Paul Richard Franz, a builder and former gold miner who renovated homes in the Butchers Hill and Hampden neighborhoods, died of leukemia Sunday at his Roland Park home. He was 54.
Mr. Franz was born in Baltimore and raised on Stevenson Lane in Rodgers Forge. He was a 1968 graduate of Calvert Hall College High School and attended the University of Maryland, College Park, where he was a member of Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity.
In 1970, he was drafted into the Army and served as a paratrooper and radio operator with the Special Forces. After leaving the service, he earned a bachelor's degree in American studies from Washington College in 1976.
Mr. Franz moved to California that year and worked as a bartender at the Comedy Store in Pacific Beach. In the late 1970s, he and several friends who had caught "gold fever" became partners in a Northern California gold mine.
"It was called the Swift Shore Bickford mine, and he lived in a pink trailer whose only heat came from a wood stove. They used dynamite in their operations and only found a few gold chunks," said his wife of five years, the former Jennifer D. Mann. "They never struck it rich."
Mr. Franz moved to Annapolis in 1981 when he joined the family business, Klausmeyer Tire Inc.
In 1988, Mr. Franz purchased several run-down buildings on South Collington Avenue in Butchers Hill. Several of the homes he restored there later became a feature of the annual Butchers Hill House Tour.
"Everyone told him he was crazy," said Mrs. Franz, who had moved into one of the buildings as a tenant before falling in love with and marrying the landlord.
"He liked the area because it was close to Fells Point and Patterson Park and the houses were bigger. He always looked for houses that had lots of potential and insisted on keeping their historic integrity and architectural details," she said.
"I guess he renovated a half-dozen homes in the neighborhood and they were some of the better homes," said Butchers Hill resident Mary Sloan Roby. She said she and her husband "got to know Rick because our mail kept getting mixed up."
"We later hired him as our contractor for our house," said Mrs. Roby, executive director of the Herring Run Watershed Association. "He was very flexible and respected the fabric of an older home, which isn't always so easy to do and he did so well."
Recently, Mr. Franz had devoted his time to building a home in Roland Park for Henry P. Johnson, a partner in the Baltimore architectural firm of Johnson-Berman.
"One of the most noteworthy things he did in his career was build a house for me near the Elkridge Country Club. He was a gentleman contractor and an excellent craftsman," Mr. Johnson said.
"Most architects and contractors have many unpleasant moments, but that never, never, ever happened with Rick," Mr. Johnson said. "He was always a calming influence in the storm and had many wonderful suggestions."
Even though Mr. Franz had received a diagnosis of leukemia in November, he continued working.
"He was working on a three-story home in Hampden and the backing for a sink he was installing was off by an eighth of an inch, and he tore it out. He was a perfectionist and wanted the best possible for the people he was working for," said Seana Kelly-Coffin, a longtime friend and former Towson Times reporter. "You'd think at that point it wouldn't matter, considering what he was going through, but that wasn't his nature."
Mr. Franz renovated his Roland Park home on East Lane, where he enjoyed cooking Thai and Indian food for friends on an outdoor grill. He also practiced yoga.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Stony Run Friends Meeting, 5116 N. Charles St.
In addition to his wife, survivors include a 22-month-old son, Jacob D. Franz; a daughter, Madeline B. Franz, 3; his mother, Dorothy Klausmeyer Franz of Perry Hall; and a sister, D. Gail Lynch of Ocean Pines.
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