WENATCHEE — Spread sheets and subtotals once filled the workday of retired accountant Mario Fry.
These days his calculations run more toward plumb and square.
He and his wife Connie got a deal last year on a bank-owned 1916 bungalow along Wenatchee’s historic Pennsylvania Avenue.
The 65-year-old Fry is restoring the old home, almost single-handedly.
“I’m retired. We’re done with our travel thing, and I need to stay active,” says Fry, who has been battling arthritis for the past year or so. “With arthritis, if you just stay in a chair it doesn’t get better.”
He retired in 2005 from a long career as an accounting supervisor at the Chelan County PUD. He wears ball cap bearing the utility’s logo while working on the house.
Fry’s left forefinger, missing its tip following a table-saw accident years ago, is proof that he’s no stranger to home repairs and woodworking. But his dream was to one day build a house from scratch.
His current task goes way beyond that.
The house is part of the city’s Nob Hill subdivision, created in 1901. It sits alongside closely spaced neighborng homes that overlook the quiet, maple-lined avenue and shady Pennsylvania Park, which was added post-1940.
The two-story home has a grand front porch and simple bungalow-style architecture, with large dormers protruding from each of the steeply pitched roof’s four directional faces.
Considered an affordable home in its day, it doesn’t have a basement. City officials say it may have been one of several “kit” homes, ordered from the Sears Roebuck or other catalogs, found in many of the city’s older neighborhoods.
But years of neglect and the at-times haphazard construction of the day had caught up with the old jewel.
Its big front porch sagged atop the rock that served as its only support. Siding and roofing were worn. Its sewer line had collapsed. Its floors were high-centered from years of settling and its aged wiring was the old knob-and-tube style.
Fry gutted the home, fixed its dips and sags, insulated, rewired, plumbed the whole structure and replaced the roof and windows. Interior work is now well underway.
“I call it the brand-new old house,” he said recently from the home’s living room. Boxes of flooring and remnants of insulation rose in a mound from the center. Sheets of drywall leaned against a wall, waiting for a chance to conceal still-visible wall studs. “I’m not trying to do a cheap job. If it’s got my name on it, I’ve got to know it’s well done and meets the code.”
He and Connie paid $90,000 for the house. They’ll invest about $70,000 in improvements and hope to sell it for around $250,000. Work should be finished in the coming months.
Fry’s son, Ryan, helps him out once a week. Some pretty handy friends, including a journeyman electrician, provided advice, as did city officials.
“City inspectors have been good,” he said. “They’re not the ogres everyone makes them out to be.”
The project is a daunting one, but Fry is no stranger to seemingly impossible odds.
At a time when the city’s police and courts were embroiled in the infamous Wenatchee sex abuse hysteria of the1990s, the Frys were two of the few local voices who spoke out against the deeply flawed police investigations and disgraced court proceedings that ended in 43 people charged with sexual abuse involving some 50 children.
Eventually, one or two served their time and were released before their cases fell apart. Nearly all who were convicted were either freed by higher courts, had their convictions overturned, or pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for dropping the charges of sexual abuse.
Before the sex-abuse investigations, the Frys coordinated a large local effort to collect food and medicine for Romanian babies who were abandoned and warehoused in ill-equipped orphanages following the 1989 of Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist government.
The old house project is a different kind of challenge.
“I like what we’re doing. It’s nice to see the progress, but with this project I bit off more than I realized,” he said. “If you’re going to do this, you have to have at least two people working on it full time. You have to be of the same mindset, and you have to love what you’re doing. Otherwise, don’t bother.”