Story by Dianne S Edwards
Leaving the sights and sounds of a pre-hurricane ravaged New Orleans behind them, Dick and Rita Goodman found a very ‘good’ home in Russellville – the historic Neal home located only a few blocks from Historic Downtown Russellville.
The couple relocated to Russellville “to retire,” moving first into a home owned by retire,” moving first into a home owned by Rita’s mother, then later into their dream home’ in November 2003.
“When we would come to visit Rita’s family, I’d pick up the real estate magazines and drive by some of the featured homes,”said Dick. “I’d been by this house a number of times before we began to think seriously about making an offer.”
In February 2002, the Goodman’s purchased the home from Dr. Charles Brown. Then the couple continued to drive back and forth to Russellville while continuing to live and work in New Orleans. Rita praises her mother, Virginia Camarata, for helping them greatly following the purchase of the home.
“She’s very special to me,” added Rita. “She’s helped me a lot with this house. She’s cleaned flower beds, stripped the walls, watched over rental property and kept an eye on this place while we were away. She’s amazing.”
Mrs. Camarata, owner of Virginia’s Beauty Shop, still works three days a week, said her daughter proudly.
The Goodmans met and married 10 years ago while working for Entergy. Rita, who made her home in Little Rock, moved to New Orleans where Dick was living. They loved the sights and sounds of the New Orleans area, dining frequently in the French Quarter and at favorite restaurants.
Today, their historic Russellville home features specific areas that pay tribute to the New Orleans flair– in particular, a sun porch added to the original structure added by a previous owner. Colorful posters, band instruments found at flea markets or received as gifts, and a porcelain jester seated atop a childlike rocking chair adorn their favorite sitting area.
“We worked the remodel full-time, like an 8-5 job,” said the couple. “And we watched a lot of ‘This Old House’ and “Restore America.”
While most of the refinishing work was done by the Goodmans, they did employ the services of an outside painter for several months and professional craftsman for almost a year.
“We had the time (to do most of the refinishing) and we knew we could do a lot of the work ourselves,” they explained. “But one day this carpenter just ‘showed up.’ He was a very meticulous and we quickly learned that if it wasn’t done right, he wasn’t going to do it.”
“He started every day at 6 a.m. and was so good. Dick, who handled the electrical repair, worked right alongside this young man, serving as needed as a carpenter’s assistant,” added Rita.
In May 2003, Rita slipped and fell off a ladder while painting the dining room. It was a simple mistake that she admits cost the homeowner more in time, effort, pain and anguish than hiring a full-time professional painter might have cost. She was sidelined until late September.
“We didn’t have the first floor completely finished when we moved into the house in September 2004,” remembered the couple.
The kitchen (on the first floor,) and the bedrooms and second floor were pretty much finished, they added. The third floor remained untouched and serves currently as a “storage area that may be tackled at some point,” says the Goodmans.
“The third floor of the home was supposedly a ballroom used by the Neal family during the 1920,” added the couple.
Ownership of the home, built originally for Oscar Wilson in 1917, was transferred during the depression to Sam and Lila Neal, a prominent banking family.
“O.C. Nelson was the same builder who constructed the Madison White (lion) house and the Gardner House on West Main,” said Rita. ”
“The Neals became famous with their annual Halloween Party,” recalled Rita. “There was music and dancing and a band set up in an offset alcove on the floor. Only the adults were allowed to climb three flights of stairs to attend.”
Additional information about the Neal’s Halloween parties was relayed to the Goodmans during a recent visit by Lillian Couch, The Neal’s daughter. She recalled the excitement and anticipation experienced by party-goers and remembered sitting on the steps as a child, watching the activities but not being allowed to attend.
In tribute to the home’s Halloween tradition, Rita opened a closet door to reveal a larger-than-life ghoul that graces their porch during the fall holiday season.
“At Christmas, he wears a Santa hat,” she said with a smile.
Many of the home’s original accessories – including a number of antique side lights- were in working order when the Goodman’s took over, needing only re-wiring for safety reasons. Push-button light switches are found near every entryway. A unique piece–a hanging light fixture adorned with a painted parrot–was discovered in a side cabinet and re-hung in the area Dick now uses as a study.
Hidden behind oak-paneled pocket doors, the study stands ready when needed. The cabinets in the study were only one of very few updates added to the home by previous owners, leaving nearly all of the original home’s structure intact.
Original gas fireplaces, a 1914 ‘in-the-wall’ vacuum cleaner, several radiators and the home’s original boiler all remained, though not all are in use today, explained Dick.
