Born-Again Beauty

Two years of toil took their toll on the trial lawyers -- but their historic church is finally back in business

For the team -- the financial partners worked alongside the laborers -- the most difficult aspect of the restoration process was remodeling parts of the church to meet requirements they felt were unnecessary. Ironically, because of fire codes, the cement wall that separates the auditorium from the old Sunday school room had to be torn down and replaced with a wall that was less fire-retardant.

However, the renovation also managed to make aesthetic contributions to the building without intruding upon the original work.

The old Sunday school area, which has been renovated with new slate tiles and French doors, had its acoustic ceiling replaced with a dropped cove ceiling, complete with elaborate stenciling and lighting.

The Parador is one of the last remaining examples of the Mediterranean Byzantine style so popular in the 1920s.
Deron Neblett
The Parador is one of the last remaining examples of the Mediterranean Byzantine style so popular in the 1920s.
Beveled glass windows swivel open, one of the unique features saved in the restoration work.
Deron Neblett
Beveled glass windows swivel open, one of the unique features saved in the restoration work.

Tensions mounted as the work progressed. The friends butted heads with the rest of the crew in conflicts between aesthetics and practicality. "There were a lot of temper tantrums, and a lot of sulking. There are enough strong personalities turning inside these walls for a small Midwestern town," Coulter says, laughing.

The one who oversaw much of the work was Corkery, and he eventually ended up playing ego mediator between the lawyers.

"Kevin's the perfect person," Coulter says. "He has the patience of Job to put up with as many owners, all of who are accustomed to having their own way, all the time, who will argue about anything, all the time."

Profit may have been an initial motive, but the project soon began to make a profound impact on their lives.

Rather than kicking back on weekends, the partners were working up at the site. They spent hours at the library researching the church's history and learning the fine points about surfaces and acoustical materials.

Along with other sacrifices, they poured their incomes into the renovation. The women joke about how they can't wait to go shopping again. They haven't bought new clothes in two years.

"If it doesn't stop costing money, I'm going to have to move in," Keyser jokes.

The sweat equity they provided proved to be rewarding in a way other than just saving thousands of dollars.

"It's a nice foil for what we do every day: talk and talk and talk," Coulter says. "We actually do something with our hands. It's something where we can see a change."

The group also felt a change, a sense that someone has been looking over the church to see that everything came out all right.

For one, the building was almost snatched up before they could get it. The day after the purchase, an antique toy dealer showed up with an offer to buy the church to make it into a toy museum. To this day, they say, he still drops by to show them his collection in the hopes that they might sell.

Replacing the roof was another close call. Gulf Star, the company that produced the original red clay roof tiles, no longer carried the model that was used in 1928, and the women couldn't locate suitable replacement tiles. Just when they began the roof work, Gulf Star called and said it had miraculously found 2,500 tiles. It was just enough for them to replace the entire roof, with a few left over.

After the intense work, the women feel the most difficult part will be letting go. Coulter knows that any scrape or dent she sees on the property will tear her apart.

"That's going to be a big emotional adjustment," she says. "It's going to be difficult dealing with the wear and tear on the building. But inevitably, if you have large numbers of people using a facility, things happen."

In fact, the women have a joke with the rest of the crew: They're not allowed on the site the day after the first event.

"We're hoping that this building fits the people [who rent it] and the people fit the building," Coulter says.

There's no uncertainty that, after 73 years, the building fits better than ever into the city's heritage.

Coulter says that following the recent razing of the Gulf Publishing building on Allen Parkway, she feels an increasing need to make Houston aware about efforts to preserve the city's old sites. For her, the older buildings will be rewarding to pass down.

"The building will probably be here after we're gone," she says. This project "is important in a place like Houston, where people don't value the city's history."

As Coulter sits, cleaning bronze-plated brass hinges for the front doors, she tells of their motto: If we remodel it, they will come.

Some already have.

Dawn Maack, the senior sales representative at eatZi's catering, was driving by when she noticed the building. She scheduled an appointment right away.

"I think it has all the needs that we want in a facility. It's priced right," Maack says. "I think the uniqueness, the oldness and the location are great, and the owners have been very neat to work with."

Patrons will now know the old church as the Parador, a name Coulter took from a network of Spanish inns. Their research has resulted in official state designation of the church as a historical landmark. The formal dedication was to take place Wednesday, June 27.

"There will be people who marry here who will look back 40 years from now and see the pictures and go, 'That was the most beautiful place,' " Coulter says. "And that's a joyous thought."

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