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Published January 19 2013

Mary Aaland’s historic Fargo house is something of a television star

Mary Aaland’s house is something of a television star.

Built in 1893 by Martin Hector, the house at 1103 Broadway was first featured on an episode of HGTV’s “House Hunters” in November 2011.

That episode followed Aaland, a Fargo surgeon, as she searched for a place to live where she could entertain guests. She ended up choosing the Hector House, with its six bedrooms, five fireplaces, three floors and grand, spacious rooms.

Then, last month, the house was again featured on an episode of “House Hunters: Where Are They Now,” which profiled the renovations that Aaland had done since buying the house.

Because even though the building was impressive when she moved in, Aaland had a plan of returning the house to turn-of-the-century grandeur, but with a modern style.

“This is such a historical house for the city of Fargo, and it needs to be brought back, I think,” she says.

Aaland’s vision for the home was a major reason why HGTV wanted to follow-up with a repeat visit, says Brian Balthazar, the network’s director of programming.

“The home, while beautiful as it was, had an even greater potential,” Balthazar says. “Not only did she see great potential but she had great plans to make that potential come to reality. Very few people have the vision or the resources to pull it off.”

One of the main projects highlighted on the follow-up episode was the home’s kitchen. Aaland says the renovations to that room alone required months of work and essentially an entire overhaul.

“Every time I tore a wall off, I had to get new windows, new wiring, new plumbing,” Aaland recalls. “What you end up doing is not just decorative, it really is structural.”

Also featured on the episode was Aaland’s discovery of a small staircase that had been covered up by the wall of a coat closet.

Located near the front door, the stairway once connected with the side of the house’s main staircase before being completely blocked off.

Aaland has been hands-on with her construction projects, and decided one day to just pound through the closet until she found where the stairway had been.

“I had heard about (the staircase), but last Christmas I had a bad day at work and I started pounding,” she says. “We tore everything out.”

That unexpected discovery, Balthazar says, was something that made the Hector House even more unique.

“Not many people buy homes that have completely hidden secrets to them,” he says. “It’s almost out of a storybook that you’d find a hidden staircase in your home.”

Ongoing, upcoming changes

Even though she’s already spent a lot of time and money on projects like the hidden stairway (she declined to say just how much everything has cost so far), Aaland still has a long way to go.

She’s nearly finished redoing what was once the servant waiting room. She’ll then start on replacing the front door and redoing the library to finish off the main floor.

Then she’ll turn her attention to the house’s exterior. Those overhauls will include redoing gutters, taking off siding and building a wraparound porch like the house had a century ago.

Aaland is also looking at razing the apartments that sit just south of the house on her property. It’s possibility the smaller building could be renovated in appearance to look like part of the house and escape destruction, but Aaland says hasn’t decided for sure.

“If I was to be a purist, it would have to go,” she says. “That’s something I’m going to think about.”

Not included in Aaland’s plans are the second or third floors, which she says are “down the line.”

Asked when, or even if, she’ll get around to those floors, she sounds doubtful.

“From my perspective, I probably won’t,” she says. “I’m interested in (the main) floor and the outside right now. The next owners, they can take care of it.”

‘A grand old house’

Amid the changes the building has undergone, Aaland still found time for the thing that made her want to buy the house in the first place: entertaining.

During one night in December, for example, Aaland hosted 64 people for a party. More than 30 people fit around the large dining room table alone.

“It’s just a house that’s meant to entertain,” Aaland says. “It’s just a wonderful, warm home.”

When guests visit and see just how large the house actually is, they often ask her what she does in the huge old building all by herself, she says.

“I say, ‘I live in it,’ ” she answers. “I live in every single room. It’s a grand old house.”

As she continues to fulfill her vision of what she wants the house to be, Balthazar and HGTV will keep tabs on her progress.

Though the network doesn’t have plans to re-air the first “Where are They Now?” episode in the near future, it’s not out of the question that the Hector House could be featured on TV a third time, Balthazar says.

“There’s still a kind of ‘to be continued’ element of the story,” he says. “She has already made her home quite wonderful, and I have no doubt she’ll continue to do so down the road.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535