Season 22: Charlestown, MA
1865 Second Empire
This project premiered on PBS
September 23, 2000
Eighteen half-hour episodes; Programs #2001-2018
The TOH crew welcomes viewers to the 22nd season of This Old House from the main deck of the beautifully restored USS Constitution, which is docked in Boston Harbor's historic Charlestown Navy Yard. After disembarking, they trek up to Bunker Hill, to learn more about the site of the famous Revolutionary War battle and the story of the monument's construction. Along the way, they pass some classic examples of 17th and 18th century urban architecture, many of which have been recently restored. Soon thereafter, Steve is given a walking tour of Charlestown by local realtor Frank Celeste, who tells a remarkable story about its rise, fall and recent rebirth as one of Boston's most sought-after communities. Celeste then gives him a lead on a young couple who recently purchased a three-story 1865 Second-Empire style brick townhouse on famed Bunker Hill Street, and who are in need of some renovation help. Steve agrees to meet with Dan and Heather Beliveau to learn more about their dreams for their new home and how they plan to beat the high-cost of city living by turning the first floor and basement into a rental unit. The guys then surveys the current state of structure and the scope of the work that needs to be done. By show's end, the This Old House team and the Beliveaus agree to join forces.
Host Steve Thomas opens the show from City Square Park, a Charlestown, Massachusetts, landmark that once was overshadowed (literally) by elevated train tracks and highways. A citizen-led group succeeded in having them removed and replaced with a beautiful public park. Steve interviews Rich Johnson who played a key role in this urban revitalization project. Then he heads to the subject house to meet with homeowner Dan Beliveau and architect Jack French to discuss their goals and ideas for the renovation. Afterwards, Jack takes Steve to visit one of his firm's projects, a decommissioned Catholic school that was converted into condominiums. We then visit with the homeowner of a beautifully restored, neighboring townhouse to learn more about her approach.
The Charlestown townhouse can be found on the route of one of the country's oldest parades, the Bunker Hill Day Parade. Host Steve Thomas gets the scoop on the parade's 225-year-old history and its annual events from the locals. Afterwards, he checks in on the flurry of activity at the jobsite including Tom's removal of the old brick patio and the abestos-abatement crew's work in the kitchen and basement. Later, Steve meets with homeowner Dan Beliveau and project architect Jack French to review the two options for expanding the structure and the building permit and zoning approvals needed. We review choices for improving the old windows, and then Tom and Richard discuss the challenges of updating the home's cooling and heating systems. Finally, homeowner Dan Beliveau rolls up his sleeves and works alongside the crew to demolish the old kitchen.
Steve Thomas can be found opening the show from Boston Harbor again, this time aboard the STS Sagres, the stunning Portuguese entry in the Tall Ships Parade. Meanwhile, viewers check out out the towering scaffolding around the Charlestown townhouse. When Steve arrives at the job site, Dan takes him on a tour of the gutted kitchen and baths that reveal the full interior space available for construction. What exactly Dan and Heatherwill be able to build in this space remains undecided, as Steve finds out when he visits Boston's Inspectional Services Department with architect Jack French. While some parts of the proposed building plan are approved, others are flagged for a zoning review. In the basement, we find Tom shooting lines to create a level new floor before prepping the area for the pouring of concrete. Heating and plumbing expert Richard Trethewey is able to shed light on the pipes, explaining how PVC pipes can line pre-existing clay pipes, eliminating the need to cut through and disrupt the sidewalk.
Hard rain doesn't appear to hold back progress on the Charlestown renovation. Dan climbs the new scaffolding to take in the gray view of the city and to discuss the issues of putting a roof deck on the building's hip roof. Meanwhile, host Steve Thomas learns about filling in a flue channel, which is a structural element of the house before finding out the prognosis of the plaster from preservationist Rory Brennan. Richard takes Heather to a nearby plumbing salvage yard to see if owner Fran Fahey might be interested in swapping a classic clawfoot tub and pedestal sink for the fancy radiators her house no longer needs. The work on the basement hits a milestone as the new floor is poured, and Tom and Dan waste no time laying out and framing in the new rooms in the basement once the floor is set.
Steve and Tom commute to the Charlestown job site in style—aboard Tom's boat. They arrive on site to find landscape contractor Roger Cook and his crew removing the massive granite curbing along the back patio and the old concrete steps at the rear entrance. In the process they unearth an old gravestone. Chimney specialist Mark Shaub gives a report on state of the home's four fireplaces and the staggering costs involved in getting them all to work. Steve helps Tom put in new floor joists, before taking viewers to visit one of the Charlestown's oldest residents, the Navy Yard.
Host Steve Thomas recaps with homeowner Dan Beliveau the recent Boston Zoning Board of Appeals decision that gives the go-ahead for the project's master bath addition and roof deck. With approval in hand, the work commences in earnest. This Old House plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey shows Steve how the new HVAC duct system will be zoned to provide maximum comfort. Historic conservator Andrea Gilmore visits the project house and assesses the condition of its brownstone lintels.
