REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Street sounds: Music of makeovers on Lexington

ADDRESS: 502 Lexington Avenue

NEIGHBORHOOD: North Downtown

ASKING: $479,000

2007 CITY ASSESSMENT: $431,400


SIZE: 1,897 fin. sq. ft.

LAND: 0.15 acres

CURB APPEAL: 8 out of 10

LISTED BY: Joelle Meintzschel of Quest Virginia Realty 760-2601

Forty years ago, the hills were alive with the sound of music, but today the gentle little rises of Lexington Avenue are alive with the sound of hammering and sawing. Which is to say, more than a few houses on the pretty undulating street just a short stroll from the Downtown Mall are getting serious wall-busting make-overs. Around this house, situated in the first block (closest to High street), at least four others either have just been upgraded or are in the process of returning to grander former incarnations.

But while work on others is just beginning– an orange dumpster the size of a freight car takes up one whole front yard in the next block– the work on this wide blue farmhouse is nearly finished. When the owner bought it in 2002, the place was being used by Martha Jefferson Hospital as temporary lodgings for visiting doctors and other staff. Right away, she began the process of returning the ho-hum two-story to its original turn-of-the-century glory.

Her work is evident most spectacularly in the glowing, wide-plank heart pine floors of the stairs, landing, and in every room (except the kitchen and baths). The original large-pane two-over-two windows have also been preserved, but with an interesting twist. While all the other woodwork in the house is painted white, the muntins and sash of each window are black. While it looks a little odd in daylight, the owner explains that at night the woodwork visually disappears, creating a wide-open view to outside.

That thoughtful touch is typical of other changes. The wide entrance hall was shortened to make room for a spacious pantry in the back hall. A new half bath– with pretty tile floor, original windows, and a high row of glass bricks to transfer light to the pantry hall– adds charm and convenience to the first floor. A tiny broom closet between the kitchen and den now serves as storage for Christmas wrapping, surely an inspired use for otherwise problematic space. 

Of the five fireplaces (all originally coal-burning and none now working), one is in the den/study, one in the dining room, and one is in the living room (the other two are in upstairs bedrooms). All five have original mantels that reinforce the authenticity of the makeover.

The good-sized kitchen is one spot where a new owner will want to do some work. The original pine cabinets have been "pickled"– not a treatment we would have chosen, but to each his own. However, the owner claims returning them to their original appearance is just a matter of removing the pickling. Here the over-the-sink window is not original, but at least it's wood. The floor is Pergo, but the owner believes the original pine may still exist under it. The biggest problem here is a dropped acoustical tile ceiling, but the owner removed one just like it from the back pantry hall. The results are admirable, so a new owner may want to get going in the kitchen right away.

Off the kitchen is an all-weather porch (heated and cooled) overlooking the small but well-designed backyard (raised perennial beds, pin oak, forsythia hedge). A tall wooden fence separates the yard from adjoining Martha Jefferson property on two sides (the hospital still houses visiting docs in the adjacent property) while a delicate wrought-iron fence, much lower, separates the yard from the neighbor's without interrupting the feeling of openness that makes all the yards seem like one flowing space. 

The dining room is the jewel of the first level, with a large east-facing bay window that the owner says is the element that sold her on the house in the first place. Apparently the morning sun illuminates and warms the whole first floor. (Not to worry in summer– new dual-zone heating and AC systems take care of vicissitudes of weather.) A built-in china cabinet is serviceable if not fancy.

Upstairs are three bedrooms, only two of which have closets, but an elaborate free-standing clothes storage system conveys. The one bath has not been modernized; that's another place a new owner will need to direct some attention (and money). A pull-down staircase in the largest bedroom provides access to a partially floored attic useful only for storage. Off the front hall, the second level of the new front porch provides a tiny seating area that the owner calls a "second-story patio." 

All systems are new. The roof is not new, but hasn't caused any trouble, according to the owner, although one tin section could use some attention. The house is covered in asbestos shingles, which might cause some potential buyers to pause, although they seem to be in good shape. 

All in all, the agent's assessment of the house as renovated with "sensitivity to its existing charm" is accurate. While there are still a few things to do, in general this is one house on Lexington where the sound of music can easily muffle the construction noises up and down the block.

Photos courtesy of the agent