If everybody could have a Father like mine!! This is what he had to say…
Crazy Choice Becomes a Dream
by George F. Janofsky
I thought my daughter was crazy.
It wouldn’t be the first time. The first time was when she went motorcycling with her boyfriend without a helmet. Then volunteering at a hospital and coming home late and then studying to all hours in the morning. Then joining the Air National Guard as a teenager.
After graduating from D’Youville College with a degree in nursing, Rosemary was accepted at Meharry Medical College as the only white female in its midwifery program. On visiting her in Nashville, in a very tough neighborhood, she told me to shut and lock the car door as she went shopping, and when she returned she only said, “They all know me here.”
Or I could tell you about the time she volunteered to go to the Gulf War as a flight nurse—as she said, to triage and pick up wounded on the battlefield.
But when she bought a decrepit 33-room mansion in Rochester, I was sure that my daughter had lost it.
Let me give you some background. While she was in Nashville she bought a small home in Franklin, Tenn. She repaired it and put it on the National Historic Register. I don’t mean to make it sound easy, and those of you in this field know it can be difficult. Now after seven years she moved to Rochester to work at Rochester General Hospital. She asked my advice on a home adjacent to the Erie Canal that she wished to buy. There was a red tag on the furnace (meaning it was unsafe to use). It needed a new roof and featured a watermark on the basement wall due to a past flood, rotting wood on the porch and a greenhouse made mostly of broken glass lying all around. I was able to talk her out of this home—but, the future was just around the corner.
She did find a very nice home in the Brighton area of Rochester, but it too needed a lot of work. Once she’d made it into a showpiece (it was on the Rochester Tour of Homes), Rosemary was ready to move on and asked me to look at a home she was interested buying.
She excitedly told me about the wonderful home she’s been eyeing for years. As we drove into the gravel driveway I was greeted by a carriage house, as she called it, but in reality it was a dilapidated barn with broken windows, rotted wood, a burned out roof, paint peeling or gone, and large barn doors which looked like they couldn’t even be opened.
Then we turned right, to view the main monstrosity, a huge stucco building with gutters falling down, eaves with holes in them, shingles off the roof, a tree which had fallen on the huge porch, and paint peeling and gone. I was sure the inside must be horrible.
Rosemary said, “Dad, just wait until you see the beautiful inside.”
As we went through what is a 33-room mansion, all I saw was work, dollars and more work. Two furnaces and one boiler needed to be replaced, the electrical wiring was unsafe, fixtures needed replacing, woodwork and walls needed repairs, rugs needed to be removed, the doors didn’t close properly—and that was only the beginning. Nobody in their right mind would touch this dump.
When she told me she was buying this I gasped in disbelief. But she is my daughter and she had a dream, and it is not for me to destroy a dream since I love her so much–even if she is a little crazy.
She bought it.
Remember the old story of how do you eat an elephant? Bite by bite. Well, this was a dirty, filthy and sick old elephant of a house. New furnaces came first. Then wiring. Then a complete new roof on the home and carriage house. Money and more money. It is hard to tell just what came next. Painting and plastering, replacing the huge porch, working on the trees, lawn, sidewalk, furnace, plumbing, light fixtures… you get the idea. I didn’t even mention the greenhouse and the carriage house, which would take another page. She had guts to buy the heap–maybe not brains–but guts.
After about two years of work, Rosemary found out that the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra selects a show house as a fundraiser every two years. Gutsy lady that she is, she applied and (hallelujah and amen) her home was selected. She moved out for three months as interior decorators came in and transformed the sick elephant of a house into a beautiful swan.
The celebration and showing of the mansion started with a dinner at the University of Rochester with well-deserved accolades for all who worked on the mansion. After dinner all proceeded to the now-beautiful swan. Over 100 people were greeted with a large tent, with a bar and a string quartet playing while seated on the large porch.
In a highlight of the evening, the conductor of the Philharmonic played the built-in organ on the landing of the home’s beautiful staircase. The organ is an 1878 Hooks and Hasting pipe organ, only one of seven in existence.
That was last year. Now Rosemary runs the mansion as a bed and breakfast called the Ellwanger Estate, after one of the first people to own the mansion. The carriage house is fixed up and looks like a child of the mansion. Around the property are some of the works of Fletcher Steele; a beautiful wall and an exquisite staircase.
So you see this story does have a good ending. My daughter, Rosemary Janofsky, inherited her good looks, intelligence and forward thinking from her mother, and the craziness from me.
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The Ellwanger Estate is located at 625 Mt Hope Ave., Rochester. Information is available online at ellwangerestate.com.