Halfway house: Bring on the other half

ASKING: $750,000

SQUARE FEET: 4400– all unfinished

YEAR BUILT: 1920

ADDRESS: 208 South Street

NEIGHBORHOOD: Downtown

CURB APPEAL: 8 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Carolyn Shears of Summit Commercial Realty, 817-4040

Under normal circumstances, On the Block requires a tour of a house in order to do a proper review. Unfortunately, a last minute change of heart by the owner of this compound denied us access. Nevertheless, we found enough intriguing tidbits to keep us occupied.

The marketing strategy here is all over the map: office/retail/residential/ mixed-use. Whatever new owners choose to do, given the current disheveled state of the place, they have their work cut out for them.

Traveling along South Street by foot, car, or tricycle is almost always a pleasant experience. The five houses stationed along the south side from Main to Second Street seem happily oblivious to the ongoing developing and improving of downtown. Having worked at each end of this promenade, we can attest to the peaceful cohabitation of the residences and businesses that sit side by side.

This house, with its olive green fa├žade and orange roof, fits in quite nicely. Its front garden– with lilacs blooming and roses climbing near a miniature white picket fence– looks postcard-perfect from afar. But first impressions can be deceiving.

The front porch, right at the spot where one would most naturally step, has rotted, been badly repaired, and rotted through again. Probably not a big deal, but definitely an indicator that something similar is probably afoot elsewhere.

As we peered through the slats of a Venetian blind into the front hallway, the only evidence of past occupancy is a refrigerator and a halogen light on stilts.

Around back and down the driveway, construction detritus lies strewn about as if the workers might return momentarily from Higher Grounds. (However, Julian Calvet, who co-owns a house down the street, told us work ceased on the house over a year ago.)

A side entrance shows evidence of the most work, with new stairs and a new, but still unfinished, eave. An attractive addition in the back has glassed-in walls, but because it's still a work in progress, it merely seems to dangle from the rest of the house like an after thought. Even though any description of the interior at this point has to be pure conjecture, it's safe to say that a room with windows on three sides always adds charm and light.

The back area, which has probably seen only trucks in the recent past, is spacious enough to accommodate several cars, a patio, a garden, or whatever a new buyer might want. Situated 10 feet below the first floor outside the basement (which used to be rented out as an apartment), the space provides a great deal of privacy from neighbors.

"He has a really big imagination, bigger than mine," gushes Oliver Kuttner, a local developer and resident of South Street, about this house's visionary owner– although the vision, according to Kuttner, may have been more than Charlottesville was prepared for.

Calvet described the dream as a bed and breakfast with high-tech capabilities; Kuttner thought a high-end conference center might have been in the works. Whatever the specifics, in general the plan seems to have been for a large meeting facility, with overnight rooms and a courtyard garden and restaurant. But it all remained wishful thinking.

Four mailboxes hang desolately by the front door, the only remnants of a time some years back when the house was filled with hipster tenants. In the late '90s, the proprietors of South Street Inn bought the place, ostensibly to expand their venture, but they quickly changed their minds and sold it to the current owner in November 2000 for $365,000.

Construction must have started shortly thereafter but soon wound down to the current state of stasis, and the house now sits unfinished, ready for someone else's creative vision. Someone, of course, with a sizeable bank account.