Tucked-away: Rambling downtowner has possibilities

ASKING: $325,000

SIZE: 2,000 square feet

ADDRESS: 815 St. Clair Avenue

NEIGHBORHOOD: Downtown

CURB APPEAL: 4 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Roger Voisinet of RE/MAX Realty Specialists 974-1500

The recent embargoes Charlottesville developers face because of the ongoing water crisis and lack of prime real estate will most likely drive an already hot housing market into a frenzy. Building permits are still being issued, but with no guarantee of occupancy rights because each new tenant will have to tap into the already depleted city water source. Although the drought is likely to end, the knowledge gleaned from this very close call will not soon be forgotten.

When you drive by this home, less than a mile from downtown, with only its roofline barely visible above the trees, it appears like the proverbial oasis in the middle of a desert. The house sits perched behind an extra long sloping lot and a grove of trees, which separate it from the street to create a country-estate like setting. The extra lot is developable and could easily accommodate another house without obstructing either the view or privacy of the original (aside from sharing a driveway).

The 1930s one-level house was allegedly built as a honeymoon cottage for the son of a wealthy Locust Avenue family. (The original address was actually in the 800-block of Locust Avenue.) The back of the big brick house is still visible, but a new fence and profuse foliage have created enough of a screen to keep outside viewers to a minimum. The narrow driveway creates a problem as was evident when a passel of visitors showed up the day of our tour, but street parking is always viable as long as you keep your walking shoes in the car.

The entrance, reached by a welcoming stone patio and surrounded by giant boxwoods, further divides the house from its surroundings. Unfortunately, because the house is empty, the interior lacked some of the coziness inherent in fully lived-in spaces. In the living room with its working fireplace, one could easily imagine plush couches, oriental rugs, and a couple of lounging wolfhounds. From there, a dizzying array of rooms and cubbyholes awaits discovery.

To the left, a small hallway leads to a lilac bedroom with a full bath and a later addition, a fully wood-paneled larger room with built-in bookshelves, another fireplace and full bath. From here, a screened porch, running the width of the house, holds the most allure. With its southern exposure and screen of bushes, one could imagine resting out here on a breezy summer's evening with an appropriate libation.

Back in the main room, another door leads to a two-room, full-bath unit that could be used as a separate suite either for renters or those ubiquitous in-laws. These distinct areas do not detract from the original part that continues without interruption through a small room to a dining room and finally pours forth into the kitchen.

Without many individualistic details, the entire house could accommodate a wide array of living arrangements. The kitchen, which, with the screened porch, bookends the house, has three small anterooms, each of which probably serves a purpose, but because of their placement, we'll have to leave it to future owners to decide what those purposes may become.

A basement stretches the full underground length and has the same labyrinthine quality as the upstairs, but the dirt d├ęcor suggests only catacombs. It could serve as workspace for the industrial-minded with its constant cave-like cool temperature. A door, happily, leads to the outside.

This house, with its unusual combination of rooms, lacks general flow, but does convey spaciousness and a certain funkiness where many different tastes could contribute to one unique whole.