Hurricane Katrina

Persistence pays: Loesch restores childhood home to 1840s elegance

The renovation of Margaret Loesch's family home in Pass Christian after Hurricane Katrina was the result of dedication and a little bit of luck.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD The renovation of Margaret Loesch's family home in Pass Christian after Hurricane Katrina was the result of dedication and a little bit of luck. SUN HERALD

Pass Christian is where Margaret Loesch chose to put down roots that even Hurricane Katrina couldn't budge.

"I really just love it," Loesch said. "My dad was an Air Force general and we traveled all over the world. "The reason they bought this house when I was just a couple years old was because they wanted us to have roots because most military families didn't have roots."

Loesch's mother was from Meridian and would frequently visit the Coast when she was a child. She remembered how beautiful Pass Christian was, so they drove through it in 1950.

Loesch's parents saw a house that was for sale by owner and were determined to purchase it for their family. Because a granddaughter of the owner had inherited the house, it had stood vacant for many years. The Loesches could not afford the asking price, so they tracked the lady down.

The house originally was built in the 1840s as a one-story summer cottage. In 1910, a hurricane damaged the house and the people who owned it at the time hired coastal architect Frank Whitman to restore it.

The owners were from New Orleans and would put all of their valuables upstairs in the attic and lock it before leaving to go back home. The family wanted to have more rooms, so Whitman converted the second-floor attic into four bedrooms. All of the second-story floors are original from 1910.

"They drove up, a young officer and his wife with two babies in the back seat asleep," Loesch said. "They said they couldn't afford the price, but they would buy the house for $15,000 and pay $100 a month until they paid it off. She was very wealthy and she was so charmed by them and their naivety that she said OK."

The Loesches paid the house off six months before Lawrence Loesch died in a plane crash in 1964 on his way back from Vietnam.

"We loved this house, and I think that is the reason the house meant so much to me," Loesch said. "We weren't always here. We would come for Christmas and summer vacation and if my dad was stationed some place that wasn't ideal for us to move with him, we would come here. Having those years to stay here made me appreciate even more that we had a house for the reason he hoped, although he wanted to retire here."

Loesch went to part of third grade and sixth grade on the Coast. She also attended Gulf Park and Southern Miss after her father was killed.

Soon after Loesch's father died, her mother sold the house and rented another down the street.

In 1970, the owners called and offered to sell back the house to Loesch for $400,000.

"Mrs. Billips called me and said 'I know you want to buy this house and we will sell it to you,' " Loesch said. "I was a production manager at ABC at the time. She said, 'We will sell it to you for $400,000; In the 1970s it might as well have been $4 million dollars because I couldn't afford it."

The next owner, Mr. Mansell, loved the house from childhood and always wanted to buy it, so he purchased the house from the Billips.

The Mansells lived in the house until Mr. Mansell became ill, and then sold it to the Aschaffenburgs who owned it during Hurricane Katrina.

Mr. Mansell tried to sell the house to Loesch years earlier for $800,000 but she declined.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the beautiful, historic home.

Loesch arrived four days after the storm, her SUV loaded down with gasoline, cleaning and medical supplies. She remembered the house made it through Hurricane Camille with flying colors with only minor roof and yard damage, so she wasn't sure what to expect.

After the hurricane, Loesch kept coming back to Pass Christian to visit. Months passed by and finally Eric Aschaffenburg heard back from several contractors. He was discouraged by contractor after contractor telling him the house needed to be torn down.

Loesch offered to by the house for land value and restore her beloved, historic home. Her offer was initially turned down, but months later, the Aschaffenburgs accepted.

"First of all, I had all of my pictures from my childhood," Loesch said. "My father took pictures constantly, so I knew every inch of the house. And the part that was gone, I knew what it should have been, but you know I'm in the entertainment business and you start from scratch when you make a film and ignorance is bliss.

"I didn't know what I was getting into; I didn't remember how much work we had done especially, on the foundation."

After searching for months, Loesch found a contractor who believed he could salvage the destroyed home.

"So this is a result of a dream that I had and it's also finding people who believed in me and who believed what I believed that it could be restored," Loesch said. "The reason I felt it could be restored is because so much of the original framework was still intact."

The contractor found a man from Texas who was working on restoring the Jefferson Davis home.

"He agreed to a minimal flat fee to consult for us because he saw my passion and he saw what we were trying to do," Loesch said. "So that Texas engineer was really a hero to me because he helped us with all of the foundation work and told us how to save the house."

All of the walls in the house are original plaster, which is not seen in many homes today. The contractor found a man who travels and does plaster work. He was able to keep the walls intact and re-plaster them.

"I forgot that every single French door was destroyed and we found them all over the property and we used them as a template in making the new French doors," Loesch said. "We just made them thicker and put double glass in them. The man who did these doors was a wonderful carpenter in Pass Christian who had 100-year-old tools, so he could replicate all of the original carpentry in the house. He was a real artist and made all of the French doors by hand with his old machinery."

Loesch suffered several disappointments during the restoration process. The Billips had added a pool when they owned the home and it was badly damaged and could not be salvaged.

"There was also an absolutely stunning Porte-cochère carport on the side of the house," Loesch said. "The carport had Romanesque columns that were all hand-designed and I only have a partial picture of it from when I was a child. I just have not been able to afford yet to re-create it, but I hope to and that would be the final piece that really totally restores the house to the way it was in 1910."

During the storm, the porch was washed away, leaving nothing to support the weight of the roof.

"We didn't know until Katrina that the roof was a hip roof and wasn't attached to the house," Loesch said. "It was what they did in the early 1900s and late 1800s. When they built these homes with a hip roof, the weight of the roof kept it down on the house. We didn't know it wasn't attached until it slid down over the front of the house during Katrina. So now it is attached."

Loesch also was disappointed that the side porches that Whitman enclosed with glass panels during his work in 1910 would not be enclosed. Loesch recalled that her family would leave the French doors open and enjoy the view and her parents would have parties and family gatherings on the porches. A victim of her renovation budget, she was unable to have them enclosed again, and left them open-air.

"Anything of importance takes a real commitment," Loesch said. "I think of all these neighbors who restored their houses. It took incredible courage and drive because every single day, well it seemed like every day, I would get a call from my contractor that there was another problem another obstacle something that they didn't anticipate. You just have to remember why you're doing it because it gets discouraging and very expensive."

The original floors were heavily damaged by the flood waters and Loesch was heartbroken that she couldn't save them and stick to her promise of restoring the house to its original time.

Her contractor had a friend restoring a factory in Tennessee and on the second floor of the factory where all of the management offices were located were 150-year-old hearts of pine wood.

The contractor drove to Tennessee with a flat-bed truck to pick up the reclaimed wood floors and bring them back to Pass Christian. After filling in the nail holes and refinishing the wood, the floors helped Loesch restore her family home to its time period.

"It has been a fascinating journey and sometimes I think you know you always hear people say you should tell your children to follow their dreams," Loesch said. "I think about that all the time, because having this house was a dream that I had to get it back I just didn't know I would get it back and have to salvage it. But having to go through the process of saving the house sort of intensified the passion I had for it and it solidified my commitment, my tenacity.

"Of course in business, you learn very quickly the difference between people who are successful and people who aren't successful is the ones who have perseverance -- that's the main thing."