The picture you see above is the before and after of this development. The before is from December 2017 and the after is October 10th, 2018. A very dramatic transformation!
First, let me say that most of O St. is done. The rest is scheduled to be completed by early November. In addition, three of the 8 homes have already sold. If you’ve followed CHPN we have talked extensively about the O St. development that is between 25th & 26th St. I had a chance this past week to catch up with the developers John & Benedicte Whitworth and get a walkthrough of this new development in Church Hill. It was obvious from our conversation that John & Benedicte have a real passion for this project and surmounted their fair share of challenges to make this project a reality.
A Little about the Project
There were originally 8 homes on this block of O St between 25th and 26th. The left most home you can see in my photo below was rehabbed previously. The remaining 7 homes plus the addition of the new 9th home on the far right-hand side are what I had a chance to look at. The homes were originally built in 1874 and were very small. Two of the homes also had a tunnel between them!
The new homes have modern and open designs with Virginia White Oak floors.
There are also some beautiful architectural elements inside like the metal bars on the staircase that run from the first floor to the ceiling of the 3rd floor.
So what were some of those challenges?
The first thing that stuck out to me as this development progressed is that not a lot of the original structure was left intact. This was a bit of a disappointment for not only me but also the developers. When asked they were quick to share some of the challenges they had to overcome.
Most of the seven houses had demolition notices affixed by Richmond’s Code Enforcement. Structurally the major problems were the interior walls between the houses were all only 1 brick thick and they had no foundations. Only the front wall on O St. and the rear walls of the 20 ft deep houses were two bricks thick. A few of the front windows were perhaps repairable but we wanted both a uniform and low maintenance modern double-glazed window so it was decided to replace all the front with first-class custom fitted windows. In the interior only the original bricks and fireplace mantels were salvageable. Most of the interior wood and floors had perished and the roof had either caved in or leaked badly.
Another big challenge for the project is that the original homes were 650 sq ft a piece! This resulted in the need to extend the homes to the rear and add a 3rd floor. This resulted in homes that range in sq. ft. from 2,002 to 2,466 sq. ft.
Maintaining the original building
According to John and Benedicte maintaining the original 1874 appearance of these homes was paramount in their mind. When they couldn’t execute their original vision of using the original structure they made small, noticeable, and elegant changes to include the original materials.
One change that stuck out was the original brick inside the home. You could very clearly see that they took the original interior bricks and used them inside the building in tasteful ways.
What you’re seeing in the picture below is the original brick being used to recreate what was the original back wall of the home. The original home was only 20 ft deep and behind that is the new 40 ft extension.
In addition, the original front porches, cornices, and gables are being recreated using custom woodwork and copper instead of the original tin to match the original homes as close as possible.
Revitalization/Gentrification of the Neighborhood
While it isn’t the point of this article, I did ask the developers about their thoughts on gentrification and revitalization in our neighborhood. They said that there is a balance to be maintained. Structures like this take a lot of money to rehab which means that money has to be recouped. We talked about how selling homes like these for $379k up to $435k increases property values and taxes which can have both positive and negative impacts. They understood all my points and John Whitworth talked a little with me about his work with the Church Hill Association to try and mitigate the negative effects. The goal is to expand tax abatement initiatives. An initiative like this already exists for the elderly and disabled but John believes this should be expanded to include more residents. This would help to ensure that investment continues to improve the neighborhood and help mitigate some of the negatives that push out long-time residents.
Welcome to the Hill New Neighbors!
In general, I like these homes. From an outsiders perspective, before meeting the developers, I was a little unsure of the choices that were made. However, it’s clear that they had a lot of challenges to overcome and they did not back down. These homes represent a bit of the old and a bit of the new and I’m happy to see another abandoned run-down block brought back to life.