Masser House renovation in Fruita continues |

Masser House renovation in Fruita continues

Heather Portenier
Free Press Correspondent
While the Masser House is being prepared for lifting to repair the foundation, Bill Holstein, Donna Stratton and friends are enjoying the treasure hunting outside the house’s perimeters.
Heather Portenier |

Bill Holstein and Donna Stratton knew they had their work cut out for them when they purchased the old house, originally owned by Dr. Charles and Gertrude Masser, in downtown Fruita last August. As renovations continue and treasures are discovered, the couple is also having fun.

Every weekend, they’re at the two-story white house at the corner of East Aspen Avenue, tackling projects and uncovering history. Good friends Michael and Heidi Marquardt frequently drive in from Whitewater to help.

“We’ve got fabulous friends, and we’re trying to do as much of it as we can ourselves, but luckily Hot Tomato has good pizza and beer because it attracts help,” Stratton said.

Since last year, the couple has torn down the carriage house in the backyard, two fireplaces and chimneys, the front and back porches, and a sun room. The dilapidated fixtures were hazardous, and when it comes time to repairing the foundation the house can be safely lifted.

After removing the back porch and digging in the dirt underneath, little treasures are finding their way into the hands of these history buffs.

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“I keep teasing everyone that we’re getting closer to the body,” Stratton said.

“Everything we find keeps leading to new mysteries and it keeps us engaged,” Heidi added.

Stratton and Heidi are conducting research on their own, using the Internet, social media and local resources. Through their efforts, they learned the Massers might have brought the first automobile to Fruita.

“The more we learn, the more we want to save the house. It’s such an integral part of Fruita,” Stratton said. “We can account for everyone that’s lived in the house. It’s just a matter of putting names to faces. One piece of research leads to another and another. It gives us a reason to keep going.”

Visitors to the house told Holstein and Stratton they have ghosts — a mischievous 6-year-old boy that lives in a storage area under the stairs who likes marbles, a woman in the upstairs bathroom and a teenage girl named Sarah. All are identified as friendly, and Stratton is hoping to build relationships with them. Recently, she bought the young boy a box of marbles and set them inside the closet under the stairs. So far, they appear untouched.


The renovation has sparked a lot of local interest thanks to Heidi’s blog and Facebook page, and it is helping the foursome put the historical pieces together. Fruita’s town office and community members have also been great resources.

“We get people all the time saying, ‘Thank goodness you’re doing this! It’s not this derelict place where people are drinking or whatever,’” Stratton said.

Once the Internal Revenue Service approves the nonprofit status of the project, the couple can then apply for grants to help with expenses of the renovation, such as hiring professionals to repair the foundation, roof and plumbing.

“We want the harder things done correctly so that the house lives longer than us,” Stratton said. “It needs to be a part of the community.”

Although the project is quite an undertaking, Holstein and Stratton haven’t felt like giving up yet. Holstein said it’s been fun finding out all the information and taking care of their ghosts.

Heidi is excited to see the finished product as well, whether it becomes a museum, gallery or restaurant.

“I still think they’re crazy, but there’s a vision of how it will look when it’s done,” she said of her friends.

For more information, visit or find the project on Facebook by searching “Love That House: The Restoration of The Masser House.” The house is located at 404 E. Aspen Ave.

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