“Mrs. Neal had one door closed and a half-bath was added downstairs. The Browns added the sun porch upstairs but other than that, there were no other major renovations made.”
Gazing at the home’s 11’ and 13’ ceilings, one can’t help can’t help but notice the striking dark woodwork which flanks the ceiling and doorways throughout the Goodman’s home. Unbelievably, the original finishes of the massive beams were in excellent condition and did not have to be stripped or re-stained when the Goodmans began their renovation.
However, the oak-planked floor was stripped and refinished professionally- a job deemed too difficult and large for the couple to tackle.
The walls were a different matter. A large amount of wallpaper was removed as the couple chose to paint rather than paper their historic home. Only a few areas were in need of re-plastering despite the home’s age.
Structurally, it was amazingly sound.
When a bathroom wall proved challenging, Rita’s sister lent advice. She showed Rita how to feather and sparkle plaster to hide areas which refused to give up layers of wallpaper. There resulting finish created a unique pattern which was creatively covered with paint.
Walls throughout the home reflect the Goodman’s love of rich, vibrant color- bright hues of red, mocha and taupe are complimented by textures and finished which tease the senses. Rita, an accomplished artist, has decorated the home with Dick’s assistance, selecting items that have both deep meaning and whimsy.
If one were to use only a single word to describe the life and home of Rita and Dick Goodman, it would have to be ‘fun.’
The home is 5,700 sq. feet, heated and cooled, which includes the third floor and a full basement. The basement houses Dick’s workshop and serves as a winter home for more than a dozen ferns which line the wrap-around porch in season.
“We have to keep them alive,” declared Rita. “Can you imagine replacing that many ferns each year?”
Dick smiles when the topic of the basement is mentioned.
“This house, especially the basement, smells like my grandmother’s house,” he recalled. Dick, who is originally from North Carolina, said he was drawn to the Neal home by memories of his grandmother’s similar home in Clemson, S.C.
“It was a big, three-story home a lot like this, built for her by my grandfather.”
The master bedroom of the Goodman’s historic home faces the front of the home. Two guest bedrooms- which Rita affectionately call the “bunny room” and the “bear room” for reasons visually explained- lie across the upstairs foyer in a sort of “wagon wheel” pattern radiating from the top of the stairs.
The personal collections of the homeowners fill each room- antique bedroom suites, a custom-built dollhouse built many years ago for Rita’s now grown daughter, toys “for the grandchildren,” and paintings by the homeowner and her father.
A drawing room which houses an antique drawing table and chair is known as “the cat’s room,” the couple mused. The cat’s name is simply, ‘Kitty.’
Sudden splashes of vibrant red, white and black catch the eye. One can’t help but be drawn into the “fun bathroom” at the top of the stairs. Resembling more of a playroom bathed in red, black and white, Rita points out features which make even the bathroom “fun!” New-Orleans-style jazz posters and framed prints fill the walls.
Most of the Goodman’s home furnishings were bought at auctions in New Orleans or Lake Village, though a few were purchased with the historic home in mind.
“I bought one piece a year before we refinished the house, had it stored and then eventually moved it here,” said Dick.
“We had no idea where it was going to go; we only knew we liked it,” he explained. The massive bar server/buffet, fits perfectly along an opening between the service kitchen and the doorway leading from the entry hall… “just like it was made for it.” Only inches remain on either side.
Everything in the home seems to have a designated place and almost every item has its own story. An antiques barber chair situated on the sun porch has special meaning.
Besides being a great place to view the wall-mounted television, it serves a unique purpose. (Ask them about the barber chair and the lamp made from a clarinet — it’s another story all its own.)
A downstairs parlour room lies immediately to the right of the entry hall. A self playing piano occupies a place of honor here, a push-button way to fill the void when the Goodman’s “musically-inclined” friends are not here to offer entertainment.
The Goodmans love to entertain but admit that neither are musically-inclined, choosing instead to invite over their friends who do play and sing. At times the impromptu gatherings fill the room to capacity and emit laughter and song to the merriment of those nearby.
Especially memorable are the holiday times, they said.
Only the fourth family to own the home since it was built nearly 200 years ago, the Goodmans stress that they are the only “keepers of this historic home.
“We love to imagine the wonderful times spent here by families before us, and we want to preserve the home for families that will spend happy times here in the future.
“We also want to emphasize how much we believe in the preservation of our older homes in Russellville and believe strongly in the revitalization of this town.
“So many of us who grew up here have memories of the many historic buildings, as well as homes, which are no longer here.
“We are so pleased that this corner is being turned and the emphasis is now on preserving our Russellville history.”
Story by Dianne S Edwards