Charleston West Virginia Economic Development

Discussions on Economic and Community Development in West Virginia and the Charleston MSA as well as issues of the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The article below appeared in today's Charleston Daily Mail. It's good news for downtown housing.

Brothers creating hidden treasure in East End
Charleston lawyer and his brother working to renovate 1938 building

by Monica Orosz
Daily Mail staff
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It is the kind of building you might drive right past, oblivious to its charms, tucked as it is next to one of Kanawha Boulevard's high-rise complexes.

Take a leisurely walk through Charleston's East End, however, and you are likely to notice the elegant brick building in the Boulevard's 1500 block.

Designed in 1938 by Charleston architect Charles A. Haviland for J.G. Stierer, its steel, concrete, brick and cast plaster wall construction is like a well-made and classic cashmere coat - understated and never out of style, even if its lining was a bit worn and the buttons a bit loose.

Charleston lawyer Mark Sadd saw nothing but possibility in 1570 Kanawha Blvd. East. So when he heard heirs to the Stierer family who still resided in its penthouse were interested in selling it, he inquired.

"I had always been taken by the building," Mark said. "It was a classic pre-war apartment house with a great facade and a better location. There is nothing like it in Charleston."

He persuaded his brother, Chris, who was living in Chicago and working in the finance industry, to come back and help oversee renovations to the building's 13 apartments and the penthouse.
Said Chris, "We originally thought we might keep them as apartments. But we came in and said this has too much potential. The only way to do it was to make them condos."

They researched the local housing market, especially the availability and price of condominiums, and determined they could price the units favorably.

The brothers bought the building in September 2007 through a company they formed called Elizabeth Lee Properties LLC and set to work.

"Like the Rock of Gibraltar," is how Mark describes the building.

Its symmetrical brick exterior was in great shape. The lobby's stunning cobalt-blue and black swirled Vitrolite glass panels were intact.

Original casement windows had been replaced, but not with the best quality or design. Inside, the generously designed apartments were sturdy, with hardwood floors and handcut tile in the bathrooms, but they hadn't been updated in decades. In the rear, eight garages still had their original solid wood doors, but most didn't work properly.

Architect Haviland, who designed the building, also is responsible for others around town, including a former car dealership on Virginia Street that once sold Packards, Cadillacs and Daimlers. At J.G. Stierer's request, he designed a building that could both earn income for Stierer and serve as his family home.

"It was the apartment building to live in at one time," Chris said.

After their purchase, Chris moved into the building to oversee the renovations - Mark calls him the "guru" of the project, the man who knows every nook and cranny of the building.

Chris, in the meantime, credits Mark with making sure the historical building retains the best of those details.

Mark, who practices law with the firm Lewis Glasser Casey & Rollins PLLC, serves on the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, where he has just been appointed to a second four-year term.

The city's Historic Landmarks Commission approved all exterior changes and the Sadds consulted with the state Historic Preservation Office particularly on the issue of the building's 100 windows.

The building held some other treasures, such as original blueprints Chris stumbled upon in the basement, neatly hand-drawn and printed. The drawings showed the lobby's design called for a terrazzo floor, which for some reason was never installed. It has it now, in shades of gray and cobalt blue that complement the Vitrolite.

Local interior designer Gayle Twigger and kitchen designer Darrin Fisher have provided expertise on renovations.

Where possible and practical, interior elements are being restored. Hand-cut tiles on bathroom floors are kept, if they're in good condition, and cast-iron tubs resurfaced. White oak floors are being refinished and new ones laid if necessary for the configuration of the condominiums.

The biggest change is to heating, air conditioning, plumbing and wiring, all of which will be replaced. The kitchen in the model unit has granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.

The condos have two to three bedrooms and range in size from 1,500 square feet to 1,850 square feet. The penthouse has 3,200 square feet plus two terraces, one overlooking the Boulevard and the other in the rear.

Prices will start at $300,000, which includes allowances for interior finishing. The penthouse will be offered at $650,000.

One unit already has sold, to a couple who are empty nesters ready to scale down from a house. Chris said they were the first prospective buyers to whom he showed the building.

He considers the project a good blend of renovation and restoration, the latter of which takes plenty of patience.

The gleaming solid brass mailboxes in the foyer?

"That took one guy six days to clean them, a layer at a time," he said.

The original elevator is in good working order, but a worker last week was painstakingly stripping layers of paint on the metal doors and trim - using Easy Off Oven Cleaner, no less - in a job Chris estimated would take 20 hours.

"I'm learning that to restore things isn't easier - or cheaper," he said.

1570 Kanawha Blvd. East will be open for tours from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Other open houses will be scheduled.


At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Mona said...

I wish I knew more about the decision to have them be condos instead of apartments...we need more nice apartments downtown/on the east end.


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