Gitchell's house: Pretty as a picture

ASKING: $735,000

SIZE: 2836 fin. sq. ft. /1406 unfin.

YEAR BUILT: 1910

ADDRESS: 1033 Locust Avenue

NEIGHBORHOOD: Locust Grove

CURB APPEAL: 8 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Loring Woodriff, McLean Faulconer Inc. 295-1131

People who've been around Charlottesville for a long time refer to certain houses by the names of the original owners. There are the Valentine house and Mrs. Duke's house on Park Street, the Barringer mansion on JPA, and the Carter-Gilmer House on East Jefferson, for example. This house is known to old-timers as the Gitchell house because it was the home of that famous local photographer.

But he probably wouldn't recognize it in its present incarnation. The painted clapboard of his four-over-four dwelling has been replaced with stucco, and a wing has been added to significantly enlarge the space. In addition to the basic rooms the Gitchell family enjoyed, the house now boasts a music room, a master suite and bath (replete with bidet), and decks galore.

If you had to sum up the essence of the house, though, it would not be in the elements common to houses of its vintage the standing-seam tin roof, the plaster walls, the expansive wrap-around front porch, the glowing oak and pine wood floors.

It would not even be the 20th-century upgrades: stairs leading to a nifty little attic play-space from a child's bedroom, the tile floor in the master bath, or even the stylish addition.

The aspect of this house that a 21st century buyer will relish as much as the Gitchell clan probably did is the country serenity and feeling of repose all amazingly within walking distance of the center-city.

Entering the gate of the (surprisingly rudimentary) wire and post fence, you feel as though you have been transported directly to grandma's farm. Standing in the front yard admiring the many perennials and baby boxwoods, and loomed over by oaks and magnolias, you may wonder if that sound you hear can really be chickens clucking. It is.

Out in the secluded back yard, a smallish garden and chicken coop are tucked between the house and a three-bedroom cottage and artist's studio. The space is insulated not only from Locust Avenue out front, but also from neighbors on either side. The agent reports that the several decks afford views of distant mountains in the winter, and in this lush spring, the views of varying shades of green trees as far as the eye can see are quite appealing.

More needs to be said about the cottage, which is currently, and legally, rented. It's quite spacious, with two large bedrooms, a dressing area, ample kitchen, dining area, large living room with fireplace, and full bath. If I bought this property, I'd live in the cottage and rent out the main house.

The artist's studio, mainly now a storage space, reeks of the funky mold of disuse, but it does have a full bath, pretty French doors, wide front windows, and a fireplace. These two dependencies don't have the views the larger house enjoys because of their location below the crest of Locust Avenue, but they are private and charming without them.

Because of its vintage and the appeal of the many upgrades, the property will undoubtedly find some admirers. There are a few odd elements, however, that may put off buyers who expect near perfection when they ante up $735,000. In the living room, for example, a large chunk of plaster has fallen away worrisome but rather than repair it, the owner has chosen to treat it as a "decorative element," and has placed cutesy little angels on the perimeter. Where some people glimpse heaven, however, others may see signs of costly plaster repair.

Such are the perils of buying a house almost 100 years old. But many are the charms. Combined with the lovely grounds, the latter will probably sway a well-heeled house-hunter to move into Mr. Gitchell's house and see what develops.