Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Tour of Vick Commons

A few preservation enthusiasts got a preview tour of the newly-renovated Vick Commons on Fisher Avenue last week. Dawn Cheney, the owner, has done a remarkable job of renovation and restoration.

She took a great deal of trouble to restore original features like wall sconces, chandeliers, and the original mailboxes to a nearly pristine shine and glow. She also preserved the original wooden, double-hung windows, which are usually the first casualty in jobs like these. Window-replacement companies often say they can't be fixed, but Dawn's restored windows work beautifully and look great.

All the units have completely modern kitchens and appliances, brand-new tile baths and showers, and the original walls, floors, and trim work are all like new. Each unit has a little Florida room, and there's a slate public patio in front. She plans to sell the individual units as condominiums. If I didn't have 3 kids and 2 dogs (let's not even count the cats), I'd love to live here.

But some of the people in my tour group seemed pessimistic about whether Greensboro's development, business, and financial community "get" this sort of thing. I heard it expressed (not for the first time) that a lot of them would like to tear down every old building in downtown Greensboro and put up a few more Wachovia towers.

We'll see. Nothing succeeds like success, and if Vick Commons is as successful as I think it will be, maybe the smell of money will change a few minds. I hope Dawn will make a ton of cash on this project.

And if we could get all those preservation skeptics to watch that episode of the Antiques Road Show in which an 18th-century Japanned chest brings in $1.8 million simply because it is in decent, original condition, maybe we'd begin to make the point that historic authenticity has tremendous economic value.

And that's true not only for individual properties, but for cities, too. That's why it just makes me shake my head in embarrassment when our mayor says in a public hearing, "I have my doubts about the whole idea of historic districts."


Joe Killian said...

I'm with you on the historic districts. Shows where our values are right now that he has the balls to say it aloud, in public, I suppose.

Lex said...

I drive by this building daily on my way home, and what the owners are doing is so cool. If I didn't have kids, I'd think seriously about living there. I grew up in a new, perfectly nice and absolutely soulless neighborhood, but I've spent most of the time since age 20 in older places (not now -- space AND history is an expensive combination). I luv 'em, nonexistent closets and all.

Rob Ainbinder said...

Yep, there is value in those old buildings...intrinsic as well as economic.

There is something innately more "home-like" in a structure that's 75 years old versus one that is 7.5 months old.

This kind of project is also pretty easy on the environment. In these situations, the mature landscape often stays put, leaving the trees to help with cooling in the summer. It less resource intensive as well. A lot less new building material is used. This leaves a few more raw resources in the ground.

I'm not minimizing the realities of asbestos, lead pipes, faulty foundations, out of date electrical, mechanical systems and lead paint either but, these can be handled with an even hand.

Too bad all the good, reasonably priced ones are taken. I'm sure the wife would take issue with the closets. Ah well,maybe in the next life.;)

Joe Killian said...

Oh, the closet thing is a pain in the ass. My girlfriend and I nearly moved into a place near UNCG built in the 1920s - and there was exactly one closet, a little smaller than the one in my freshman year dorm at UNCG - in the entire house.

We ended up passing largely for that reason.

Have never ended up living in a place like that - but I would imagine that there's plenty to balance out invonveniences like that.

David Wharton said...

Actually, these units have pretty good closet space. Not like you'll find in a 2005 house, but not bad. Certainly better than in my house!

Joe Killian said...

THAT has to be the Holy Grail, in terms of house-hunting.

Anonymous said...

It isn't hard to improvise closet space with freestanding units. If you own the place, throw up a frame and put some dry wall on it. The question is whether you are willing to give up the square footage.

Anonymous said...

Greensboro seems to wish to be a city without a past. The town was founded in 1808, yet so little of our 19th century past remains. For most of the 20th century, developers viewed it as a sandbox to be reshaped with little appreciation of what came before. Current example: the razing of Greensboro's most architecturally significant 20th-century building, the Burlington Industries headquarters, and the rape of the landscape. Then think of the architectural character found throughout Asheville, Fayetteville, New Bern and other Tar Heel towns. Greensboro = white bread.

Anonymous said...

What are units going for? How many units are there?

Anonymous said...

I have mixed feelings about historic districts. I do love restorations and appreciate the value of history in many areas. I always bristle when I pass by the stone Masonic building because it is the sight of WS Porter's home. Nevertheless, buildings and homes are quite different than other antiquities. It seems rather silly and in some cases un-american to control colors, interior renovations and other changes a homeowner may deem neccessary. There is no historical relevance. People make history.
I see relevance in communities like Old Salem. However, Fisher Park or College Hill add little to history by being designated historic neighborhoods. 100 years from now it still mean little.

David Wharton said...

There are six units in Vick Commons. The prices are yet to be determined, but I don't think they'll be cheap, nor, given the quality of work that went into them, should they be.

Chip, the Greensboro Historic District Design Guidelines do not regulate colors or interior renovations.

Every great architectural city -- Florence, Amsterdam, Paris, New York, Chicago -- has retained, preserved, and reused a good portion of its traditional architecture.

Though an individual canal house in Amsterdam may not be of tremendous historic significance, the fact that so many are still in use gives Amsterdam a good part of its distinct character.

College Hill and Fisher Park do the same for Greensboro, which would be a much poorer place without them. You might be interested in reading this post.

Anonymous said...

A applaud Dawn Cheney's work at this site. I can only hope that she puts some of her profits back into her other properties. One of her houses on Tate Street could sure use the help. A great, beautiful house with lots of potential, but Cheney is allowing the architectural details to rot with the overall disrepair.

Anonymous said... there any information on cost for these units?
Is there a website?

David Wharton said...

I don't know whether there's a website. But there's a phone number. If you drive by it on Fisher Ave., you'll see it on the sign that Dawn has put on the side of the building.

Anonymous said...

I saw it. It's not all that. Just a rehab. The fixture are AW-FUL! And the there's no sound barriers between floors.