The Brady House’s Unique Musical Heritage

So, one of the things we loved about the Brady House when we walked inside was the “spectacularly in need of restoration” 1899 baby grand piano.  After finding out the piano came with the purchase of the house, we researched its history, and discovered that it is a Wissner.   The Wissner Piano Company was established by Otto Wissner in 1878. Their factories were located in Brooklyn, New York. Apparently, the pianos were some of the finest, most expensive pianos money could buy, but because of poor marketing, never achieved the world wide recognition they deserved. The company went out of business in about 1942 with the onset of World War 2.

While the piano isn’t original to the house, it was purchased by the previous owner, who just so happened to have rented the home to singer Carole King in 1979 when she was recording an album in Austin.  I like to think that she sat there and played the piano while belting out “I feel the earth…move…”  The piano is now undergoing restoration by Benke Piano, here in Austin, and we can’t wait until it comes back home!

1899 Wissner Baby Grand Piano


The joys in the middle of the messiness

We are in the midst of that “messy part” of construction that seems like it goes on forever, but as soon as its over, the house starts to really come together.  Electrical rough-in, plumbing rough-in, HVAC rough-in, insulation, etc…Nothing’s too pretty on the inside yet, but as soon as the sheetrock begins next week, the whole house transforms.

The exterior is a different story, though.  We’ve got the stucco brightened up with a fresh coat of white paint, the new slate-style shingle roof is going on, and the landscape cleanup is just starting.  The little things get us so excited.  Today, it was the porch ceiling.  One of the best parts of the Brady House is the 1,400+ sf of covered porches, and what’s a covered porch without a blue ceiling?!  Ours was just painted Benjamin Moore’s Palladian Blue, and it is perfect!  A light, airy blue-green that transports you straight to the spa.  Now, we just need a couple of porch swings and we will be set!Image

The Small Treasures in Old Houses

Every time we watch “This Old House” and see the story of how one family discovered a historic treasure in the attic, basement, beneath the floorboards, etc…we get excited that the next one might be us 🙂  In our first home renovation, we discovered a treasure trove of photos and writing notebooks from the original owners and their 12 yr old daughter.  In fact, we discovered all of her 6th grade English notebooks from the 1940s. But ever since then, nada….until now!
Actually, I’m not sure this a treasure find…but it sure is interesting. When we demo’d out the master bathroom, we found a secret room behind a hinged bookshelf…which was a VERY promising start.  But then, we we examined the room, I sat perplexed at the sight of aluminum foil covering all of the walls.  According to Jeff and his contractors, we had  definitely stumbled on a “grow room” for marijuana.  In the 1970s, the house was owned by an artists’ cooperative, so we’re just going to assume that’s when the room was created.  Sorry artists- don’t get mad at our stereotyping!
Other than our grow room, we discovered a very un-PC newspaper clipping from World War II re: the UN and Chinese-Japanese relations and a beautiful fabric wallcovering upstairs that will be my inspiration for the master bedroom colors.  If anyone knows what buildings are depicted in the wallcovering, I’d love to find out!

Construction Underway!


Beginning the Framing for Master


New Opening Between Dining and Kitchen


The new bathroom and walk-in closet for the guest suite


Clean slate for the kitchen

The construction has kicked off!  In the past 10 days, we have completed some minor interior demolition (particularly on the 2nd floor), framed in all 3.5 baths (somehow this 3000 sf house only had 1 bath), completed minor framing throughout, and started the electrical and plumbing rough-ins.   Red River Restorations, our favorite window restoration company, has also taken away the original windows and are in the process of meticulously restoring them to their original functionality.  All of the fixtures and tile have been ordered, and that kind of shopping makes us more excited than shopping for clothes!

That’s not to say it’s looking pretty yet, but the flow of the home is definitely starting to come together.

Where Can Design Inspiration Come From?

Inspiration for a interior home design can come from a variety of sources: a unique object you want to feature from your travels, a beautiful piece of art, an exquisite fabric, etc… When you are dealing with a historic home, an additional layer of inspiration comes into play: the home’s history and existing interior features like architectural heritage, unique trim, fabric wallpaper, existing light fixtures,  original stained glass, etc…For the Brady House, our design inspiration is a combination of the two.  Avenue B Development’s slogan is “timeless, yet modern”, and I think that perfectly embodies the style we are aiming to create on Pearl St.  While some historic restorations seek to exactly recreate the home’s original interiors, we like to use the historic to provide a springboard for the new.

