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Real Estate

O St. Development is Done!

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!

Developers: John and Benedicte Whitworth, Deworth Restoration
Architect: Forrest Frazier of ArchitectureAF
Contractor: UrbanCore
Realtor: One South Realty Group’s Andrea Levine

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.

You can find previous coverage of O St. HERE.

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.

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28 comments

Sharon Pederson 11/01/2018 at 8:29 AM

What a wonderful commitment to our neighborhood! Kudos to the Whitworths for sticking it out and producing these wonderful enhancements to Church Hill!!

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Larry Simmons
Larry Simmons 11/01/2018 at 9:29 AM

Leigh Ann Woodley nice. Glad they FINALLY finished them

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Larry Simmons
Larry Simmons 11/01/2018 at 9:31 AM

Leigh Ann Woodley $400k though?!!! I’ll pass on that. Can buy an estate out in henrico for all that lol

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Leigh Ann Woodley
Leigh Ann Woodley 11/01/2018 at 9:34 AM

Yeah that seems high, but there are some listed back where I am for $389!

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SA Chaplin 11/01/2018 at 3:41 PM

Congrats on preserving the original look while creating such beautiful, modern residences. I hope the developers make a good profit.

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Adriana R Zamudio Rountree
Adriana R Zamudio Rountree 11/01/2018 at 4:08 PM

More!

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Cheryl Belcher 11/01/2018 at 4:16 PM

I was interested in one of the homes from the beginning when they were only going to be 2 levels with an addition on the back of each one. I got to tour the property with the original developer/contractor and was very impressed with the first house that was completed. I am less impressed with the new ones because they have been priced way out of reach for many people. Also, my inexperienced eye notices things on the outside of the new ones that don’t match or line up with the first one. I am happy they are finally going to be completed but very sorry they didn’t stay as originally planned. It was a sad day for me when I finally realized I would never own one of them.

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BAF 11/02/2018 at 1:06 AM

My recollection was that this was going to be more extensive when Deanna Lewis was involved. I believe O Street was going to be restored to cobblestone and replica period street lighting was going to be installed to bring the whole block back to the era of original construction. What this is now looks like it could be transplanted from West Broad Village.

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John Whitworth 11/02/2018 at 12:55 PM

BAF – Yes, you are correct. An email form the previous Mayor office did agree on Oct 14th 2014 to provide old style street lights. On March 20th 2015 a meeting with the Dept. of Public Works confirmed the City had “not budgetted” for the period style street lamps but they did say they would look at restoring the cobbles as in the long term it woud save them money. It is dissapointing that neither of these proposals have been implemented by the City due to budgetary constraints.
What we have done to somewhat compensate is we met with the City arborist and we are organizing the planting of 10 trees, mainly on the north side of the street. None can be placed in front of the houses due to the new sewer and water lines. They will at least help the appearance of the whole block.

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jean mcdaniel 11/02/2018 at 2:54 PM

You don’t even have to look that closely to see shoddy construction, i.e. clap board already curling up, third floor house trailer windows stairs pieced together like someone cut the board too short and not to mention WAY overpriced. Even the comparatives on their own real estate web site points this out. Maybe we could transplant it back to West Broad Village?

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BAF 11/02/2018 at 3:44 PM

@John:

Please no trees. All they will do is buckle the brick sidewalks eventually, and as bad as that might be, it’s worse near a clinic that needs good wheelchair accessibility. And what is the parking plan and trash collection plans for the units, since there seems to be no alley parking contemplated and no obvious place in the alley for the City to collect their trash.

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Cheryl Belcher 11/02/2018 at 5:35 PM

Well said BAF and Jean McDaniel. It was such a beautiful design in the beginning and I fell in love with them. They were also going to be sold at a reasonable price. The history of the block and what could have been done has now been destroyed.

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ein 11/02/2018 at 6:48 PM

Who would want to live in this crap? I understand historical preservation of FINE architecture but this is just awful. gross misuse of the broken historical tax credit structure.

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Eric S. Huffstutler 11/02/2018 at 8:12 PM

Geezzz… so much negativity.

The builders did the best they could and beyond with what they had to work with which was blighted, collapsing, and condemned 4-room units built in 1874. The facades were maintained while the units expanded and modernized with today’s buyers in mind.

Has anyone studied the market value of houses in Church Hill with comparable square feet? They go for $400,000 and up, and are older homes that will need some repairs. Houses with only 1,500-1,600 square feet go for well over $300,000 so, these are on point. It just depends on your lifestyle and needs.

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Lee 11/02/2018 at 9:35 PM

@ EIN – I can’t say for certain, perhaps one of the developers will chime in, but I doubt these are a tax credit project. Generally, something like 70% or 80% of the original walls must be kept or rebuilt in place (these houses were a series of small rooms – looks like original interior walls were demolished), and additions are not eligible for the `credit. Could be wrong, but doesn’t fit the bill.

