REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Acquired taste: City retreat looking for new artists


ADDRESS: 1310 Wellford Street


ASKING: $385,000

ASSESSMENT: $406,400


SIZE: 2,747 finished square feet/ 686 unfin.

LAND: 0.224 acres

CURB APPEAL: 9 out of 10

AGENT: Sue Plaskon, Real Estate III, 984-7411

Around these parts, the phrase "artist's retreat" brings to mind certain tie-dyed areas of Nelson County. However, for people: a) working in or near Charlottesville, who: b) have managed to not let this summer's $4-a-gallon peak shock them such that they consider $3.55 gasoline "a great price," and: c) happen to be looking for a house– the answer may lie within the city limits.

With its rustic feel (exposed wooden rafters) and exuberant walls and cabinets, this all-brick Cape Cod on a quiet street in the near northside Greenleaf neighborhood is a retreat in search of an artist.

The owners certainly fit the place they've called home for the past 14 years: the Virginia Film Festival's current director– who happens to be married to the former director of UVA's Art Museum– are making like Lewis and Clark and heading west, where one half of the couple— guess which— will direct the University of Oregon's art museum in Eugene.

Eugene is located in the Willamette Valley, a name the generation that grew up playing floppy-disk computer games may recognize as the destination of the classic "Oregon Trail." Often sought but rarely attained in those days– thanks to the difficulties of hunting pixilated deer with the shift key, and unforeseeable calamities reported in matter-of-fact phrases like "Bill has died of dysentery"– the Willamette today is much easier to reach.

Lewis and Clark, the Oregon Trail, and Donner Party references aside, 1310 Wellford Street takes the über-efficient Cape design and adds more than one artistic twist. Looking ceiling-ward, the living room reveals the sky, through three large and connected skylights. 

It's details like those that make this circa-1953 house seem like a contemporary inside, and not by accident. Two owners ago, an architect put his stamp on the house by exposing the rafters, adding the skylights, and turning the upstairs into a sizable loft– of late, host to many film screenings and Oscar-night parties. Though the big screen is now gone, theater lights still illuminate the loft's stairway.

Off the dining room, a spacious deck leads to a swimming pool in the small but verdant backyard. The sellers are willing to remove the pool, although such a demand would clearly be heresy in the summer of Michael Phelps. For anyone hoping to imitate that titan, the city's Crow Pool is a short walk away. Eight Olympic golds are probably a little farther (and Crow is slated for eventual demolition).

We've never seen a basement we like in houses of this era, and this one's no exception. Basements don't get enough natural light, and since we clearly have latent taphephobia (fear of being buried alive), we need a finished basement we'd want to sleep in.

While this underground level boasts new windows, a sizable family room, the fourth bedroom with full bath, and ample storage, the flooring and walls need updating. One encouraging feature down here, though, is headroom: with eight feet between the floor and rafters, even Yao Ming needn't slouch while retrieving his winter clothes for making snow angels– gigantic ones, of course.

If the old saw about "location, location, location" is true, this house has it made. A deep front yard provides protection from the road. The house is about four feet below street level, which adds to the setback effect. CTS's Route 9, with a stop nearby, links residents to UVA and the Downtown Mall. Greenleaf Park is a five-minute walk.

Charlottesville has plenty of neighborhoods whose residents have prevailed upon city planners to eliminate through streets, rendering them extraordinarily quiet. Not coincidentally, such neighborhoods tend to be wealthier and more desirable, and Greenleaf is no exception. Kids here attend Venable Elementary and Walker Upper Elementary, both within walking distance.

The house's interior in its current form is certainly an acquired taste. The bright orange wall that greets visitors– artist's milieu or Cavalier pride? Red kitchen cabinets bring to mind the warnings posted at roller coaster entrances: persons with hypertension or heart problems might not enjoy this ride. The sellers are willing to paint more neutral colors inside if a more left-brained buyer decide to ink the contract.

The agent has a hunch, though: this house, given its ownership history, may be waiting for another artistic person to fully appreciate it. If that's the case, we hope Nelson County's bohemians are reading.



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