Meet Vic Savelli. Vic is helping to preserve the things that make life in Wood County, Texas special, and he’s doing it one house at a time.
Many people across the county know Vic because of his past volunteering in the community. He was the President of the Mineola Chamber of Commerce for three years, and he also served as the Vice Chairman of the Wood County Economic Development Commission.
However, Vic is probably best known for the old homes across Wood County that he purchased and restored to their former glory.
Restoring homes in Wood County is somewhat of a second career for Vic. He spent 35 years in executive management of major media companies, leading teams across newspaper, radio, television, and social media, as well as having a few start-ups under his belt. But in 2014, Vic decided to move in a different direction and do what makes him happy: restoring and saving treasures from the past.
Vic takes old, vacant, and neglected houses in the area—houses most others would (and sometimes have) condemned to be bulldozed—and spends months updating and restoring them to their former glory. It isn’t unusual for those homes to have sat vacant for a decade or more.
Vic has been involved with restoration projects his entire life. As a teenager, he restored his first of three wooden cabin cruisers, several British sports cars (including a rare 1939 MG), and even a vintage camper trailer. But since he’s retired, Vic has taken on a “second career” restoring gorgeous Wood County homes.
“I’m never happier than when I’m working on these houses,” he says. “It’s great to go home at the end of the day physically exhausted instead of mentally exhausted.”
Vic has restored nine houses in Wood County that he has either kept as vacation rental properties or sold to interested buyers. He was also instrumental in the renovation of the second floor of the downtown Mineola Chamber of Commerce, where he helped to put on a new roof and design the vintage custom signs that are on the building.
Two of his most eye-catching homes are on Pacific Street in Mineola. They sat side by side vacant for 10 years until Vic bought them both from two different owners within two weeks of one another.
“In many cases, people thought [these houses] were teardowns,” Vic says with a shrug. “[But] when I look at them, I just see something other than that. I think they’re beautiful. I see their potential.”
His eyes sparkle as he discusses the properties he’s seen and had adventures and amazing discoveries in. One of his projects on Pacific Street in Mineola was a home originally built in 1895. In addition to finding many hidden architectural and vintage treasures in the attic, he was elated to find a sign under the foundation crawl space that said, “For Rent: Call Phone #7.” This led him to research deeper, where he learned that at one time, the house had been a duplex, and that the original landlord apparently had the seventh phone in Mineola!
Vic loves Wood County because of its natural beauty. He describes the area’s splendor as “a world away” from his and his wife Cynthia’s Dallas residence. (Vic splits his time between Dallas and their ranch in Wood County.) “It’s absolutely beautiful. As time went on, I kept finding more and more reasons to come out here,” Vic says with a smile.
Luckily, Savelli isn’t the only one who thinks this way.
“Wood County is experiencing a huge boom of new residents and weekend visitors. These old homes and buildings, combined with the many unique, family-owned restaurants and shops, are a big part of why people are choosing East Texas,” Vic says. “Many buyers love the look of old homes but don’t want to have to worry about leaky roofs, old wiring, and bad plumbing, so we try and fix all the things that help to extend the life of the home another 100 years,” he explains.
So Vic puts what he calls “sweat equity” into his houses. He does many aspects of the renovations alone but often relies on the help of a few Mineola-based contractors who love restorations as much as he does.
Vic restored these houses from top to bottom with new wiring, plumbing, roof, HVAC, kitchens, and baths but did it in such a way that maintained their historic charm. He was careful to reuse the original wood trim and rosettes, wood flooring, and exterior siding in order not to destroy what makes these houses special.
Because it’s much more than just construction to him, Savelli does extensive research to make each house the best it can be. For the house pictured below, Vic spent more than a year doing research and searching for a color match for one missing pane of the home’s stained-glass windows; he even says he found someone who may have acquired the original inventory of the window’s 1895 manufacturer! For the same house, he also spent hours poring through salvage stores to find trim that matched the pieces of original trim from 1895.
“I use every bit of original wood and authentic components to try and keep the original charm of the houses,” Vic says. “If I were to buy a 2x4 at a home improvement store right now, and put it in the backyard, by the end of the day tomorrow it will be curved and unusable. I can take a salvaged 2x4 from a 100-year-old house, and you can put that out in the backyard for a year, and it will still be straight!”
According to Vic, however, people across the country are unfortunately “tearing down houses and throwing the best lumber ever available into the dumpster.” Anything original, authentic, vintage, period, or just plain pretty, Vic researches and will eventually find and implement in his projects.
And the result?
According to Vic, there are roughly 230 properties just in Mineola alone—a town of less than 5,000 people—that are considered of medium historic value, and about 35 are considered high historic value. Quitman, Winnsboro, and other Wood County communities each have their unique homes worthy of preserving.
So it’s no surprise that Vic has wanted to save almost every old house he’s had contact with. To him, they’re all worthy of being saved. They’re all like gold nuggets covered just under the top layer of dirt. They’re his projects, his art, and his pastime.
And it’s clear from the way he talks that what Vic cares about most is not the money he puts into it. It’s not the money he might get out of it. It’s not even always the physical labor he enjoys most. For him, to take something that used to be beautiful but has since been misused and forgotten, and to return that thing to its grandeur, is an art form.
“I can look at an old decaying home and see it completed in my mind’s eye. From there, it is just systematically getting it to that end goal,” he says.
In the process of getting the houses to that end goal, the community often stops to let Vic know how much it means that someone is helping to preserve the town’s history.
“When I started working on the first one, I had a hard time getting anything done, because I had literally dozens of people that would pull in just to say, ‘Thank you for saving these homes,’” he says seriously.
“And that makes me feel great.”
According to Vic, he has only had to list one house for sale, because he usually has multiple buyers calling him before it’s listed. In fact, he’s so passionate about taking old “eyesores” and making them beautiful that sometimes he gets on-the-spot offers before the projects are even finished. The one house he did list was under contract within about 10 days.
“The value’s always been in those houses; it just has been an unrealized potential,” he says. “I am elated to see others actively restoring homes in the area. The word is out that these old structures have great potential and plenty of buyers.”
Vic believes that what he does is important. Not for the money and not just for his own personal enjoyment; it’s important for preserving the legacy of a beautiful town and a beautiful home. And it’s important because it improves the quality of life for the community. The community has noticed, and in 2022, Vic was awarded both the “Entrepreneur of the Year” award from the Mineola Chamber of Commerce and a Kiwanis Club citizen award for his preservation of Mineola homes.
“I like to think that in Wood County, when people see these houses, it inspires them to preserve what we have,” Savelli says. “I can’t drive by any of the houses that I’ve redone without looking at them and getting a satisfied feeling. I like contributing this to the community and giving people the pleasure of seeing them restored.”