I had the chance to view two of the houses and the storefront (now also residential) when they were last sold a few years ago. The layouts of the houses were extremely small by modern standards. Basically, the interiors contained four 12′ x 12′ rooms (two up, two down) and a lean-to kitchen/bath at the rear, with two of the rooms made even smaller by the staircases. Although there were some original fireplaces and original beadboard in one or two units (used as wainscoting), but other than that they were pretty plain.

I think the charm of these sorts of houses is largely due to their small size, which makes them kind of a niche product. I’m not sure enlarging them the way the developer did was the right call, but it’s also not clear what else could be done with them. I do think that the “before” photos is misleading, as that photo was taken after the block had already been gutted – I suspect a lot of the “damage” mentioned in the article occurred to the buildings while the project was sitting idle (due to litigation?), and was not the result of blight/neglect.

Anyway, I’d always thought this block was kind of unique before the renovations – not sure what to make of the finished product…

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Lee 11/02/2018 at 9:45 PM

…Also, just noticed the replacement windows are totally different from what was there originally. Would have looked better with six over six windows like the originals. Aside from not being historically accurate (Workforce housing – single pane windows would have been to expensive when they were built), the new windows make an already plain facade even more plain (so not justifiable as an aesthetic improvement).

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Daniil 11/03/2018 at 10:42 AM

It never ceases to amaze me how this self-prophesed “inclusive and welcoming” community is full of people that turn totally nasty once they set foot behind the safety of their keyboards. Why don’t you guys all be a little more consistent with your lawn signs?

“No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor”……..unless your massive investment in restoring historic properties in our community doesn’t fit our refined architectural tastes. Or if we don’t like your prices…

(Disclaimer: I have zero to do with this project. I just think a lot of people on this board need to be quiet if they have nothing positive to say or contribute).

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Eric S. Huffstutler 11/03/2018 at 11:15 AM

@9 John Whitworth, that is crazy and one wonders how the city prioritizes? They had 4 years to appropriate funds for the lighting. Just like they have had 10 years to find funds for our sidewalk while we have seen at least 6 block stretches of sidewalk immediately around us (one across the street) being replaced. So, when and where did those funds become available while our sidewalk remains a mess?

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Eric S. Huffstutler 11/03/2018 at 12:26 PM

@16 Lee, the intro piece said “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”

6 over 6 windows that are energy efficient would have to be custom made and expensive because the cheaper type is only what is in there now with false muntins (dividers). They look fake, tend to slip out of place, and are not approved by the CAR if wooden 6 over 6 were in the windows.

Also mentioned was that the walls were an issue because of the original 19th-century cheap construction of the blue collar worker rental units. The outer walls were only 2 brick thick while the walls between units only 1 brick thick. it is a wonder the structure (not meant to last this long) was even standing almost 145 years later!

Part of the charm in this restoration is that they were built by artist and quarryman James Netherwood as a rental property. His stone out of the Richmond quarry built the bases of many of the monuments on Monument Avenue as well as the old gothic City Hall building on Broad and many National treasure buildings and monuments.

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Lee 11/03/2018 at 6:32 PM

@ Eric – there are plenty of divided light windows available – it’s a stretch/copout to call them “custom,” more like “made to order.” They cost more than something you can buy off the shelf at box store, ansolutely, but they aren’t exorbitant (especially since each house these houses only has two street facing windows!). My previous comment could have been clearer: my point was if it were a tax credit project the window lights/divides would usually have been required to be maintained as they were and not changed. As to the issue of CAR – would they approve a change if the historic appearance could be maintained? Was this even a CAR district project?

As for what is historically appropriate: divided light windows were originally much cheaper than single pane sashes, due to the high cost of making large pieces of glass. I’m currently renovating a house that had single pane sashes on the front, and divided sashes on the back – very much a part of the history of the house: they put the expensive windows in the front to show off. In the case of the O street houses, single pane sashes would have (historically) been expensive for workforce housing.

As to the aesthetics of it, “streamlining” anything on thes original portions of these houses was a mistake. It’s not quite like trying to streamline a pair of dice (like, would you take the dots/numbers off of a six sided die?), but it’s pretty close. Changing the window divides clearly served no purpose beyond cost cutting.

As for the firewalls/partitions/thickness of walls: Structural exterior walls on a two story building are typically two bricks thick. There’s nothing remarkable about that. It’s harder to comment on the interior wall (I had interior photos of these places somewhere…). Depends on whether the joists ran side to side or front to back, and how they were attached to the walls, but that doesn’t sound particularly unusual or poorly designed either, although perhaps not up to current fire code.

Anyway, I’m not trying to beat up on the developer – they made some choices I’m not enamoured with, but I’m happy to see that they are finally finished and the block will be occupied. I’m just saying that it’s a stretch to call this a historic preservation project.

