After years of quiet, the historic mansion that sits at 14th Street and Franklin Avenue in Astoria is buzzing again with weekend activity.
The big white house has withstood many lives in its nearly 120 years. Originally a personal home for Frank Patton, one of Astoria’s early successful businessmen, it transformed into a convent in the 50s, then a hotel in the 90s, followed by an addiction treatment center for women in 2009.
Now, it will be a hybrid space that incorporates much of the past in a brand new way.
New owners Djordje and Trudy Čitović and their kids plan to live in half of the home. The couple has begun renting out the other half of the mansion as an airbnb or event space for large groups.
The Čitovićs beamed with excitement while showing off the new common space for airbnb guests, a restored chapel, lined with stained-glass windows and antique furniture—lit by computerized color-changing LED lights. It’s just one testament to how far they’ve come in their mission to meld the old with the new inside an aging giant.
The pair acknowledge that restoration of the 8,700 square foot, two-story home and carriage house has been a wild ride. Their journey is a rollercoaster of ups and downs that started before the deal on the property was finalized.
Digging into the past
The day the papers to purchase the property were signed, Djordje opened the door of the old chapel to find water. More than an inch of water settling into the floor, and dripping down the walls. The drywall ceiling was dramatically sagging under the weight of a massive leak.
He recalled working on a toilet that wouldn’t stop running in the room directly above the chapel the day before. What had seemed like a minor problem at the time was suddenly like a Tom Hanks scene in the movie “The Money Pit.”
“The drywall was just holding water so I punched it to release it, and there was probably like a 10-foot hole in the ceiling,” laughed Djordje. “And then sure enough, the real restate agent walks in. I said ‘I take full responsibility, we’re still buying the place,’ and she just turns around and says ‘I wasn’t here.’”
The mansion needed a lot of work. The Čitovićs also discovered a puzzling electrical mess from years of renovations, and a bat in the attic.
“There was a women’s rehabilitation center here for 10 years, and unfortunately they didn’t take great care of it,” said Trudy. “They painted the walls lime green. I would say that the spirit of it was there, but it was it was tarnished.”
In the midst of a skilled labor shortage, Djordje rolled up his sleeves to take the lead on the restoration process. He’s become so involved that the contractors he works alongside sometimes didn’t even realize they are deep in the dust and grime with the owner.
“Not only are we saving money by my own sweat equity, but I’ve also learned a lot,” said Djordje. “I’ve spent a lot of time on Youtube. I don’t think this project would have been possible 10 to 15 years ago.”
“Djordje has personally inspected every square inch of this house,” added Trudy. “From the crawl spaces underneath, all the way to the attic. Pretty much every surface that you look at has either been refinished, repainted, sanded down, shined and just everything pretty much is different.”
Digging into the bones of a house built around the same time that houses were just getting electricity is expected to yield some surprises. Djordje joked that he hoped to find some stashed gold, but he didn’t get that lucky.
“There was some demolition in the kitchen, where I was definitely hoping I’d find something,” he said. “I found an old tobacco pouch, probably from 1905 when they originally the built the front house.”
“He found some of the original wallpaper up by the front door and even though it’s all torn up we still kind of want to preserve part of it, just because it’s some of that original history that you can’t get back,” said Trudy.
Preserving the old-fashioned charm is a major priority for the couple, who received assistance from Vintage Hardware in Astoria to furnish the new rooms.
“Our guiding principals were that we wanted it to feel really clean,” said Trudy. “Because we’ve been to bed and breakfasts where you feel the bedspread has been used for the last 50 years. So we wanted all white linens, everything can be bleached. Everything that does have fabric on it feels clean. You can sit down and touch the pillows and everything.”
Djordje added that they worked to create an aesthetic broad enough to appeal to a wide range of groups.
“Some bed and breakfasts have dollies and all that stuff,” he said. “I just wanted — not a man cave, but I didn’t want it too flowery.”
An optimistic future
In the first few weeks of opening, the new Rosebriar Mansion hasn’t had an empty weekend.
Visitors have ranged from a group of male friends who met for a weekend of golfing and fantasy football, to families gathering for weddings and funerals.
The Čitović’s have set up the rentable part of the mansion to include seven bedrooms, each with a full bath, plus a large, private living and dining space and outdoor area that will lodge up to 16 guests. They feel the group lodging allows them to fill a critical need in Astoria.
“The way Astoria is set up theres not many options for multi-room lodging,” said Djordje. “I think we’re unique in that if you have a group of 10,12, or 15 people you can all stay together in one property.”
The couple also lists the carriage house as a private airbnb rental for up to four guests. The carriage house includes a bedroom area and common space. They are considering opening up some of the rooms inside the house for individual guests to fill a need for lodging during the week.
The Čitovićs are toying with several other options for the future. They hope to use the space for a variety of small events with up to 40 guests. Trudy is hopeful to eventually team up with several local businesses to offer wedding packages.
“I could see how this could be a one stop shop,” she said.
Her desire to hold weddings in the space may stem from her own family ties to the mansion. Her father, former Mayor Willis Van Dusen, married her stepmother in the back chapel at the Rosebriar Bed & Breakfast in the 1990s.
She hopes to carry the positive reputation and memories that people have of the Rosebriar Bed & Breakfast into the future.
“They did a good job the first time when they turned it into a bed and breakfast to keep some of the character,” said Trudy. “And that’s really our goal. Anytime there is character that can be brought back out, we want to do that.”