SWAMPSCOTT — A few weeks ago, a video of Paul McCartney going back to the old Liverpool homestead made the rounds. There was Paul, pointing to different rooms in the house remembering what it was like to live there in the 1940s and ’50s.
That’s how I felt last week when I took Mike Moran of Swampscott up on his invitation to come and visit my grandmother’s house. I’d read or heard somewhere that Moran, whom I knew, had purchased the house on 76 Banks Road where my grandparents lived. When I asked him if it was the same Mike Moran, he said yes it was, and offered to give a guided tour anytime I wanted.
The opportunity came when I read that the house had received a Restoration and Preservation Award from the Swampscott Historical Commission. That gave me a valid reason to barge into these people’s lives on my nostalgia trip.
So, last week my wife, Linda, and I were the guests of Mike and Nancy Moran. We were there ostensibly to talk about the historical designation, but we probably talked more about my history, and that of my sister and our cousins, and how much of our lives we lived while under that roof.
It’s quite a feather in the cap to be recognized for all the work you’ve done on your home. And the Morans have done a lot. They’ve probably put as much money into fixing it as it cost them to buy it — perhaps even more.
Even before they moved into the house in 2005, Nancy knew instantly that the home she loved for its character would need major renovations.
“The first winter we were in there,” Mike said, “two of the bathrooms froze because there was very little insulation in the house.”
That was the first big project. And it wasn’t the cheap stuff — the foam — either. It was all fiberglass.
With just about every room completely done over, the best I could do was close my eyes and imagine. The living and dining rooms were flipped, for example, so that the Morans can sit in the comfort of their sofa, in front of the beautiful fireplace that dominates the room.
I remembered the other room — now the Morans’ dining room. It had a divan along the wall in front of the radiator, and Archie and Edith chairs on either side of the archway leading to the front foyer.
Baba (I think my oldest cousin tried to say “papa” but it came out “baba,” and it stuck) sat in one of those chairs, legs resting on a footstool (no barcaloungers back in those days). On many Saturday afternoons, I sat in the other one as we watched Tony Conigliaro and the Red Sox.
One thing I distinctly remember about the house was its old-fashioned pantry that looked like something out of a scene from “Bonanza.” It was strategically located between the kitchen and their dining room, giving my grandmother access to either end, depending on where the meal was being eaten.
“It was probably built for what women from that era were expected to do,” Nancy said.
Eventually over the course of 13 years, the Morans have refurbished every room, including the kitchen twice.
“Yeah,” Nancy said. “Three years ago, we figured it was time. It was getting old.”
One day, three years ago, a man from the historical commission rang their bell and said he loved the house, loved what the Morans had done with it, and that he was going to nominate it for the renovation and restoration recognition.
“That was kind of nice,” Nancy Moran said. “We felt it was very important to maintain the character and charm of the Victorian era in which it was built.”
So much so that they researched Victorian homes “with the goal of keeping all renovations within that time period while also managing to update to today’s lifestyles.”
The plaque on the front says the house was built in 1908, but it may have been even earlier. J. Robert and Eva Cornell weren’t the first owners (that distinction belonged to Jacob Strauss). My grandparents bought it in 1937 and it stayed in the family until two years after my grandmother died in 1978.
In the letter to the Morans affirming the commission’s designation, member Justina Oliver wrote, “It is your awareness of the value of preservation and maintenance of our community’s historic and treasured private homes, commercial structures, public buildings and edifices, that gives Swampscott its special character and makes us proud to live here.”
The way the Morans have treated the house meant a lot to me, and, I’m sure, would be appreciated by my cousins. It may have been redone from cellar to dome (though there’s one stained-glass window in the front which survived all the remodeling), but there was enough about it for me to remember those days well. Why, there’s even a piano in the foyer — just like there was when I was growing up.
The Morans, especially Nancy, drank all this in with a sense of awe. Later, she wrote to me, “I have always loved our house but hearing your memories gave us a deeper appreciation for what a special home we have. Thank you for sharing with us.”