designs for living

Living History
story by Tori Phelps
photography by Bob Hunt

Tim, a physician, and Kia, who runs the family’s B&B, bought their first house in Peoria’s Randolph-Roanoke Historic District more than 10 years ago. “We were looking for an older home to restore at the same time the Randolph-Roanoke Historic District was trying to convert older homes from apartments to single family residences to improve the neighborhood. We first toured the home with our real estate agent on Christmas Eve 1994. The house looked like a large vacant warehouse with no kitchen and no complete bathrooms. It was clearly a fixer-upper, but we immediately knew this was the house we wanted,” Kia said.

Surrounded by friendly, welcoming neighbors, the couple began the restoration process immediately. “We started by stripping the woodwork in the kitchen, staircase and entry, and master bedroom. At the same time, we had to completely restore the decaying driveway and crumbling perimeter walls. We then started working on a complete functioning bathroom and a kitchen. We moved here sooner than we anticipated because our previous home sold faster than we expected. Unfortunately, that meant we lived in rough conditions for about two years,” she said.

The house dates back to 1909, when it was built by Proctor family member David Lee. “Lee was an officer in the Proctor Lumber Company and an early president of the Commercial National Bank,” Tim said. “The home was designed and built by architect Frederick Kline, who was a well-known architect at the turn of the century, building Peoria High School and the Apollo Theater. The Lee home is built with neoclassical features, including massive symmetric columns. The home was divided into apartments in the 1940s and passed through the hands of several owners. Like the inner city, the home faced several decades of deterioration but rebounded in the 1990s with the improvement of the neighborhood.”

The Vegas, who now share the home with their nine- and seven-year-old sons, each had different challenges to overcome during the extensive renovations. “The biggest challenge for me was living in all the dust and dirt and having workers at our home so often,” Kia said.

For Tim, the most difficult aspect was finding craftsmen of older home restorations. “One of the most pleasant surprises was how well the original wood floor and the woodwork looked after restoration; many professionals told us the floors couldn’t be refinished,” he said. “Another surprise has been how we’ve grown into the house so it doesn’t seem as massive as it did originally to me.”

Their next purchase, the house at 201 West Columbia Terrace, came in 1998. “We’d been in our home for four years, and that house, which was a group home for physically and mentally disabled adults, had been on the market for a couple of years and wasn’t selling,” Kia said. “There were several reasons for purchasing that property. Most importantly, we wanted to save the house. The home is similar to ours and was built by the same family and architect. Also, there are financial incentives for businesses to restore historic properties, so this house was purchased with the plan to turn it into a bed and breakfast. We have confidence in the neighborhood and believe this is a great option for many travelers.”

The home, which now operates as the Randolph Terrace Historic Bed and Breakfast, underwent a complete restoration as well. “It had 23 bedrooms and 10 bathrooms when we purchased it,” Tim said. “We demolished all added walls, took off about two-thirds of the back ‘barracks,’ and re-framed the back to create a large sunroom. Complete replacement of the plumbing, wiring, and fire suppression (sprinkler system) was done, and central air conditioning was installed. The walls were completely re-plastered, and the original hardwood floors were refinished. The banister and staircase spindles on the second floor had to be replicated as they were thrown out when a fire door and institution glass were installed. Landscaping also was done. Once we found Ted Hensley, our general contractor, all of this took 12 months of work.”

The bed and breakfast now features four guest bedrooms named for the streets in the neighborhood and is furnished with antiques from Europe, which the Vegas found at Forrest European Imports in Forrest, Ill. “Before purchasing the furniture for the B&B, I went to furniture stores—new and antique—auctions, and estate sales to assess prices and styles,” Kia said. “I also did some reading about antiques. Several years earlier, Tim and I had gone to Forrest European Imports and remembered the impressive quality. Since this was the style and size of furniture we perceived was in our house when it was built and because we wanted to create a place that people would find unique and memorable, we purchased all the bedroom sets and breakfronts, a settee set, display cabinets, and tables there.”

The impressive transformation has attracted people from all over the world. “We’ve had guests from Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Canada, Australia, and throughout the United States. We even had a Hollywood filming crew working on a Richard Pryor documentary,” Kia said.

Their latest home purchase in the Historic District—the house to the west of their residence—came in November 2003. “It was in a fire, taken over by a bank, and sat vacant for several months. At this point, we’re going through our options of what to do with the house. Family members have expressed interest in the house, so we’ll wait before making a final determination,” she said.

In the meantime, the Vegas are doing what they do best: restoring it. “We have to modernize the plumbing, the electrical, the kitchen, and the baths. The woodwork—hardwood floors, crown molding, baseboards, and pocket doors—fireplaces, and staircase are elegant features we want to restore. Also, we’ve made the exterior more historically correct and have replaced the roof that was severely damaged in the fire,” Tim said.

Tim and Kia said they have no plans to purchase other historical houses and rehab them—but they admit that’s what they said two houses ago. “We’re involved with the Randolph-Roanoke Revolving Loan Fund, and Tim volunteers with the West Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services,” Kia said. “Both of these groups target homes being neglected and initiate restoration and owner occupancy. The architecture of old homes is very artistic in nature, and we see the restoration and maintenance of these homes as a form of citizenship for the benefit of future generations. The process of taking a house back to what it was originally is very gratifying.”

The Vegas encourage others to take a look at investing in their neighborhood. “Because of their beauty and proximity to the downtown and riverfront areas, the homes in the Randolph-Roanoke Historic District offer a unique urban environment that’s elegant, spacious, and convenient all at the same time. There’s a good sense of community, and we’re very proud of our diversity. We can walk to festivals and Civic Center events. For those working at the hospitals, colleges, or downtown, it’s a great place to live.”

For more information on the Vegas’ bed and breakfast, visit a&s