has been empty for years, but it has two redeeming qualities: a stone fireplace in the center and its location along Boulevard with a creek running behind it. Although the building was completely rotten, David is recreating it wall-by-wall in order to create a vintage-style retail space that he describes as “micro-retail,” with three sections that can be rented by small-space businesses. 

“I’m trying to save it because it’s a great location in a walkable area. The challenge is to retain character, and at the same time, modernize it to make it relevant to today’s generation,” David said. It’s a concept he reflects upon often as a member of Edmond’s City Council; trying to move the city forward while retaining its small-town charm.

“We have unbelievable architecture and history in this town, and we shouldn’t lose sight of where we came from,” David said. Every morning as he walks the streets, he marvels at the gorgeous old schools and the growing number of art sculptures. And he sees something “new and intriguing” every day–even if it’s a little old house that no one else would bother to save.    

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