So I carted the thing on out to the back yard. Here it is before I started, note the huge burned/waterstained (I don't know how they managed THAT in the same spot) spot, and the glopped-on wall paint along with the overall worn and tired look.
I didn't want to replace it right now, and refinishing is fairly quick and easy for me since I've done many projects like this with wood. So I stripped it down to the wood, filled a few spots and sanded it all smooth.
A better look at the scorched spot, I ended up having to remove some lifted & peeling wood and filled the hole with wood putty.
Next was stain: Minwax Red Oak color, since I wanted to go a bit darker to help hide the burned spot.
After that I put the thing in the garage for two coats of poly varnish...varnishing outdoors would have been a recipe for insanity the way the wind blows around here. Finally, my husband removed three, yes, THREE superfluous 2x4's from inside the mantle (who knows what the Hell these people were thinking, I've given up trying to guess), redesigning the thing so it fits properly in it's spot and actually caps the fireplace brick rather than balancing retardedly on top.
So here it is, all done and back in place!
Not the greatest picture, granted, but I got all excited about getting it back into place and forgot to take pics before it was reinstalled, so I had to stand on tiptoe and hold the camera up at a weird angle.
Best of all, it is no longer a hazard to walk near for fear of it leaping off the wall and beaning you on the head, which I'm all for.