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jean mcdaniel 11/03/2018 at 7:24 PM

Eric, What “charm in this restoration” are you talking about? This is not a restoration of anything. Any connection that existed with various craftsmen has been wiped out. A third floor was added to increase aquare footage for the purpose of getting more sales money. I have seen house trailers that have more charm and better design. If the Whitworth’s can sell them that is fine, but don’t insult the intelligrnce of Church Hill by claiming that this is anything other than a money grab. They look cheap. They especially look cheap sitting next to the first one that was renovated.

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Eric S. Huffstutler 11/04/2018 at 11:39 AM

@21 jean mcdaniel, I am not even sure I should dignify your post with a response but if you are referring to the units matching the store… both are brick… check. Both have window heads and sills… check. Both have bracketed eves… check. The original porch design was recreated… check. Other than the windows (and 3rd floor), what is so different? The “charm” refers to the facade looking closely like it did when built.

@20 Lee, My reference to the CAR was a general statement. This does fall within the 2000 Boundary Extension for the DHR Church Hill North Historic District (DHR 127-820) but, falls outside that of the city’s Old & Historic districts used by the CAR and so are not protected or regulated.

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Lee 11/04/2018 at 3:33 PM

@ Eric – The thing is, when a design is this simple, little details go a long way and removing those details makes a big difference. I drove by this morning and observed:

– The windows in the original rowhouse facades don’t match those in the storefront and detract from the appearance of the row.
– the ventilator panels are wrong/gone
– The porch posts seem to be decent replacements, but brackets on the porch posts are missing/removed. (additional details visible in older photos…)
– The porches desperately need some sort of railings. Hopefully they just haven’t been installed yet.
– The roof on the front porches is odd looking and the copper is odd/out of place. Admittedly not sure what a good alternative would be, but it doesn’t look right.
– The passageway through the structure should have been preserved, or at minimum better visually indicated/demarcated.
– Much of the brickwork has been replaced near the top and right side of the row, and it’s not the best match.

To the developers’ credit, the cornices are a faithful restoration (other than the vent panels), and the additions to the rear and back of the houses aren’t too terrible when viewed from the street. Although they’re certainly not attractive, especially from a distance, the additions aren’t that noticeable from the sidewalk in front of the row.

Ultimately, the issue here is that the “preserved” portions don’t look “preserved” or “restored” at all, so much as “diminished” or “reduced” (not exact synonyms for “streamlined,” since that word has cropped up a few times, but certainly related ideas/words). Frankly, I’m bothered by the fact that anyone would mistake or defend this for a “good” or even a “mediocre” preservation project. I expect these houses are pleasant inside, and I’m glad the project will bring the city more property tax revenue. But that doesn’t change the facts: There was relatively little that needed to be done to restore or preserve the defining features of this row, and yet somehow the developers neglected meet a low preservation standard. Reasonable efforts toward preserving/restoring/recreating should not have been expensive: for example, visually similar, energy efficient windows would have cost about $4000 more total/$500 more per house, based on retail prices for double hung, wood or metal clad windows – and I suspect anyone with access to contractor pricing could do better.
Anyway, as consequence of removing or inaccurately replacing so many parts of the facade, the historic “charm” you keep referencing is diminished, if not eliminated.

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jean mcdaniel 11/04/2018 at 6:11 PM

Eric, I do not want you to “dignify my post with a response”.

Lee @23 has said all I had to say and did a better job than I could. Please READ his post. You might just learn something!

Lee, the copper on the roof looks odd because it is. There would have NEVER been copper on these little roofs. I have attempted to say what you have said and that is, This is NOT by any stretch of the imagination a restoration or historic preservation. It IS a money grab void of any charm and to attempt to cloak it in any other terms is offensive to anyones intelligence that knows anything about restoration/preservation.

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Holy Cow! 11/05/2018 at 7:11 PM

Jean, why are you so angry? All the time!

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BAF 11/06/2018 at 1:13 AM

@17 Daniil

90% of the time, we view things the same way and I have vocally defended your projects, but I must differ with you here.

The initial proposed project did real honor to the structures and the history. The final project, while ending the blight, look like they could have been done by Ryan Homes anywhere. The lack of brickwork on the back and other shortcuts are disappointing.

Again, I am glad the buildings are no longer blighted. I am just disappointed because the initial plans were so much stronger.

Also there is no evidence of any work to rehab the structure at the corner of O and 25th. That’s another health hazard.

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O St. Resident 11/06/2018 at 9:49 AM

Excited to be a new resident on this lovely stretch of block and our neighbors are so nice. Sub Rosa, here we come!

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Lindsey LeCroy 12/13/2018 at 9:51 AM

O Street Resident II:

@jean mcdaniel
@baf
@lee
@cheryl belcher

Im so excited to be part of this historic row. All the negativity is quite upsetting. I’d love to show you these houses. Hopefully, it will shed light on a great project I’m sure all of you wish you were a part of. I’d also love to meet all who have the negative comments to work on how you can help benefit with positive comments in this great community. This commenting is not it, however.

Thanks,

Lindsey LeCroy

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