Saratoga Springs

Restorating historic Spa City home has been labor of love for local architect

The home of architect John Muse at 21 Madison Ave. in Saratoga Springs was built in 1905.
The home of architect John Muse at 21 Madison Ave. in Saratoga Springs was built in 1905.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — When architect John Muse goes on one of his frequent walks around Saratoga Springs, he often sees some of his own work.

There’s the Congress Park carousel pavilion, along with the Saratoga YMCA and many homes that he’s transformed over the years.  His starting point is another one of his projects — and his home for nearly the past two decades.

The deceivingly large Colonial Revival-style home at 21 Madison Ave. sits a comfortable distance from the road, behind a few pine trees.

“This is one of the sweetest spots in town because there’s not a lot of traffic. You don’t hear a lot of noise. It’s just really nice,” Muse said.

The house, which is located in the Saratoga Springs East Side Historic District, was constructed in 1905 and designed by owner Elizabeth Balmforth, which was fairly unusual for the period. In 1921, the single-family residence was converted by Minnie Wagman into a boarding house called The Elmwood, and later became the Elmwood Family Hotel, according to the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation.

Lester Strock, a research radiographer, and his wife Mary owned the home starting in 1941. It was where Carl Strock, a local journalist and former Gazette columnist, grew up. The Strocks created several different apartments in the home from the 1950s to 1980.

Yet when Muse bought the property in 2001, he wanted to restore it as close to its original design as possible, while maintaining one apartment and the carriage house behind the home.

“The amount of work we had to do, it was lucky that we bought it. As an architect, I knew what to do. So we tore it apart and fixed it. It had six apartments and we put it back together into basically a main house,” Muse said.

The home of architect John Muse at 21 Madison Ave. in Saratoga Springs was built in 1905.

Over several months, the home underwent a complete transformation. Muse added new columns and a new roof to the front porch because the existing columns weren’t original to the home and were in poor condition. He also put his own design touches on the home.

“Originally, when the house was built, the whole third floor wasn’t like that at all. It was a flat-roof structure, which is what you might call Italianate,” Muse said.

Inside the home, walls had to be insulated, and new plumbing and wiring was installed, which — in a home that’s more than 7,000 square feet — was a lot to manage.

“[On] these two floors there are five bedrooms, four baths. The top floor has another three bedrooms and a bath, and the carriage house has basically three bedrooms. So it’s crazy big,” Muse said.

It also has a modern-style floor plan, which is unusual considering it’s a historic home.

“One difference between this and a lot of Victorian houses is the openness,” Muse said.

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Upon entering the home, the stairs are set far back from the door with a spacious entryway. To the right is one of the living rooms or family rooms, and to the left is a dining room with an original fireplace and folding doors.

Each of the walls is decorated with artwork from the family, including landscape paintings from Muse and his daughter, and more abstract works from his son.

At the top of the stairs is a sign declaring “The Elmwood Tourists,” the replica of an original sign used when the home was a hotel.

The Muse family occupies the first two floors of the home and they usually rent out the third floor during track season since the house is within walking distance of the Saratoga Race Course.

Muse runs his architectural business from the carriage house, which is just behind the home. Since he and his family moved from New York City to Saratoga Springs, he’s come to love the area, especially because of the variety of historic and modern homes. He often walks around the neighborhood to catch up with residents and enjoy other historic homes, some of which he’s worked on.

“I only work locally because there’s something really satisfying. I know it sounds corny, but unlike being a banker or a lawyer, it’s more than just getting paid. It’s making something. It’s the creative element that I have to have. I love going around town and seeing stuff that I [created],” Muse said.

“That’s one thing I enjoy. I’ve worked on [roughly] 50 [historic] houses in Saratoga. You save them for the next generation,” Muse said.

While it’s every architect’s dream to build their own home, Muse said he’s staying in Saratoga Springs for the long haul, even if he does move out of 21 Madison Ave.

“I’m not leaving. I love the walkability. I walk into town, I can have an extra glass of wine and walk home. If we went for a walk around the neighborhood right now, I’d stop and talk to 10 people. I love that part of living here,” Muse said.

Categories: Fall Home

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