BY PAULA MINAERT — The annual Historic Hyattsville House Tour takes place on Sunday, May 15. It’s a venerable city tradition, now in its 32nd year, that draws both city residents and visitors from all over the region to walk through our showcase residences, businesses and other landmark buildings. One year the 1930s-era post office on Gallatin Street was featured; this year, the old armory (better known as “the castle”) on Route 1 will be.
The tour is an opportunity for people to relax, see some beautiful buildings, and get to know Hyattsville better or be introduced to it. For the people whose houses are on the tour, however, it’s a rather different experience. Few of the visitors know what goes into getting a house ready for the event. It’s a huge effort, according to some of those whose houses have been on the tour in the past and some doing it this year.
What to do with all your stuff is the first problem.
“You end up shoving stuff under the beds and in closets,” said Anna Frankle. “These old houses just don’t have much storage space.”
Terry McMann said she felt she was in an episode of the TV show “Hoarders.”
“I began throwing things away and taking stuff to Salvation Army and packing things up. And I also found stuff I thought I’d lost and put them out for display. It’s a chance to enjoy what you collect.”
People also said a lot of house projects get done when you’re going to be on the tour, some major, some minor. And everyone agreed that the whole process causes a lot of stress.
“People get frantic,” said Ann Barrett, who is also on the house tour committee. “In November or December they think they have all the time to get projects done and then they realize there’s not enough time. I know it’s kicked me in the right direction to get things done that I should have done a long time ago.”
Kathy Black put it more bluntly. “It’s blood, sweat and tears. Literally. When you try to repair things, you smash your finger with a hammer or you cut yourself. You sweat going under radiators cleaning up dust and dog hair. And you cry because you think no one will like your house.
“You have to be prepared as though you’re showing a house for sale. It has to be that perfect.”
There’s another side of that coin, though. Black added that her house stayed clean for months.
And Keith Feeley, whose house has been on the tour several times, said, “I always kick myself for volunteering but once everyone’s in your house it’s over. Noon on the day of the tour, your work ends and then it’s fun. Your house is clean and you can enjoy it.”
Being on the tour means, too, that you meet people and get to know your neighbors better. Gloria Felix-Thompson told the story of a new neighbor running out of her house the day before the tour, muttering to herself, “I have to get a fern.” And Felix-Thompson, who hadn’t met her yet, said, “I have a fern. I’ll go get it.” She knew immediately why the woman needed a fern. They’ve been friends ever since.
When Felix-Thompson’s house was on the tour, neighbor Mary Stevenson came to her house the day before with garden gloves and a trowel, asking what she could do get the garden ready. And it was raining.
Remembering that day, she said, “I never appreciated anything more in my life.”