On the brink: Save this JPA mansion!

ASKING: $650,000

SIZE: main house: 3,148 fin. sq. ft., 1,552 unfin.
cottage: 678 fin. sq. ft.

ADDRESS: 1730 Jefferson Park Avenue

NEIGHBORHOOD: JPA/UVA

CURB APPEAL: 7 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Margie Burris, Stevens & Company, 296-6104

This house was built in 1920 for a family undoubtedly a well-to-do family and it must have been a glorious place to come home to in those days. Situated on a small rise on JPA, its shady lawn sweeping grandly down to the street, the property has all the attributes of a manor: four stately columns almost three stories high, beautiful four-over-four windows throughout, and an elegant over-the-entrance balcony.

But like so much else these days, this once-elegant mansion has fallen on hard times. For a while, it was used as a fraternity house, an unfortunate stop along the road to ruin, and then it did time as student housing. To add the ultimate insult to those injuries, it has sat empty, abandoned to the elements, for the last five years.

What's here to work with? Lots of potential, that's what. Nearly twelve-foot ceilings, for starters. Multiple (but not currently working) fireplaces, hardwood floors, an enormous dry basement under the entire house (unfortunately with a low, 7-foot ceiling), a separate cottage at a comfortable distance from the big house, and– best of all in some people's estimation train tracks right at the edge of the back yard.

Carrollton Manor, as it was called in its heyday, is now divided now into three one-bedroom apartments and two two-bedroom apartments. One of them is particularly charming: a combined upstairs and downstairs unit that contains what must have been the back stairs to bring the kitchen help to their duty stations. In that apartment, the kitchen and dining room are on the first floor in a space that's been added– so that the walls are the cast-cement walls of the original house and an upstairs consisting of the bedroom and bath.

The house has oil heat. Most of the original windows are in place and unbroken. The original wrought-iron railing, probably around the front porch back in the day, is still there to be reinstalled when the house returns to its former grandeur.

But then there's the downside. The bathrooms and kitchens, like much of the rest of the place, show the effects of the many years of neglect. Many of the walls have been stuccoed by resident artisans, apparently under the effects of mind-altering substances. And the cottage, while not as old as the house, suffers from many of the same disabilities.

Unfortunately, the configuration and condition of the various rooms probably doesn't matter much, because it's unlikely that the house will emerge intact from this sale. Jefferson Park Avenue being a hot student housing zone, and the city's zoning allowing higher density in that area, it's possible that the house will be leveled to make way for a multi-unit building.

Which, if it happens, will be an architectural tragedy. Over in that part of town there are already enough monolithic apartment buildings that all look alike boring– and none of which have the character of this house. At this point in Charlottesville's evolution, one would hope for preservation of existing treasures, even at great cost, rather than demolition to make way for construction of utilitarian maximum tax-producers.

Money is, of course, the problem. Apparently, taking into account the asking price for this parcel and the cost of even minimum renovations the agent says estimates she's heard range from $30,000 to $75,000 the number of units possible if the house remains rental property may not be cost effective.

But one can always hope. For the same money one would spend on some gargantuan plastic McMansion in a swishy subdivision northwest of town, a person with plenty of money and vision could buy this house, hire an architect and builder to bring it back to life, and end up with an elegant residence within walking distance of the University and a hop, skip, and jump from downtown.

I know which one I'd rather have.