Chi Psi sigh: You can save this gem from destruction

Address: 1536 Rugby Road
Neighborhood: Rugby
Asking: $1,395,000
Assessment: $976,000
Year Built: 1914
Size: 7,802 fin. sq. ft. /1,858 unfin.

Land: 3.66 acres

Curb Appeal: 7 out of 10
Agent: Jim McVay, Roy Wheeler Realty Co., 434-951-5155

Amid other palatial homes in the Rugby neighborhood, this Eugene Bradbury-designed stucco and timber-framed building could be on the precipice of demolition.

Readers will recall the controversy surrounding another Bradbury house built for Robert Compton in 1913 ("Scholarly debate: Will Bradbury house become history?"). That beauty eventually became the home of many a Beta brother, but was demolished in 2007 by the Jefferson Scholars Foundation to make way for its new headquarters on Maury Avenue.

History has a way of repeating itself, and this unique property is eerily in line for a similar fate unless a buyer with ingenuity and deep pockets steps forward.

When the “Trail’s End Lodge” was built in 1914, it overlooked undulating fields and offered dramatic mountain views. The one-and-a-half story building set into a sloping hill was supported by fieldstone and timber pillars, with several spacious porches on which genteel folks no doubt sat and sipped mint juleps. The Charlottesville Country Club built the original building and swimming pool, but after hosting only five years of socials— one horse-and buggy-gathering photographed by the famous Rufus Holsinger— the club disbanded.

Around 1919, Bobby Mainfort opened the estate as “The White Plains Health Resort," but this, too, was short-lived, and the house tumbled from owner to owner in short succession, ultimately becoming home to the Chi Psi fraternity in the late 1940s.

The evolution of the extensive renovations to the building is unclear.  It appears that early alterations made to create an "entry court" in the center section replaced a formal, enclosed entryway with a set-back, two-story stone and stucco façade and arched six-paneled Tutor described in Charlottesville's architectural historic survey. Creation of the facade significantly altered the roofline as well as the original grand entrance to the heart of the Lodge.

Period photographs reveal a stunning 1½-story fieldstone fireplace— a centerpiece in the expansive hall that once stretched to the veranda. Some time later, the ceiling was lowered to 10’ to create additional rooms above, and the hall was narrowed further with the addition of a library and game room flanking it on the right.

The porch beyond the hall has been enclosed on two levels, the upper level becoming a dining room. French doors on two walls leading from the dining area to a porch provide some of the original scenic views. An adventuresome buyer with plans to restore the place can use photographs of the unaltered Bradbury design dating back to the 1920s for hints about placement of the various dormers and windows in each wing. 

At some point, the interior was altered to include ten bedrooms and six baths– two additional baths are still under construction.

As for the interior, let's say that this is not a renovation project to be taken lightly. The owner, the Alpha Omicron Corporation, leased the building to an enterprising group of tenants who began some extensive remodeling to the lower level of the enclosed porch last year, adding three bedrooms and the two unfinished bathrooms. The renovation efforts— which seem to have ceased mid-anvil swing— could serve as a jumping-off point for someone who might envision the building becoming a small spa or B&B.

The Lodge is uninhabitable in its current state, as it is filled with miscellaneous tools, materials, furnishings, and recyclables. But all of that will go, presumably, when the current lease is up. The kitchen contains industrial-grade equipment that should also be recycled, and all the existing bathrooms need significant updating. This is not to say that there isn’t tons of potential for a spectacular renovation, but upgrading all the mechanicals is not for the faint of heart.

The future of the Chi Psi Lodge again raises the question the Hook asked regarding the Beta House demolition in April 2008 (“When is a house worth saving?”). Houses in the Rugby neighborhood have fetched prices from $2.1 to $4 million, and according to the listing agent, the 3.66 acres on which the Lodge sits are prime for development: either a new single-family home or a group of smaller homes is possible.

Is Bradbury’s Lodge worth restoring to its former “country club” status as a site for special events? Or could it become an inn for visitors who wouldn’t mind the proximity (and noise) of the 250 Bypass? The Lodge is not an individually protected historic property, so it could ultimately go the way of the Beta House.

Only time will tell if this property is a diamond in the rough or another piece of Charlottesville history destined for demo.
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