VC family calls mansion home – and business
June 17, 2005
VIRGINIA CITY – In the place where Comstock miner Billy Chollar went broke, Gena and Jeff Wood are investing their lives, and about $500,000, in a three-story mansion with peeling exterior paint and a lofty view of lower Virginia City from the wrap-around porch.
The globe-trotting couple aren’t speculating in gold or silver, but hosting visitors inside the historic Chollar Mansion on D Street.
This weekend, the Woods are hosting a small group from Germany and one guest from California. The business has only been open for about two weeks.
Gena Wood, 44, made the initial step to settle her family in Virginia City, the seat of Storey County, which has a population of about 900. It started with a bargain she struck up with her husband, then fiance, more than four children ago.
“The way he put it, he said, ‘Follow me for 20 years, and then I’ll follow you for 20 years,'” she said while standing in the hall of the mansion, which is carpeted in a sage green fern print.
The couple met while stationed at a U.S. Navy base in Iceland. She was a cryptologic technician; he was the admiral’s photographer. They fell in love and wanted to marry, but couldn’t get stationed together.
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She agreed to his bargain, and for more than 20 years, the Woods traveled the world from Iceland to Florida, Alaska, Japan, San Diego and then finally Virginia Beach, Va.
Wood said, “When we move, we make big moves.”
And along came four children: Kyle, 6; Kody, 12; Krra, 16, who describes herself as the “pancake maker” in the family operation; and Kayla, 20. Wood felt K’s were cheery names for children.
The couple’s bargain actually came due about five years late, Wood said. He retired on June 1. And when Gena broke the news to him about a bed and breakfast in Virginia City, he was excited. They both love history.
It has been Gena Wood’s dream to operate her own bed and breakfast. And they found one in Virginia City, which is also their home.
“I met my husband while I was drawing up a floor plan for a bed and breakfast, so he knew I wanted a bed and breakfast,” Wood said.
She was drawing her floor plan on the card table next to the pool table back in Iceland when he came in to play pool.
The 1861 modified Federalist-style mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been owned by six people through the years, including Jewel O’Connell, whom Wood said was one of the first women to teach in a non-white school.
It also was rented out a number of times. Many famous people visited or lived in it, including the author Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Ulysses S. Grant and Mark Twain. Chollar mine supervisor Isaac Requa lived here with his wife, Sarah.
“Mark Twain had dinner here with Mr. Requa, and he asked for a job, but Mr. Requa wouldn’t give him a job because he thought he was too sarcastic,” Wood said.
She learned these intimate details from Amy Requa’s journals, who was his daughter.
A strange possibility about the home is that Billy Chollar probably didn’t live in it, Wood said. The building was originally about four blocks down the mountain and arranged so that Chollar could walk around the porch and view all of his mining property.
The building was used as the mining office and wasn’t a residence until the Requas moved in. The home was relocated to D Street, just below the Fourth Ward School, in 1867.
Wood rattled off the history of the home like a breathless tour guide. She knows about every accent, edifice and the date of nearly every light fixture. Blond hair pulled back, dressed down for housework, glasses perched on her nose, Wood balances domestic life with the business.
She was interrupted during the tour by her two boys fighting upstairs over a toy. Her youngest son came down the staircase crying. Wood reprimanded her eldest son, Kody, in a flurry of Spanish. She wants her children to be bilingual. It’s sort of working.
“How we understand her is just from the tone of her voice,” Kody said while coming down the staircase with a lopsided grin.
Several elements are unique to the home. The staircase banister is made of Honduran rosewood, which is now illegal to cut down. A brass 18-inch replica of Michelangelo’s David sits atop a post. Wood said the statue was smuggled into the country by the artist. She said he didn’t want to pay the Italian taxes for art reproductions.
The mansion also has a 10-by-16-foot vault, which is an icon of the Comstock era with its original heavy iron door, creaky steps and lone lantern illuminating a dark, abandoned treasure hold.
Wood believes the home and the business is worth their investment.
“People come here, and they are surprised at the change we’ve done to it,” she said. “This house was decorated 1980s country when we first got here, and with the research we’ve done, we’ve turned it into a Victorian home.”
n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1212.
Address: 565 D St., Virginia City
Phone: 847-9777, or 877-CHOLLAR
On the Net:
Open: Seven days a week during the summer for reservations
The B&B has three 800-square-foot suites:
The O’Connell Suite
The Requa Suite
The Chollar Cottage
Cost: $130 a night before taxes, which includes a family-style breakfast
Decor: The Woods have the home decorated in the Victorian style, excluding the O’Connell Suite, which is decorated to match the 1930s and ’40s.