Courtly: Penthouse condo offers views, convenience

Address: 500 Court Square
Neighborhood: Downtown
Asking: $165,000         
Assessment: $112,900
Year Built: 1926
Size: 557 fin. sq. ft. 
Land: 0 acres
Agent: Marjorie Burris, Stevens & Company 434 296-6104
Curb Appeal: n/a

Changes in Charlottesville’s skyline continue to evolve with the coming of the Waterhouse building and the pall cast by the languishing concrete shell of the Landmark Hotel. The lagging economy, however, may delay other proposed multi-story projects— to the relief of local preservationists. 

But it wasn’t too long ago that plans for another downtown high-rise provoked the ire of historians. In 1926, the 10-story Monticello Hotel, though offering spectacular mountain views and convenience, was constructed on one of the oldest city blocks in place of a row of 18th century buildings.

Today, the views and the convenience can still be had for anyone willing to part with $165,000 and a monthly fee– that includes utilities– of $258.

The Monticello Hotel first became noteworthy as the home of one of the largest searchlights in the world, illuminating the sky up to 300 miles away, according to a local history blog. In 1929, Harry H. Gardiner, dubbed the “Human Fly” by President Grover Cleveland, scaled the building in a stunt sponsored by the American Legion.

The list of famous patrons in this five-star establishment reportedly included Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, and Gertrude Stein. The hotel was ultimately shuttered, but reopened in 1974 as condominiums. In 1988, the last remnant of the original hotel— its landmark restaurant— closed, and the space was remodeled into law offices.

The Federal-style building, currently known as 500 Court Square, was designed by Stanhope Johnson, a Lynchburg architect who was also commissioned to create his hometown’s tallest building at 17 stories. The brick exterior of his 10-story Charlottesville structure has withstood the test of time, retaining its place among the enclave of  preserved structures on Court Square. While the exterior is Federal style, the lobby contains a mix of classic and Art Deco touches— leaving one to imagine how grand it must have been in its prime.

The building's lone elevator may be slow, but what awaits on the 10th floor is worth it. The condo door opens to a view stretching from Carter Mountain to the Blue Ridge— a full 180-degree panorama from the main living area through double-hung windows. (If this building were designed today, the walls would be windows, and the space would be extended by a wrap-around balcony.)

By New York City standards, it's roomy. With a tiny galley kitchen, bedroom, full bath, and spacious living/dining area, there's 557 square feet of space. With the exception of the bath, every room offers views of the mountains, and a mirrored wall separating the bedroom from the living room provides the illusion of a second vista.

The bedroom doorway obstructs the best location for a sofa facing the window, but the door can be easily moved. By opening the wall separating the kitchen from the dining area, one could maximize space and efficiency, and installing a bar with under-counter appliances would alleviate the need for a refrigerator, which now sits awkwardly in the dining area.

The bedroom is a roomy enough for built-in storage or an armoire, and the bathroom’s white subway tile and marble-top vanity are original. Shared laundry facilities are available just outside the door. Several condos on this floor have been combined to make larger units, so residents share the floor with only two neighbors.

This condo, as one might have said in 1926, is “the cat’s meow,” whether as a weekend pied-a-terre or as a business condo with the added perk of a tax write-off. The only guaranteed parking is rental space in a nearby garage, and a bit of work might be needed to add some modern pizzazz, but buyers who want the zenith of the downtown skyline will feel right at home.
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