Here’s an example of how we do that:

The original fabric wallpaper that is currently nailed to the shiplap walls in the living rooms is a busy floral pattern of silver, gray, pink , and purple ( you can see a bit in the before pictures.)  That traditional color combination is absolutely dynamite and can be modernized with a different pattern and color depth. We plan on designing a gray, silver, and pink downstairs with a beautiful wallpapered foyer that respects history but brings the home into the 21st century.  See some of our selections below.

Who is Brady and Why Did He Murder His Mistress?

Some people have remarked that its interesting that we bought the “Brady House” when my youngest sister is named Brady.  Hey, if we could buy a Kendall House, Ana House, Laura House, Emily House, Carrie House, Sarah House, etc…we totally would.  But, in this case, the Brady in question was Judge John Brady, an Austin judge with quite the sordid legacy.  The biography below came from Phoebe Allen, in her report for the Austin Historic Landmark Commission:

           JUDGE JOHN W. BRADY (1876-1943) was one of five children born in Austin to James and Agnes Brady. His father was a grocer, born in Ireland, and his mother was English. Brady received a law degree from UT in 1896. He married Nellie Burns Brady (1876-1945) on June 18, 1901.

            Brady began his career in a law partnership with E.B. Robertson of Fort Worth. Later (by 1906), as County Attorney of Travis County, Brady was the driving force behind the dissolution of the Standard Oil Company’s monopoly in Texas. The state of Texas awarded him $90,000.00 for the effort. He also worked as special counsel for Governor “Ma” Ferguson. Subsequently he became the assistant attorney general, served as an attorney for the State Banking Board, and was appointed Justice of the 3rd Court of Civil Appeals in Austin (1918-1923), but was defeated for election in 1923.

      There is a less glamorous chapter in John Brady’s life, which had its roots in his 1923 defeat. At the age of 60, Brady had a young paramour for whom he secured a job at the state capitol. Lehlia Highsmith, age 28, was a stenographer for the Supreme Court Commission of Appeals. She “was found in the company of other men” and was stabbed to death on November 9, 1929, in front of her boarding house. Brady was incarcerated the next day.

      His wife testified that since Brady’s defeat in the re-election, her husband had been on a downward spiral of drinking and infidelity. Brady’s good friend and neighbor, Dr. Goodall Wooten, testified that Brady was an alcoholic. Brady pleaded temporary insanity caused by chronic drinking and was tried twice – the first trial in Austin resulted in a deadlocked jury; the second trial was in Dallas, where he was convicted of murder without malice and sentenced to prison for three years, though he served less than two years, from January 28, 1931, to July 1932, having whittled off more than a year with credits for his work as a penitentiary school teacher among other jobs.

      Brady’s wife stood steadfastly by her husband through the ordeal, and he returned to her at 1601 Pearl after prison and engaged in legal research until his death on December 17, 1943. Mrs. Brady died August 30, 1945. Both are buried at Mt. Calvary cemetery, which is associated with St. Mary’s Cathedral.

      According to George P. Shelley,  “After Brady returned from prison, the Bradys had difficulty paying their property taxes. Two Buckley women, who lived on the corner of 19th and Lavaca, had a rich brother in the oil business in Mexico. The brother was the father of William Buckley. The Bradys and Buckleys were Catholics, and the Buckley women, who were friends of Mrs. Brady, paid her taxes. Brady had one or both legs amputated, probably due to diabetes. After the Judge died, Mrs. Brady gave her house to the nuns at Seton hospital and was under their care at Seton.”

Fascinating, no?  We’re just quite happy the murder didn’t happen on the grounds of the house.

The Beginning…

"Before" Living Room

Do you see it?  The incredible crown moldings?  The high ceilings? The antique flooring?  That amazing piano? Yeah, yeah…so  the walls are missing.  That’s the simple stuff 🙂  We like to look past those kinds of things to really peer into the bones of a house.  And the bones of this one are mighty strong.  Do you remember that scene in “Titanic” when the decrepid oceanliner that’s been at the bottom of the sea for a hundred years slowly comes back to life, all shiny and glorious?  The fireplace, the piano, the china, the hair comb,  etc…? That’s what we picture when we see this image.