Sometimes when you think a project’s finished, it’s really not.

Bob and Kathy Whelan, who opened their recently renovated West End home Wednesday night for the annual Greater Portland Landmarks Spring Historic House Gala, have firsthand experience in this department.

“We had a little fire after we renovated,” Kathy Whelan told me.

Turns out the Whelans were out of town when a stray signal from outside the house triggered the remote control for the gas fireplace in the first floor sitting room. They didn’t know this at the time, but the gas burner was faulty and the flame was set too high. So for 24 hours the gas flame roared in the vacant home, ultimately cracking the mantle and filling the house with soot. Kathy Whelan said the soot even found its way into closed food storage containers.

“We had to move out for six months,” Bob Whelan told the party guests during his brief remarks.

The Whelans turned to contractor Michael Monaghan of Monaghan Woodworks, who had handled the renovation, to restore the work following the fire.

On Wednesday night there was absolutely no evidence that fire had touched the tastefully appointed home.

“We marvel every time we walk in,” Bob Whelan told me.

Features of note in the home include the sweeping three-story stair hall, custom wood built-ins in the study and a billiards room, wine cellar and sauna in the finished basement.

State Historian Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. gave the more than 150 party guests a brief overview of the history of the home.

He told us the three-story colonial revival home was built in 1914 for Clinton W. Davis, whose grandfather was one of the founders of the Portland Packing Co., which canned food eaten by Union soldiers during the Civil War. The home was designed by the Boston architectural firm Wait & Copeland. The Davis family lived in the home until l955, and in 1958 Donald Bennett purchased the home for his family, which included seven children.

Bennett was the head of Oakhurst Dairy, the family business founded by his father Stanley Bennett. Today the business is headed by his son Bill Bennett, with his brother and sisters all holding leadership roles in the company.

As Bob Whelan told the crowd: “It will always be the Bennett house, as far as we’re concerned.”

A number of Bennetts were at the party. On the third floor, I ran into Bill Bennett and he told me that what is now an open sitting room at the top of the stairs used to be his boyhood bedroom.

Downstairs in the sitting room where the fire started, Althea Bennett McGirr told me that when her family lived in the home there was always a grand piano in that room that blocked the side door to the outside, a fact that frustrated the children to no end.

Noting how well decorated the home is, McGirr, whose pink bedroom is now an office, told me, “It was very plain when we lived here.”

She wasn’t the only who noticed the appealing interior design.

“It’s so comfortable and warm,” Sally Nelson told me. “There’s nothing ostentatious about it.”

During the party, Aurora Provisions passed 1950s-themed appetizers (in honor of the Bennetts, who moved into the home in the ’50s), and the bars served up martinis made with Double Cross Vodka.

“One of the great things I’m sure you’ve noticed about this house is that the front is as beautiful as the back,” Hilary Bassett, executive director of Greater Portland Landmarks, told the assembled crowd.

When I chatted with Kaitlin Briggs in the tranquil, landscaped driveway area behind the house, she picked up on this theme.

Noting that the alley behind the house wasn’t marred by utility wires, Briggs remarked that “it feels sort of timeless back here. I can see a modern car over there and people are wearing modern clothes, but you can almost see how it looked in another time.” 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila