MODESTO -- Garlands hung, check. Popcorn strings strung, check. Holiday spirit, check.
A year after fire darkened the door of the McHenry Mansion, Modesto's most famous residence is gleaming with Victorian Christmas charm once again just in time for the Dickens Faire on Saturday.
This week, glass panels are being installed in the still primer-white front door. Busy hands are festooning flowers and beads through the last of 24 cases of pseudo-greenery draped from ceiling chandeliers throughout the main floor.
What's old is good as new, freshly cleaned and restored, and what's new is good as the old, curator Wayne Mathes said.
"We had to remove absolutely everything, move absolutely everything, clean absolutely everything," he said which in a four-story, 10,000-square-foot house is saying a lot.
"All in all, it's coming together pretty well," Mathes said.
Staff and volunteers cleared debris and destruction after the Dec. 6 blaze that started near a porch lighting fixture. Investigators ruled out sinister starts for the fire, although a definitive cause remains a mystery. Its cost, however, has continued to add up, line by line, totaling at least $2.4 million to date all covered by insurance.
Although flames touched very little, automatic sprinklers in the first story reacted, causing water damage. Smoke vented through the third-floor attic, leaving a grimy trail of soot. Elbow grease and gentle cleansers scrubbed clean what could be saved, from thousands of square feet of wall coverings to 75 cases of books.
Their first professional cleaning in decades restored damaged oil paintings to better, brighter condition than last year. "It's so good to see things up," said volunteer docent Mary Boucher, looking around the back parlor with a satisfied smile.
The McHenry family Bible was saved. Even the pickle made it, a period Christmas ornament said to bring good luck and an extra present to the first child to find it hanging on the tree Christmas morning.
What was lost is being replaced with meticulous care, including wallpaper from the original manufacturers. Mathes, who presided over the mansion's original restoration 30 years ago, pored over 45 samples before finding a suitable red to reupholster the front parlor seats.
"The challenge has been to find similar things," Mathes said. Even the traditional red glass ornaments sold at every "five and dime" are scarce today, he found.
What visitors may notice most among the missing lies underfoot. Identical carpeting, with borders, was ordered from an English firm, but delayed as the time-honored firm finished an order for Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee.
The second floor will open to visitors Saturday. Two rooms formerly used as a gift shop will be unveiled, both outfitted as guest bedrooms.
The work has been exacting but also exhausting in the countdown to this year's fair, Mathes said.
"We could have easily said we're not doing it this year, but people expect it. It's a tradition," he said.
The McHenry Mansion will be open 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, with the Victorian Christmas Market outside on 15th Street and the Celebration of Lights Parade starting at 5 p.m. The mansion's normal hours are 12:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday through Friday. For more, visit www.mchenrymuseum.org/mansion.
Bee reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339, and on Twitter, @NanAustin.