written by becca nelson sankey | photos by becca nelson sankey, rapid media and provided by michele and jody babiash
When Jody and Michele Babiash bought the old 1928 Central Firehouse in San Angelo with plans to remodel it into a bed and breakfast and their new home, the couple’s friends and family thought they had lost their minds.
“Not one person was like, ‘Oh my gosh; what a great idea!’” said Michele, while seated at the Babiashes’ large dining room table in their new home, also known as the Old Central Firehouse Bed & Brew, on San Angelo’s historic South Magdalen Street. “We had friends and family asking, ‘Why are you buying this?’”
Where others saw disrepair and blight, the Babiashes – who had flipped nearly a dozen homes before taking on the firehouse project – saw good bones and potential. “Coming to look at it, we had no expectation,” Michele admitted. “We walked up the stairs, and it was nothing to look at. Then, upstairs one of us said, ‘Gosh, we could live here and have a bed and breakfast.’ I talked to the Chamber, the mayor and asked, ‘Is this needed?’ Overwhelmingly, what people said is, ‘If there’s one thing we need, it’s places to stay downtown.”
“I talked to the Chamber, the mayor and asked, ‘Is this needed?’ Overwhelmingly, what people said is, ‘If there’s one thing we need, it’s places to stay downtown.”
-Michele Babiash, Owner
For Jody, an AirMed1 helicopter pilot for Shannon Hospital, also downtown, the location was perfect. And for Michele, who works in sales for Hometown Living magazines, which publishes San Angelo Lifestyles, the side gig as a hostess fell right in line with her nurturing personality and the couple’s love of people.
The couple bought the building in late 2017, began demolition in early 2018, and had a building permit by that summer. The following summer, in 2019, they opened the top floor: 4,500 square feet that comprises their home and four additional bedrooms and bathrooms for guests. Currently, renovations are in the works for the 6,500-square-foot first floor, which will be a brick oven pizzeria open to firehouse guests and the public.
Even before the Babiashes made good on their plans, Michele said, the City of San Angelo was “ecstatic” about the future of the firehouse, which operated as Central Firehouse from 1929 to 1976, then served as a recreation center for the city, and then the home of Healthy Families, a local nonprofit.
“Healthy Families purchased it in 1997,” Jody said. “They did a few things, replaced the windows, had the whole building asbestos abated.”
The City of San Angelo was “ecstatic” about the future of the firehouse, which operated as Central Firehouse from 1929 to 1976.
The Babiashes hired local contractors to do the remodeling they couldn’t and, with the help of family and friends, tackled other projects, including the installation of tile and flooring and the more painstaking work of exposing the interior’s red brick walls. Some rooms showcase an entire wall of the brick, while in most rooms it peeks through neutral-colored walls in sporadic patches, a design Michele found on Pinterest. Pointing to one spot of brick on the wall behind him, Jody said, “It took us five hours to chisel that plaster off with a chisel and hammer.”
Jody and Michele Babiash in their kitchen, their living quarters in the Firehouse Bed & Brew that opened in 2019.
Jody took care to maintain other antique features of the building, keeping intact the original wood casings and hardwood floors on the top floor. On the ground floor, he plans to retain the original concrete, including the shaded areas where the station’s firetruck once parked, as well as the tin ceiling common among so many historic buildings in Downtown San Angelo.
“I expected once we started working for there to be problems,” Michele admitted. “I was pleasantly surprised that the building was in such great shape for as old as it is. The bones were so great. Every day you wait to see what the electrician is going to find, what the plumber is going to say. The bad news just never came.”
Michele oversaw the interior design of the top floor, buying rugs, chairs and antique décor items for a whole year, she said, and storing them on the first floor in boxes until Jody begged her to stop. Nervous that she had gone overboard in collecting rugs and photos for the walls, Michele said that when it was time to unpack everything, there was a place for each and every item.
“I didn’t do this,” she said of the rooms’ clean, neutral palette, a chic, Joanna Gaines-esque blend of rustic, industrial and farmhouse. “I like design and it’s fun, but it’s intimidating to do it for other people. Really, God has had His hand in this, helping us and guiding us in every way.”
The Babiashes felt divine intervention before they had even purchased the firehouse, Michele said, adding that they would park their car in the parking lot and pray about whether to move forward. “We knew it was going to be a lot of work,” she said. “We literally cleared everything out and took blue masking tape and laid out all the walls and where the toilets would be and the sinks, put it on paper and had the architect look at it. The way it is now is very much exactly how we laid it out.”
“We didn’t force anything,” Jody added. “We let things happen.”
It didn’t take long before San Angelo residents noticed that something extraordinary was happening with the diamond in the rough firehouse. “As soon as we started doing stuff to this building, people would stop by - a lot of them older gentlemen who used to work here, a lot of firemen,” Michele said. “They’d tell us the stories about how they slid down the pole. And a lot of firemen and the families of firemen have donated memorabilia to us (to decorate the building with). That’s a huge compliment.”
Since opening the bed and brew, the couple has grown accustomed to attaboys and pats on the back for a job well done. “We’re very blessed because we get so many compliments,” Michele said. “The things written in our welcome books (located in each room) bring tears to your eyes. They’ll say what a hidden gem it is and how right at home they feel. It’s nice to hear why people are here.”
So far, guests have come from San Angelo, throughout Texas, and as far away as North Korea. Some even make their visit a habit. “It’s crazy the different people who come,” Michele said. “We have a consultant for the military who comes at least once a month. We have a couple from Midland in the oil business who stay one night a week.”
Meeting new people has been one of the biggest blessings the Babiashes have enjoyed since opening the business. “We’ve had three or four people who used to work here actually stay here,” Jody said. “One guy for an hour told us all the stuff they used to do here and the pranks they pulled.”
Michele added, “His wife was so excited he got to tell his stories to someone who appreciates them. It was fun for him and fun for her to see him so happy.”
Asked if their crazy idea to repurpose an old firehouse and make it their home and business was something they’re glad they did, the couple didn’t hesitate with an affirmative answer. “Absolutely,” Michele said. “I feel like it’s everything we thought it would be – but better.” †