When Ryan Nelson first laid eyes on the white manor on Fourth Avenue East in Kalispell, he found the house in grave disrepair.
The exterior desperately cried out for a paint job, the basement floor was besieged with water damage and to say the plumbing was iffy was putting it nicely.
But Nelson, a veteran craftsman with 23 years of experience, saw beneath the tattered surface. For all the home’s flaws, the 100-year-old fixer-upper had one crucial thing going for it: good bones.
“It was borderline a distressed property,” he said, “but the bones were good.”
The Colonial Revival-style residence, built in 1919, also boasted a rich heritage. Within its lineage of ownership were judges, businessmen and most notably, Dr. Bruce Allison — a physician who treated famed baseball star Babe Ruth.
“If you have any connection to Babe Ruth, that’s a neat thing,” Nelson said.
Prior to opening a medical practice in Kalispell, Allison worked at Bellevue Hospital in New York and met with and assisted in the treatment of Babe Ruth during the Babe’s final illness.
During his career he delivered nearly 3,000 babies in Flathead County, in addition to treating illnesses, injuries and medical conditions.
Allison, who died in 2007, purchased the east-side Kalispell home in 1950.
Previous owners included Charles and Carrie March, for whom the home is named as part of Kalispell’s East Side Historic District.
Ryan and his wife, Mandy, spent 18 months and half a million dollars to complete an exhaustive renovation of the Fourth Avenue East property, preserving as much history as they could while bringing the home up to modern standards. With the garage addition included, the eight-bed residence sleeps 15 and includes unique features such as a baseball-themed room in honor of Babe Ruth, a downstairs wine cellar and a cache of restored and repurposed historic artifacts.
But transforming the home to its current pristine state was no easy feat.
“Not all the plumbing worked, there was no floor drain in the basement,” Ryan said. “It was basically a worst-case scenario remodel that you can go into, but I knew what we were doing.”
The Bigfork couple had their work cut out for them, especially when it came to modernizing the residence, which hadn’t undergone a single remodel in its 100-year lifespan. While the bones were good, the guts needed a lot of attention.
Case in point was the knob and tube electrical wiring — a dated and frankly dangerous system. While removing the vintage wiring, Nelson uncovered a number of charred sites where the wires had come in contact with the wall.
“Multiple times, this house was probably close to burning down,” Ryan said.
The most significant hurdle was the basement, which, just six months prior had been buried in eight inches of standing water. Ryan debated whether an overlay or total redo of the floor was the best course of action and let fate decide with the toss of a coin.
It was tails — which meant it was time to bring in the jackhammers.
“It was one of the hardest projects that I’ve ever done because we had to jackhammer out the concrete and carry it in five gallon buckets out to a dumpster …there’s no way you could get equipment in the basement,” he explained. “It was a five-day workout. We earned our sleep those five days, that’s for sure.”
The Nelsons also discovered a few pleasant surprises during the course of the project — like hardwood flooring beneath the carpet and a mysterious roll of undeveloped film Ryan found in the basement.
“There was this wood beam that had a big space above it and I said, ‘I wonder if there’s anything up on top of that beam?’” he recalled. “I put my hand up there and sure enough, I felt a little package.”
He unwrapped layers of plastic and tinfoil to reveal a single roll of film. The Nelsons had the roll developed and were happily surprised to receive an array of photographs showcasing the home’s interior, perhaps 50 years prior or older.
A few of the images are framed and hanging in the manifold hallway — one of many testaments to the home’s previous life, ensuring that its storied history lives on.
The Nelsons also hope that Babe Ruth won’t be the only baseball connection for the property. A self-professed “baseball family” themselves, Ryan said their objective is to rent the home out to traveling teams.
“It’s going to save them money on renting hotel rooms, it keeps the team all under one roof and it gives them a really neat experience while they’re here in Kalispell,” he said.
The residence is listed on www.vrbo.com with an average nightly rate of $675, with the option to include the above-garage guesthouse for an additional fee.
Last weekend, the Nelsons hosted their first group of travelers with a surprising twist.
“It’s so weird that our first client to stay here last weekend was a baseball team — and that’s not scripted or anything,” Ryan said, smiling.
All their hard work seems to be paying off.
“We see this as a good place that traveling ball clubs can come and stay at …and make their experience here in town that much better,” Ryan said. “The house has its own attitude — it’s got charisma and character.”
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss can be reached at (406) 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.