‘This Old House’ brings back to life 1939 Detroit home

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Frank Polk of Detroit grew up watching PBS’s “This Old House” with his mother as one of television’s longest-running home improvement show renovated home after home in New England.

Now, Polk is experiencing “This Old House” in a much more personal way: The vacant house he and his wife, Tamiko, bought from the Detroit Land Bank Authority will be featured in the new season for “This Old House,” its 37th, as they renovate it room by room. The season premieres in October but the 10 Detroit episodes won’t air until late March.

Polk, a retired Detroit firefighter, says producers reached out to him and Tamiko, who have three grown children, not long after they bought their 1939 two-story brick home in the city’s Russell Woods neighborhood on the northwest side from the land bank. The show was looking for a Detroit home to feature and wondered if the Polks would be interested in being featured.

“It was exciting,” says Tamiko.

“This Old House – which has never featured a home in Detroit, though it has visited a local home for its sister show, “Ask This Old House” – was drawn to the city because “we saw the potential for great stories,” says associate producer Alyssa Thompson.

“It’s a city that is coming back, maybe really slowly, but it’s happening and this beautiful housing stock is really different from the houses we’ve done,” says Thompson. “We typically do (homes) in New England so we saw the opportunity for beautiful transformation and telling the story of Detroit.”

Renovations started in mid-June. The 1,700-square-foot house, which sat vacant for four years before the Polks bought it, had extensive water damage from a leaking roof, but in other ways was very intact. Original floors are still in place, along with wet plaster moldings, ceiling medallions and stained glass windows.

Touring the house before he bought it, Frank said he was optimistic it could be brought back to life. Still, without the show, “I may have been in over my head,” he admits.

On Thursday, crews worked to restore the front porch. The roof has already been replaced. Thompson says “This Old House” has its own team of subcontractors, but the Detroit project is unique in that there is no general contractor and it’s much more do-it-yourself.

“We’re trying to mix modern with historical,” says Frank.

Thompson says they hope to finish renovations by November.

“The dream team is at work and we’re going to pull a magic trick,” says Frank with a smile.


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