Right directions: Townhouse downtown and upscale


ADDRESS: 501 Second Street

NEIGHBORHOOD: North Downtown

ASKING: $695,000



SIZE: 1,904 fin. sq. ft., 731 unfin.

LAND: 0.06 acres

CURB APPEAL: 8 out of 10

LISTED BY: Tim Michel of McLean Faulconer Inc. 980-5869

Word comes that the new Walker Square apartments across the tracks from Starr Hill and the Riverbend apartments behind Rose's on Pantops have been sold and are about to transmogrify into condominiums. Add those combined 350 units to a market already bloated with Belmont Lofts, The Eight-Twenty Condominiums, Lewis & Clark, and the upcoming "Holsinger," and you realize what a market there is for people who are willing to trade the hassle of upkeep and maintenance for hefty monthly condo fees and the convenience of downtown.

People in the second category but not the first– that is, folks who want to be downtown but don't mind throwing some kitty-litter on the icy sidewalk or seeing that the gutters aren't clogged– may want to take a look at this house on Second street. It has some advantages of a condo– common walls to maximize heat retention, and modest patios and tiny garden spots for minimal yard maintenance– but none of the bother of association meetings or dues.

We here at On the Block were interested in touring houses even back in 1981 when these identical four brick townhouses were brand new and on the market for the then-stunning price of $130,000. During the open house for this one, we heard a blue-haired grand dame remark, "This is a great place– except that people who can run up and down three flights can't afford it, and people who can afford it can't run up and down three flights." While the meaning of "afford it" has obviously changed over the years, the sentiment may still resonate.

The houses are vertical, with a large dry storage basement under three stories rising high above the street. This is an end unit, with the advantage of views from three sides, and from the third story they're nice views, sort of like being in the top bucket of a Ferris wheel. That third and the second level are almost identical, with large master suites with bedroom and full bath.

The second-level suite has a large dressing area, and on this floor there's a second full bath and a second bedroom that's currently being used as an office with built-in bookshelves and big windows with views to the walled patio in back.

The first floor consists of living room with a bay window and gas fireplace surrounded by bookshelves. A short hall leads to a half bath and a family room or den at the back of the house with a wall of windows and a glass door to the small patio. Lots of light despite overhanging trees.

In the middle of these two rooms, the compact kitchen has been completely taken uptown, with stainless appliances and granite counters, all new last year. Softening the industrial vibe of the big Wolf and Fisher Paykel appliances (these names are said to send shivers of ecstasy through those in the know), a whimsical row of wooden armadillos marches behind the counters instead of a backsplash. Clever.

Buttery maple cabinets contribute light to the small space, and a built-in miniature table curves out of the wall to amplify the armadillos' charm. A new trend in cabinets seems to be roll-up fronts like the ones on old oak desks, and using those in a small space like this makes sense. They're fun, too.

The house has been redone in the last year– coats of fleshy pink and rose paint throughout, a new HVAC system, and strange little bidet attachments on each toilet. It seems that nothing remains for new owners to do except move in and begin to enjoy the convenience of the location, the freedom from big yard maintenance and gas bills (a heat pump will keep the place warm this winter), and the beauty of interior brick walls and shiny hardwood floors.

They might even consider setting up a treadmill and weight machine in the big basement to stay in shape so that scampering up and down those three flights is no problem at all.