The work continues in Charlestown as steps are taken to make the fireplaces and chimneys safe for wood burning fires. Our master carpenter and general contractor Tom Silva install some of the handsome new windows. Throughout the townhouse the wiring and rough plumbing continues. Host Steve Thomas and homeowner Dan Beliveau visit a kitchen design showroom to check out the options for outfitting the townhouse's two kitchens—the rental unit's and owners'.
The Beliveaus' townhouse affords a few views of Boston Harbor, which is a working port. Ships of all shapes and sizes steam past Charlestown everyday, and regularly dock in the channel. Heating and plumbing expert Richard Trethewey goes aboard one of the harbor's frequent visitors, a liquid-natural-gas tanker, to learn more about how the vessel operates. Meanwhile, at the townhouse, work continues on the Beliveaus' prime viewing spot, their roof deck. Seeking some inspiration for its design, Steve visits a spectacular roof deck nearby.
The basement of This Old House's Charlestown project continues to be transformed into two bedrooms for the rental unit. To ensure the space remains warm and damp-free, close-cell foam is sprayed against the exterior walls. Upstairs, in the Beliveaus' living room, host Steve Thomas meets with plaster restorer Rory Brennan to learn about the process of saving the old horsehair plaster and vintage ornamental details.
The transformation of the Charlestown project house is coming along according to plan, including the metal spiral staircase that will be installed on the exterior of the rear ell and run from the Beliveaus' new kitchen to street level. The stairs are fabricated locally, and we visit the nearby shop to learn about the art and engineering behind this structure. Meanwhile, landscaping contractor Roger Cook and landscape architect David Hawk begin the process of creating two private outdoor spaces, one for the renters and one for the Beliveaus.
The Charlestown project house will retain many of its original 1865 details, but many of the crumbling brownstone lintels will not be among them. While mason Lenny Beliveau installs new cast stone lintels, host Steve Thomas visits the Rhode Island yard where they are made to learn about the materials and casting techniques. Roofing contractor Mark Mulloy explains the intricacies of reroofing the mansard as he and his crew finish their work on the house.
The Charlestown project house continues to be transformed into two distinct living spaces, the rental apartment and the Beliveaus' home. As the plastering nears completion, host Steve Thomas learns some tips for ensuring a smooth plaster finish. Meanwhile, out at The New Yankee Workshop, our master carpenter can be found working on a built-in china cabinet for the Beliveaus' dining room, which will be similar to the original found in the rental unit.
Steve sees landscaping progress with Roger, including a tumbled concrete wall is that's almost done, pavers going down. Inside, Steve finds Tommy, who gives him the plaster report. Steve sees how John Dee is transforming the plain white double doors into dead-ringers for the existing stained woodwork, which he's cleaned with a rub-on, wipe-off product. The we see the doors made at a medium density fiberboard (MDF) factory Denver. Richard meets the gas company man connecting the house to the street and, by policy, firing off a gas appliance: our new furnace.
Steve arrives to find a temporary metal door in the entry and goes in to see how John Dee is stripping and refinishing the front entry doors. Dan installs a pair of exterior shutters, custom-sized in solid PVC with a 10-year factory paint job and hardware for $450. We then visit the workshop of the USS Constitution. Next our master carpenter helps Tom trim out one of the new egress windows in the basement with custom molding supplied by our trusty Cambridge millwork company. Meanwhile, Steve helps Rory Brennan install our new plaster medallion and then sees the new bamboo flooring go down in the rental kitchen and finds out what it is, where it's from, how it's made and what it costs.
The single-lever kitchen faucet is one of the most familiar pieces of American plumbing. This Old House plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey tours the state-of-the-art factory where this tried and true fixture is made. Back at the Charlestown townhouse, progress continues on the landscaping, as Roger Cook accepts delivery of the new plants. Inside the house, it's a big day for the kitchens as both sets of cabinets, one for the rental unit, and one for the Beliveaus' home, arrive on the job site. Steve arrives at the job sits to find Roger Cook and crew unloading the plants from nursery truck. Roger and landscape architect David Hawk then discussion their positioning and planting. Inside find Dan applying thinned-down joint compound to front stairs wall prior to paint crew's arrival. In owners' kitchen, our master carpenter finds Eric Rikeman checking on the new cabinet's installation and discusses some of its features. Steve finds Richard in master bath filling soaking tub, made from cultured marble that can be cut to fit out-of-square rooms, has seamless deck and tub and provides good heat retention. They then head to basement to see direct-vent water heaters. Steve next finds Tommy modifying and installing expanded polyurethane crown moldings in owners' hallway. On third floor, floors are refinished, the skylights go in and the project zooms toward completion.
The Charlestown project enters the homestretch, and there is evidence throughout the house that the end is in sight. The flooring for the basement hallway, made of bamboo, is installed. On the first and second floors the marble kitchen countertops go in, bringing the kitchens one step closer to completion. And finally, host Steve Thomas tours a small foundry in San Francisco where historically accurate brass doorknobs for the front entryway were crafted.
The final days in Charlestown. The This Old House team works its way through the checklist of finishes. Period lighting fixtures, wallpaper, carpeting, and two new suites of modern appliances turn the Beliveaus' townhouse into an up-to-the-minute historic showpiece.