The house, built in 1939 of poured concrete and located on the Washington shore of the Columbia River, featured portholes on its lower levels, the sort of step-across doorways you'd find on a submarine, and ships' doors to cover them. This made sense, because the property -- five acres -- had once belonged to a retired sea captain named Humphries, who also maintained a boat repair operation on the site, complete with fuel pumps and machine shop.
By the time Irv and Jan Snyder bought the property in the early '90s, the fuel pumps were gone and the machine shop and boat repair shed were decrepit. The couple loved the location, a much-coveted riverfront property in a place -- the Columbia River gorge -- where new residential construction is heavily restricted. But they weren't wild about the house. Jan Snyder wanted to remodel it and tear down the boat repair shack. Irv Snyder wanted to turn the boat repair shack into the couple's residence and use the captain's concrete bunker for guests.
The Snyders compiled a wish list, then talked with architects about what it would take to turn the boat repair shack into a house. The architects were interested, but not necessarily inspired. Intimidated by restrictive zoning ordinances, "they all designed a box, basically," Jan Snyder says. Then a friend told them about a house he'd visited that had recently been remodeled by the Neil Kelly Co., of Portland, with splendid results.
Tom Owens, sales consultant and architectural designer for the Neil Kelly Co., told the Snyders that the concrete construction of their home would make remodeling difficult. He too felt the boat repair shack should be re-built as their principal residence. The plan they all agreed to was to place a new structure on the repair shack foundation.
Local ordinances dictated that riverfront remodels had to conform to the existing footprint for the first 50 feet back from the water and preserve at least 20% of the value of the building, which was appraised at $15,000. "So we had to preserve $3,000 worth of materials in the construction," Irv Snyder says.
That didn't end up being a tall order. Finding materials worth salvaging was easier than it at first appeared. The repair shop frame and floorboards were made of straight grain Douglas fir. The wood had originally been used for forming concrete at the Bonneville Dam, downriver, and was salvaged when the building was constructed. It remained sound, in spite of 60 years of weathering and infestation by false powder post beetles. Irv Snyder disassembled the building board by board, removed the nails and bolts, then pressure-washed each piece. The stacked, dried boards were turned over to an exterminator for fumigation. The result was some 14,000 board feet of straight grain fir, including 20- and 30-foot-long floor joists and ceiling beams, which, re-sawn and planed, were transformed into between $30,000 and $40,000 worth of trim boards.