Tom Brundage: The Artist Behind the Reconstruction of Gypsy Rose Lee’s Witchwood Manor

"Miracle worker" Tom Brundage, of TB Construction, seated in Gypsy Rose Lee's kitchen between James Nelson and Leslie Rose of the Monroe Historical Society.

“Miracle worker” Tom Brundage, of TB Construction, seated in Gypsy Rose Lee’s kitchen between James Nelson and Leslie Rose of the Monroe Historical Society.

Tom Brundage is a miracle worker.

That may not be the way the owner of TB Construction LLC might describe himself, but I saw his incredible work on Saturday, and that’s the way I describe him.  Tom has restored Gypsy Rose Lee’s beautiful former estate, Witchwood Manor, after it was all but destroyed by fire.  Let me tell you, after seeing the photo album of fire damage that Tom showed me, I could not get over what an amazing job he does!

Gypsy Rose Lee lived in Witchwood Manor during the 1930’s and early 1940’s.  It was there that she had installed her mother, Rose Hovick, supporting her in style: the house had fourteen rooms, acres and acres of property, buildings out back and extra bedrooms that Rose promptly rented out for a profit, and even a theater in the basement.

Gypsy Rose Lee married William Alexander Kirkland at Witchwood Manor on her mother Rose's birthday, August 31, 1942.

Gypsy Rose Lee married William Alexander Kirkland at Witchwood Manor on her mother Rose’s birthday, August 31, 1942.

Tom was already working on creating several enhancements at Witchwood Manor, which had just been bought by new owners, in October of 2009 when he received a distubring message involving a fire alarm.  Most of it was destroyed.  The culprit was bad electrical wiring, some of which probably hadn’t been updated since the 1930’s.

The fire.

The fire.  Front view of the house.  If the outside looks horrific, the inside was even more out of control, after this.  Everything caved in.

The wiring, and everything else, is certainly updated now!  I was astounded at how beautiful the property looked when the James Nelson and Leslie Rose of the Monroe, NY Historical Society arranged with the owners for me to see it on Saturday.  So much of Gypsy Rose Lee and Rose Hovick’s story had happened right there…way back in that innocent-seeming other world of the late 1930’s, before the savagery of the Second World War.

Innocent-seeming?  This house was also the site of the mysterious death of Rose’s chauffeur, Genevieve, who was being harrassed by a stalker…but that’s another story.

“How,” I asked Tom, when I saw the collection of hideous fire-damage photos, with piles of ash and mountains soot, destroyed beams and burned-through roofs, annihilated walls and collapsed ceilings, “did you even begin to bring the place back from this catastrophe?  I wouldn’t know where to start.”

Tom said that he started by cleaning up.  Then a temporary roof had to be installed, first with tarps, later with more traditional shingles, since so much of the damage to the building came from the roof on down.  It looked like a Herculean job, and that was only the start of it.

Tom tried to stay true to the original structure.  Having seen so many photos of Witchwood Manor while I was researching Rose Hovick, if I had not known there had been a fire, I would never have thought the updates Tom made were anything but the original house.  The place was notable for curved woodworkings around the doors, arched ones rather than rectangular, and those were kept wherever possible, or else recreated.  Tom was able to salvage many items from the original house, such as the criss-crossed leaded glass on the cabinetry, which were reincorporated into the new designs.  The one detail he has yet to find is a butler’s buzzer, a device on the floor that people would hit with their foot to call the butler.  They don’t make those any longer, or at least, they don’t over here.  Ah, who knows?  Maybe the set designer for Downton Abbey might know where to get one.

Tom Brundage’s website is: http://www.tbconstructionllc.com/about-1.html

If you need a stellar restoration job, by all means, contact Tom!  You won’t ever regret it.

Here are but a few examples of his work on Witchwood Manor.  Wow, what a house!  They ought to rename it The Phoenix Manor since it literally has arisen from the ashes, thanks to Tom Brundage.

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View of the property from the back.

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Leaded doorway and curving woodwork.

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The porch.

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The staircase Gypsy Rose Lee descended on her wedding day in 1942.

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One of the rooms that didn’t need restoration.

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Check out the detailed work on this beautiful mantle!

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Curved woodwork, an oval window overlooking the acres of the property, and leaded glass windows. BEAUTIFUL!

 

Wedding Day at Witchwood Manor, 1942: Rose Hovick, Gypsy Rose Lee, William Alexander Kirkland, and his mother.

Wedding Day at Witchwood Manor, 1942: Rose Hovick, Gypsy Rose Lee, William Alexander Kirkland, and his mother.

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