Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Wayward Lady

“A Touch of Class” was located on South Austin Street, in Rockport, Texas, across the street from the harbor, where the shrimp boats would dock. It was possible to walk along the wharf and purchase fresh shrimp when these boats would come in, and the view from the store windows was always interesting. This was my antiques store, located on railroad property, and I rented it from the owner of the Ace Hardware Store next door. It was a big store, with several rooms, and I had great fun decorating it and filling it with antiques which I purchased in New York State then transported to Texas in my one-ton truck.

As proprietor of the store, I was able to put my talents to use outside the store. I obtained the commission as decorator of “My Way” restaurant, down the street from my store. I chose to purchase many artworks, mat and frame them in colors incorporating the colors of the walls and upholstery, and hang them, along with a variety of mirrors, leading to a pleasing interior which was noticed by all who entered.

Among the patrons of the restaurant were the gentlemen who were responsible for building a riverboat at the nearby shipyard. This huge riverboat was to house several restaurants, and was to become quite the project. They had already hired an architectural firm from Chicago for the main decorating, but I was hired to do many jobs for the owner, Jim, and the builder. Jim owned a chain of restaurants in Texas, Jim’s Coffee Shops.

The largest project was the application of industrial vinyl wall covering in two restaurants on one deck. I was not involved in choosing the colors for decoration. Chairs and booths were turquoise, other decorative items were purple, and the wall covering was salmon. I thought this seemed like a horrible decision, but when the work was completed, it was amazingly beautiful. Huge paintings were commissioned for the two dining rooms and the hallways. These artworks were a beautiful match for the colors used in decorating

The work was mind boggling. I was using a tall ladder to hang the very wide strips of vinyl. The rolls were so heavy that I had to recruit two men to get new rolls for me out of the eighteen wheeler trailer on the lot. I had large tables set up for measuring, cutting and pasting. I ran into problems while doing this work, as I was applying the wallcloth over mahogany paneling, and the wallcloth bubbled up overnight – pulling away from the walls. I had to do research, and go to supply companies to find a paste that would adhere. Part of the problem was that the boat was being built on the water, and there was severe humidity, lengthening drying time a great deal. The man in charge of construction of the boat arranged for the application of heat to aid in the drying process. Eventually, the walls did dry out, and the wall cloth shrunk to fit, with a tight bond.

Working on the riverboat was very exciting. Wearing my hardhat, I loved showing up for work as the only female, working with over a hundred men on any one day. There were tile men doing fabulous floor designs, carpenters, painters, including those who stained and varnished bare wood, electricians, metalworkers, plumbers, the men who installed the huge arched windows, those installing furnishings and equipment. On the first deck, there was a restaurant on one end and a bar on the other. That restaurant had a gorgeous metal ceiling, straight out of Victorian times. This was painted a copper color, and the fumes were horrendous. A wonderful stairway leading from the first deck to the second and third decks, had a ship’s figurehead as a newel post at the bottom. An incredible chandelier extended down through all floors at this stairway. The cost was monumental.

At one point during construction of the boat, it ran away at night. I am not sure how this happened, but the riverboat slipped its moorings and floated away. It was found the next morning, and was immediately dubbed “The Wayward Lady”. The ship’s figurehead at the bottom of the stairs was named Wayward Lady, and the tile workers laid a design in the floor with a picture of the Wayward Lady, and her name.

I was also asked to do the wall covering in the Owner’s Stateroom. That vinyl was white, in a beautiful watered silk pattern. The stateroom had a sink carved in the shape of the State of Texas, and had gold faucets. The third deck was done in beautiful dark wood, and contained the huge banquet room. It was decorated in ruby drapes and table flounces.

When I was working on the boat, I was approached with more very large projects. I was asked if I did refinishing, and after stating that I did, I was given the job of refinishing a ship’s wheel from a British squarerigger that Jim, the owner, had had in storage for many years. Along with that came the job of stripping all paint off a ship’s telegraph and binnacle. They had many coats of naval paint, and my job was to remove it down to the brass, then coat it with a lacquer to deter tarnish and prevent fingerprints from accumulating. I had all items in a workroom in my store, and worked on them when I had spare time. These naval items were installed in the wheelhouse on the top, open deck of the boat. Jim also had wonderful antique brass door pulls with large plates, and I lacquered those, to eliminate the need for polishing.

Jim and his wife came to my store many times to purchase items for the boat. A heavy, highly ornate, carved three piece set of furniture – settee, chair, and rocker, took up residence in the foyer on the third deck, outside the banquette room. Oriental rugs were acquired, along with several other items. It made me feel so good to see items that I had purchased in New York State become part of the riverboat that I had come to love so much.

I watched, with tears flowing, early one morning, as the riverboat was nudged out into the bay by tugboats, to make its journey to Corpus Christi, where it would be permanently docked as a super attraction and dinner destination. I had hoped to be able to accompany “The Wayward Lady” on her route, but only a handful of the top executives were allowed to do this. Oh well, I had been given every bit of scrap from this huge job, all manner of great pieces of lumber, fancy woods, counter top, plus the gangway, in exchange for making sure that every piece of debris was removed from the shipyard. I put it all in storage in another building on railroad property that I rented, and eventually sold it for a good sum. I had given the builder a quote for the total job I did, rather than an hourly quote, and I had problems which added to the hours, therefore I doubt that I made very much at all – perhaps nothing, but the experience was well worth my time.

In Corpus Christi, those of us who had helped make this dream come true were treated to a fabulous dinner one evening, before the riverboat opened to the general public. The entrance was flanked by flowers, and the riverboat was amazing with all of its lights blazing. I can still remember how beautiful the dining rooms were, with their tablecloths, silver, and china. From the top deck, we could look out on the Corpus Christi skyline. I had such a feeling of accomplishment, seeing all of my hard work on a night such as this.

Below decks, we were all surprised by a “gift” done for those of us who had not been down there. A few workmen had made a cozy club with leftovers, all different types of wood in a cute little hideaway. There were washers and dryers down there, showers, and all of the kitchen equipment needed to take care of several dining rooms. It was amazing.

I will never forget my time on “The Wayward Lady”.


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