The grand mansion at 1425 Columbus Ave. in Waco is a stunning example of the years when opulence included a carriage house, a bowling alley in the basement and ornate fireplaces in almost every room.
Built just more than a century ago by famed architect Milton Scott, the home is stately and sturdy while also elegant and graceful. Its solid foundation is rooted in the era of Waco’s heyday, and it isn’t difficult to imagine the wonderful entertaining that took place inside these walls.
Migel House was the longtime home of the distinguished department store owner Louey Migel, co-owner of Goldstein-Migel, one of the largest department stores in Waco. The mansion is enjoying a rebirth that honors its past so that current and future generations can experience its warmth and hospitality as a bed and breakfast.
Owners Robert and Kitty Tunmire purchased the home in 2012 knowing full well that they were committing to a 10,641-square-foot project that could offer countless surprises during its restoration.
“The first time we walked through Migel House we were amazed at how beautiful the place was even as uncared-for it had been,” Robert Tunmire said. “We were surprised at how much of the original features were still there, the woodwork, the light fixtures. It was easy to imagine how beautiful it could be.”
Migel House has stood strong through the whims of history, including the 1953 deadly tornado that demolished much of downtown Waco. It also was home to women in the Freeman Center drug rehab program from 1987 to 2011. The Tunmires purchased the Migel House and the neighboring Shear-Callan House from Freeman Center’s successor, Cenikor, for $155,000.
Since the Shear-Callan House was beyond restoration, the home was demolished after many of its unique pieces were salvaged to reveal themselves in the décor of the Migel House.
For example, a radiator and marble from the Shear-Callan House have been repurposed as pedestals for end tables and sitting room tables. The brick will be used for a formal garden and gazebo on the Shear-Callan grounds where weddings and outdoor receptions can be hosted in the future.
Great care was taken to preserve the unique features of the Migel House. The hand-painted original wallpaper in the front foyer was retouched by a professional artist while the European stained-glass windows at the stairs were in surprisingly excellent condition.
The well-worn and dusty oak wood floors came to life with some special attention, Tunmire said.
“All we did was clean and oil them,” he said. “I think one of the surprises is how beautiful the hardwood and the inlay wood turned out to be. They were very dark from years of use and you literally could not see the inlay. That was definitely one of the pleasant surprises.”
Another nice surprise was creating a bright and sunny kitchen for guests in a space where no kitchen area seemed to exist at the back of the house.
Renovations revealed a cistern and the structure used to retrieve rainwater that had been collected with a bucket and pulley system.
Dozens of paregoric bottles from the Red Arrow Pharmacy were found in the cistern, indicating that perhaps a previous resident had used it as a place to discard the containers. Paregoric was a popular opium-based household remedy in the early 20th century. The recovered antique bottles are being restored and will eventually be displayed in the home.
The Tunmires were also pleased with the compact bowling alley in the basement that has been restored into a spacious recreation area.
“The bowling alley turned out incredible,” Tunmire said. Made entirely of wood, the bowling alley is outfitted with pins and balls suited for guests to take part in a game of old-fashioned bowling.
The former boiler room in the basement is being transformed into a wine cellar using bricks from the Shear-Callan House. The original door where coal was brought in for heating is still in place.
The bright white of the ornate ceiling in the ladies’ parlor on the first floor and the dramatic avocado walls in the gentlemen’s parlor are reminders of days when entertaining was ingrained in the home’s design.
The three upstairs bedrooms are named in honor of those who played a role in the home’s past.
The Eugenia Suite gives a nod to the daughter of the Nash family, who sold the home to Migel. Eugenia’s memoirs about her time as a teen in the house are online at TheMigelHouse.com. A photo of her in a glittery dress, circa 1920, graces the wall.
The Ivy Suite is named in honor of the wife of the home’s architect, and the large master suite is named for Louey Migel. An oversized bathroom features the original tub set in front of wall inlaid with a marble carving that was once in an outdoor fountain. An office and huge closet round out the suite.
The Migel House has six working gas fireplaces, two upstairs, three downstairs and one in the basement. A kitchenette and coffee bar are available for guests to use upstairs and downstairs.
There also is a carriage house made of concrete and was likely the home to the carriage caretaker. Today, it is fully renovated with modern comforts, including a California closet and new appliances, with hints at its history.
A frame displays pieces of a newspaper from June 28, 1916, that includes ads for the Waco Hippodrome, Goldstein-Migel Department Store, Coca-Cola and the Nash Robinson Lumber Co. The newspaper was found in the walls during restoration and was probably used for insulation.
The Tunmires have the original hand drawings for the house and will frame and display them for guests to see.
“It was just a pure fluke of a deal that we did this,” Tunmire said. “We had no idea what we were going to do when we acquired the houses at all. We just closed on the carriage house that was part of the Shear-Callan House. We always wanted it, and it kind of completes it all.”
