From a little shack in “Sleepy Hollow”, to 403 Lowe Street, the house we see today has been transformed.
The land was titled in 1960. Lowe Street was new to the city map as most streets were to the north. John and Judy Kovacs, originally from Hungary, moved to the location.
“John was hard-working,” neighbour Frank Schwertner recalls. From morning to night, Kovacs worked around the house and yard. Schwertner assisted Kovacs with building. He helped Kovacs place Arborite on walls and ceilings. The house resembled a European dwelling – lots of little rooms and separate entrances.
In October 2004, Pamela Holmes and Doug Irish purchased 403 Lowe in an estate sale. Judy had passed away earlier that year. John had passed away 10 years before. There were no relatives in Canada.
Holmes and Irish took the house under their wing, transforming the interesting building. Holmes recalls, “Albert Oberg was our amazing carpenter/contractor for the upstairs. He wasn’t intimidated by anything.”
Major renovations included a new heating system, a legal basement suite, rebuilt walls and roof, new windows and drywall.
Isabelle Plouffe lived there during renovations. She lived upstairs while Holmes and Irish renovated the basement. Plouffe remembers the upstairs was “funky!”. The bathroom was gothic with small purple, pink and green tiles covering the walls. After the basement suite was ready, Plouffe moved downstairs and upstairs renovations commenced.
Visiting the house today, one can hardly imagine the tiny rooms, three bathrooms, four kitchens and hallways. Present interior colours are warm and inviting. The upstairs houses health care practitioners and a studio for meditation.
The offices are spacious and welcoming. The studio contains Kovacs’ work: a brass escutcheon plate on a solid wooden door, classic Hungarian woodwork around the windows and a sky-blue Arborite ceiling. When I look up at the blue Whitehorse sky, dotted with soft clouds, I am in the studio once more.
The basement reflects Kovacs also. He was a crafty person. The hand rail to the basement is steel pipe. Stairways are constructed from steel. Throughout the house, curtain rods are copper piping. Basement walls are thick concrete.
Outside concrete had settled in such a way that water drained into the house. Holmes and Irish corrected drainage with landscaping in 2007. Interior walls of three-quarter-inch plywood feature Arborite held in place with four-inch nails. Schwertner thought John’s idea was ease of cleaning. Irish agreed. The Arborite is easy to clean.
I called upon Frank Schwertner. He remembers the couple with fondness. Schwertner recalls that John worked for White Pass, along with Father Dave Dawes.
Kovacs was easy-going. He loved fishing and hunting. He made ham, sausage and wine. Kovacs helped his friend Marika, who, at the time, owned the Fruit Stand. Bruised fruit was hauled to the dump and sometimes it was not. Just a little bruise was no excuse for throwing it away.
Judy remained in the home after John’s passing. Judy was gruff, Schwertner chuckled, but had a kind heart. She always had a cat and a bird. She enjoyed Bingo and vodka. She loved her flower gardens. In later years, Judy had a number of renters. The original idea (to rent out various suites) came to pass.
Kovacs built the home with found materials. He was innovative. I think Kovacs would have loved the transformation created by Holmes and Irish.
Nellie Dale writes regularly about unique buildings and heritage features in Whitehorse. This is part of an ongoing series on some of the people memorialized by benches along the Millennium Trail.