REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Challenging: Victorian may repay hard work

ADDRESS: 405 Ridge Street
2780 fin. sq. ft., 1320 unfin.
7 out of a possible 10
James Quarles, Pace Real Estate Associates 293-3510

The words "handyman special" or "cute fixer-upper" are usually code for "disaster area; enter at your own risk." This house on Ridge Street is not really a fixer-upper, nor is it a disaster area. But the big Victorian does need work, and it will take someone with imagination– and serious money– to return the place to its original grandeur.

The owner of the house, which was built in 1925, has lived here for almost 40 years. Over that time, she has opened her house to folks down on their luck and in need of a place to stay. Now in her 90s, while still hale and hearty, she's reluctantly leaving to go to a less hectic and more manageable situation.

Her decision presents an opportunity for a buyer seeking a big house in a rapidly changing neighborhood practically overlooking the Downtown Mall.

The house demonstrates the hard use it has received over the years: Room numbers and hasp locks decorate the doors of the five bedrooms, and the two rudimentary bathrooms are clearly community territory. While the ornate front porch has been rebuilt to match the elaborate woodwork of the original, much of the rest of the house still needs major work.

Many of the plaster walls are in disrepair, and places that have been patched will need to be redone. Some of the flooring is missing. A new owner will probably want to start from scratch designing a modern kitchen and replacing the two bathrooms.

But there's much to work with: The oak floors will repay careful restoration, the rooms are spacious, with high ceilings typical of the era, and brass hardware for the transoms over many of the doors can be repaired to enable those elegant aspects of grander days to function again.

Some redesign will be necessary to return the place to a single-family residence. Doors and walls need to be removed to restore the "parlour" across the front hall from the living room (it's now being used as a bedroom). The back stairs may need to be replaced, and something will probably have to be done to make the first floor level– different floor heights seem to reflect additions to the house over the years.

Out back, a cinderblock cottage with four rooms, a bath, and a kitchen, can be legally rented. But it's in such a dismal condition that the best thing for it may be to knock it down and start again. Or if the rental income isn't needed to finance the restoration, someone might want to tear the old building down and plant a beautiful garden like one that probably was there originally.

The big 12-room house has radiators fueled by a gas furnace, and four fireplaces, three in bedrooms. There's a full basement. The shingled roof seems to be in fair shape. Mature plantings in front of the house give it an elegant feel, one that deserves to be nurtured by a loving owner willing to undertake a careful, authentic restoration.

Several afternoons a week, the owner pays a call on a close friend two doors away. She acknowledges that leaving her home of 40 years will be hard, and she plans to return often to continue her habit of having tea and visiting. Watching as her former home is restored by a new owner will probably be an added pleasure.

Providing her that pleasure can be just one of many benefits awaiting someone who undertakes the challenges awaiting at 405 Ridge Street.