The second carriage house also will be restored for additional guests on the property.
Having invested $1.1 million in the project, the Tunmires are now savoring the results of two years of hard work.
“One of the worst times was when all the demolition was going on and they were at the peak of the work,” Tunmire said. “There were a few times when we walked through when we wondered if it would all come back together. The thing is once you have started, you have to finish.”
Then the debris was cleaned up, rooms were painted, wood was polished and windows were shined. In time, the biggest surprise of all was revealed.
“As it all came back together, it all flows and looks so original,” Tunmire said.
Contractor Tom Lupfer and RBDR architect David Wright were the driving forces behind the project. Restoring all of the original windows and doors, removing a sleeping porch upstairs to create a large balcony and finding ways to preserve even the finest details of the home were costly but worth it, Tunmire added.
“I think we had a very good team, and everyone who worked on it really cared about the project. It wasn’t just a job to them,” he said.
Every light fixture was rewired, including the stained-glass fixtures and a gas lamp chandelier from the Shear-Callan House that now greets visitors in the front entry. Original Tiffany light fixtures adorn the walls in the dining room where a butler’s pantry is a reminder of days gone by.
The vintage bathtubs were restored to their original beauty with new brass fittings that were custom-tooled. Ornate brackets under the eaves were milled to match the original design.
For practical purposes, all modern necessities such as plumbing, electrical and climate-control equipment were replaced, and closets and bathrooms were renovated for comfort’s sake.
“I think the history of Migel House is part of its character and that starts with Milton Scott, the architect,” Tunmire said. “This house was designed by a very, very famous architect. It’s unequaled in Texas, actually.”
Scott also designed the ALICO Building, Dr Pepper Museum, Waco Hippodrome and the Roosevelt Hotel.
Migel House was originally built for an investor named Nelson Smith and was sold to the Nash family of the Nash Robinson Lumber Co., which is still in existence today. It was sold to Migel years later. In the early days, lavish garden parties and community gatherings were hosted at the home.
“To see the Nash family, who was involved in the house, and then Louey Migel, who was there for a number years, it was a focal point for Waco society,” Tunmire said. “I think you have to preserve that in the story of the house. It’s been a lot of fun. My wife and I have both enjoyed it, and we’re happy we were able to preserve part of Waco’s history. People from all over the world come to Waco and can have a chance to experience and enjoy it.”
Kitty Tunmire said making each room unique so that guests can be comfortable in the home required the input from the entire team of decorators, craftsmen and designers.
“I used a decorator who helped me with the paint colors and quartz selection,” she said. “It was a team effort. We would get everyone together like the tile specialist and the marble specialist.”
Furnishings also were selected both with comfort and style in mind, she said.
“We tried to keep to the era during the remodeling, but obviously some of the furniture is modern. In one bedroom, I went with a metal headboard. Some of the chairs are modern, but I tried to go with a look that would flow with the house.”
Visitors to the home can immediately sense that its design is not common in Waco.
“We loved the Mediterranean architecture of the house, and it’s one of the things that drew us to the house,” Kitty Tunmire said. “The exterior, you don’t see that style a whole lot in this town. I think it’s like the openness of the outside and the balcony upstairs and the tile roof.”
Discovering some of the relics of the past have been especially rewarding during the long days of bringing the house back to its prior luster.
“The place kind of comes alive at that point in time because you have articles of things they used back then,” she said. “In the dining room, there was a floor space where you could pick up this square that was hinged. You had to look for the groove to lift it up. Inside it was filled with dirt in a space where they used that to put their valuables. When we sanded the floor, we sealed it up. I’m sure they had a big carpet over the floor back then. It’s almost like a time capsule, and it takes you back to that time of living in that house. Those kinds of things were really special.”
Now that renovations are complete, reservations are already filling up the calendar. Fans coming in for Baylor Homecoming on Nov. 1 and other home games as well as honeymooners have reserved the Migel House.
Guests may reserve the entire house or one or more suites online at TheMigelHouse.com. The upstairs suites accommodate six people plus two more in the carriage house.
Michael Fanning, who owns the Camille House Bed and Breakfast at 1515 Columbus Ave., is managing reservations for Migel House and promoting it through the Heart of Texas Bed and Breakfast Association.
The one-year permit from the city of Waco allows for the threes suites to be leased. Next year, steps will be taken to extend the permit for special events such as weddings, receptions and parties. Fanning estimates that the Migel House and Shear-Callan location next door could accommodate up to 150 guests for a wedding.
“From the standpoint of lodging, it’s hard to find those kind of rooms,” Fanning said. “It has that old feel to it, but it has all the modern amenities to go with it as well. It’s just a beautiful place to stay. It’s a good place to relax and for people to enjoy themselves.”
1425 Columbus Ave.
Information about the home, including photos and prices, can be found online at TheMigelHouse.com. For reservations, call 235-0768.