NORMAN — Michael Brinkley didn’t chain himself to a bulldozer.
But the results of the work he and his wife, Lynda Donley, put into saving the vintage Spanish Mission Revival-style house at 639 S Lahoma are just as dramatic.
The 1921 house was a mess in 2011 when a previous would-be buyer proposed razing it to build a new home. Preservationists howled, and Norman’s Historic District Commission blocked destruction of the home, thought to be the first residential design of noted architect Harold Gimeno.
Brinkley, a home remodeler by trade, stepped up and acquired it from the bank that held it in trust. He and Donley lived a block north in the Chautauqua Historic District, just off the northwest edge of the University of Oklahoma campus. They knew the house.
The last thing they and others in the six-block neighborhood of 153 equally vintage homes wanted to see was a sacrifice to something new. Most of the homes, built from 1915 to 1935, represent a special time in Norman history.
“Stately residences reflect the character of the university deans, faculty and other prominent individuals who assisted in the development of the city,” the Historic District Commission says on its website. “The mature trees, which line the streets, reveal Norman’s dedication to turn a town on the prairie into a garden setting.”
The 3,000-square-foot house, even vacant for seven years and severely dilapidated, was considered “the poster child for historic preservation,” according to the State Historic Preservation Office.
Brinkley poured all his time and effort into rehabilitating it to sell. The preservation office recognized his work in June with a Certificate of Merit.
“With Mike, a skilled carpenter, doing nearly all of the work himself, the couple has meticulously restored the stucco, returned true divided-light doors and windows to filled-in and altered openings and, most significantly, installed a recycled polychrome terra-cotta tile roof,” a preservation official said at the award presentation. “Congratulations to Mike and Lynda for helping maintain this historic neighborhood.”
Along the way, restoring the home quit being a business endeavor. It got personal.
“As time went by, Lynda fell in love with it,” he said.
“I did,” she said.
So they made it their home, an open but warm mix of historic form and contemporary function.
“I came down every day to bring him lunch. I was in on the process,” she said. “No decision-making, but as it came together, I could just see — oh, my God, I just loved it, the space, all of the doors, everything that he was able to save. And the light. We just, I just said, ‘I want to live here!’ And he said, ‘All right, let’s do it!’ ”
Their home’s character remains intact despite some fairly drastic changes made to the original footprint by previous owners.
A front courtyard became a porch with the addition of a roof. A small front porch became an entryway with the addition of walls. A wide outdoor living area in back became a big bedroom. That was before Brinkley even touched it.
Brinkley’s work was at times unusual. The immediate former owner was an OU chemistry professor who used the 1,000-square-foot basement for experiments and laboratory work. It smelled, Brinkley said, which is probably why people thought the basement was unsalvagable.
Rainwater did come in under a door that needed repair, but it pooled because of a clogged drain. The chemical smell dissipated with it dried and aired out.
Materials were saved and reused when possible. Lynda pointed, for example, to a onetime small-pane outdoor window now in place in a wall shared by a bathroom and bedroom.
“And this was an original door somewhere,” she said.
The work was extensive, starting with gutting the place to the studs.
“I vaulted the ceiling in the living room for additional space,” Michael said. “I vaulted the entryway ceiling. The little study, I vaulted it. Did away with a bedroom off the kitchen, changed the location of the stairs, and that enabled us to have a larger kitchen.”
In all, the project cost about $250,000, Brinkley said, on top of the $121,000 he paid for the house.
Brinkley, 65, has been doing remodeling work for 40 years.
He said the recognition from preservation officials was a surprise.
“It’s just great. I never expected to receive an award for the work I did on the house here. It means a lot, for sure,” he said.
Lynda Donley, 64, said saving the house pulled the neighborhood together in new ways.
“We have met so many wonderful people who love this house. As homeowners, they were afraid of what might happen to this house, if someone was going to tear it down. It was so up in the air for so long.”