One house, two stories

Evelyn James and Joyce Allen on the porch of their Victorian on South Magnolia Street.

Evelyn James and Joyce Allen are roommates, but they’re also family. Their home is a Victorian on South Magnolia Street, close to just about everything they need, including children and grandchildren. 

Though their stories are different, both moms have similar needs, and both are thriving in Palestine after moving from Houston in 2020.

James and Allen are mothers of Craig and Daria Allen, historic renovation specialists who moved to Palestine in 2019 and purchased the house to refurbish it for their moms to live in.

They like buying fresh eggs and vegetables and being able to walk to stores and shops and around the neighborhood. Joyce walks her dog Goldie every day, and Evelyn walks to services at the church just a block away. 

“It reminds me of home. People are very friendly, and you can walk to almost any place you want to,” said James, who grew up in Guyana, a former British colony in South America.

Both women also enjoy living near their granddaughters, who are 5 and 7 years old. James sometimes picks up the girls from school or drives them to activities, and Joyce enjoys baking treats for them. 

James also enjoys her new living arrangement because families in Guyana care for their parents in their homes. 

James and her husband moved to the US in 1972 and raised Daria and her two brothers. She worked as a certified optician, living in states on the East Coast and the Midwest.

Joyce Allen, a retired registered nurse of 20 years, lived in the Houston area all her life, but is relieved she no longer has to drive 45 minutes through construction and traffic to see a doctor. 

She feels safer in her new home, where caring neighbors watch out for suspicious activity. She also appreciates living with another person who can check on her when she’s not feeling well, and she doesn’t mind that James wanted to live upstairs on the second floor, where she enjoys sitting on the veranda.

Two of their children, Daria and Craig Allen moved their business, First Class Renovations, to Palestine after purchasing property and receiving a grant from Palestine Economic Development Corporation in 2019. 

The couple’s renovation work is one factor easing the local housing market, where hundreds of older homes are in need of renovation — and many families are in need of good housing. 

They specialize in restoring Victorian houses, mostly built between 1870 to 1910, to their original beauty.

“Our passion is restoring these historic homes,” Craig Allen said.

Craig started First Class Renovations, in 2006 after a job injury at a Houston chemical plant left him wanting to open his own business. He had a natural ability for carpentry as a child, according to Joyce.

Daria is learning about home renovation while working with Craig. She paints, refinishes floors, repairs historic windows, and sells reclaimed and vintage items online.

Though the Victorian’s renovations are still in progress, they are definitely first class. Reclaimed cabinet doors line the high kitchen ceiling, and richly-stained trim lines doorways and the entry to the formal dining room. 

The two mothers know their kids are busy and offer their help when they can while Craig and Daria continue work on a dozen projects in Palestine and Houston. 

In the meantime, they are thriving in the Victorian, sharing their new lives — and their two stories.

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