On the Block Nothing mousy: Restoring a relic on Ridge

ADDRESS: 505 Ridge Street


ASKING: $550,000

YEAR BUILT: 1843-1845, addition 1912

SIZE: 3,330 fin. sq. ft. 202 unfin.

LAND: 0.219 acres

CURB APPEAL: 8 out of 10

LISTED BY: Loring Woodriff of McLean Faulconer, 295-1131

Were architectural historians all frustrated dentists? That's not as absurd a question as it might seem. How else to explain the proliferation in old houses of "bridgings," "caps," "dentil molding," "braces," and– our favorite– "mousetooth cornices"?

This fascinating line of inquiry occurred to us as we toured this week's house, reputed to be the oldest existing residence on Ridge Street, built around 1844. As Charlottesville old-timers know, historic houses were usually designated by the names of their original owners, and thus this "two-story, three-bay, single-pile, vernacular dwelling set on an English basement" is the "Bibb-Wolfe House." That's because, according to surveyor Eugenia Bibb, it was built for John H. Bibb (no relation) (in 1844) and sold to Ezra M. Wolfe (in 1852).

Federal style buildings– with such elements as Flemish bond brickwork, a roof parapet, and those mousetooth cornices– were popular on Ridge Street, but the design is modified a little here with a Greek Revival entrance– a six-panel, fluted-pilastered entrance door surrounded by rectangular transom and sidelights that Ms. Bibb calls "extremely fine." Unfortunately, some time ago the fine door was purloined, but the transom and sidelights remain, one of the most striking elements of the house, creating a beautiful entrance indeed.

The latest owner bought the place after it had languished for years as a rental unit and rooming house, suffering all the slings and arrows such uses are prone to. Which is to say, she had a lot of work to do to prepare the place for the demands of today's buyers. In her renovations, she has tried to walk the fine line between historical accuracy and modern alterations.

Among the former are installation of reclaimed heart pine flooring in the kitchen, handmade pine sinks in all three and a half baths, stripping and refinishing (instead of replacing) original windows, which are impressive "double-sash six-over-six-light with lintels and corner blocks," in Ms. Bibb's words.

The house has a fireplace in every room (except the kitchen), and of the six, one in each parlor and one in the basement have been converted to gas, two in the upstairs bedrooms are open but unusable, and the second one in the basement is blocked.

The kitchen, in a 1912 addition at the back of the house, is admirable for its restraint. White cabinets, butcher-block counters, and stainless appliances are within easy reach. No foolish space-wasting island, built-in wine rack, or other unnecessary geegaws clutter up the room.

Down a step, a breakfast area might be awkward to use placed as it is in front of the back door, but it's a nice space anyway, and skylights in both rooms are a smart touch that add a lot without compromising the integrity of the original house (this is the later addition, after all).

The renovation includes a new full kitchen in the English basement, which– along with a private entrance under the front entry– makes it useful as a rental unit, an au pair apartment, or just really nice guest quarters. Or a new owner might want to decorate this area informally and repair to it as a respite from the more formal symmetry of the upstairs.

Mechanicals are all new, of course: dual-zone gas heat (no radiators, alas), AC, new standing-seam metal roof (which is what Bibb and Wolfe enjoyed, too), and a perfect brick path to the front door from the impressive stone wall out on Ridge Street.

Mirroring the mirror effect of the two-over-two design, pairs of magnolia and cedar trees– as well as boxwoods and a large crepe myrtle– flank the new entrance portico, an exact replica of the original pictured in an 1874 photo.

The few jarring aspects of the renovation such as dull mustard-yellow paint everywhere downstairs, an anachronistic ceiling fan (why, in a house with central air?), and Motel 6 tub and shower surrounds, are not enough to devalue the other good work that's been done.

In short, the oldest house on Ridge Street has been updated into a residence that won't make purists gnash their teeth. If it won't take too big a bite out of the budget, anyone looking for property downtown should not brush off this flossy place.