Preservation over destruction in College Hill

by Allison Stalberg

Five years ago, one of Greensboro’s historical homes on College Hill burned. The fire originated on the second floor, damaging the interior and roof, leaving the house to the mercy of the elements.

While no one got hurt in the incident, the home’s history and future were in peril.

Built in 1907, the house at 919 Spring Garden St. had over a hundred years of history. Starting as a single family home, evidence of what the original interior looked like was lost when the house became apartments in its later life.

As difficult as preserving the house seemed, the preservation community in Greensboro came together and made the impossible possible. A fundraiser and tour was held on Sunday in a preserved and intact home at 919 Spring Garden St.

A ton of work and collaboration with many organizations went into this architectural project. Preservation Greensboro’s Executive Director Benjamin Briggs was one of the people working to get the house preserved instead of torn down. He and many others feared this historical site could turn into an empty lot or paved for parking.

“We fight really hard so that history and preservation have a voice or else they’ll be swept away,” said Briggs.

The work was tough for everyone in the beginning. “It was creepy horrible,” said Briggs. When he saw the house before any construction, he found dead rats, water damage from rain, and a ton of smoke damage.

A408Studio Inc.’s Owners, Steve Johnson, Vice-President; and Janet Mazzurco, President, are the Architect and Interior Designer of Record for 919 Spring Garden Street preservation project. The City of Greensboro’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) worked closely with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHIPO) and the home’s Owners, Rick and Susan Stone, to apply for the 2014 non-income producing historic tax credits. Johnson and Mazzurco, along with Preservation Greensboro Inc., helped facilitate the application process with the City of Greensboro and SHIPO. A408Studio was also the permitted General Contractor of record tasked with the selective demolition, structural stabilization, preservation, and restoration of the home prior to the Stones completing the remaining non-historic interior finishes.

“We’ve both always loved old houses but I have to admit when I saw that one in the original state we saw it in, I was taken aback a little bit,” said Susan Stone, who bought the home with Richard Stone. “But once we got in and started to work on it, it really started to get exciting.”

Rick and Susan Stone saved this historic home.

The Stones had been in the market for an old home.

When they saw what 919 Spring Garden’s home could offer, they made the choice to buy.

“The thought of being in walking distance to everything in College Hill and walking downtown was a huge thrill for us,” said Susan. “This is going to be so nice to walk over to the campus and hear a lecture and go to Weatherspoon to see an exhibit; it’s one block away.”

Richard, who had fixed up homes in the past, found the historical aspects of the house to be the most difficult part in rebuilding.

“We were trying to comply with historical standards, so things that you might normally go to Lowes to buy or a certain kind of molding or something, you couldn’t do that,” said Richard.

“A lot of the moldings and wood things you put on a house, like the siding has to be specially cut so you have to find a place that will specially cut your wood to match the existing wood on the house. Those columns in the front of the house, they’re virtually irreplaceable as far as trying to find the exact same designs. You have to do everything you can to save them.”

When asked what their favorite aspect of the house was, both Susan and Richard shared their love of the grand porch that surrounds the house.

“It’s got a huge front porch and I’m so excited about that,” said Susan. “I just love the hardwood floors and the high ceilings, just those features of old houses. I love that feeling. It’s more than a contemporary house. To me, there’s a warmth that you get in an old house.”

A fellow neighbor, Leslie Millsaps, had a similar love for the old homes of College Hill and a similar story. Like the Stones, she and her husband had to fix up their old house. They enjoyed the process and found it rewarding enough to start their own remodeling company, “DLM builders.”

“Old houses have wonderful character,” said Millsaps.

“It’s an investment in terms of space and I love the architectural details.”

With around 50 people at the fundraiser exploring the house, the building managed to still feel large with around nine rooms, four bathrooms, four closets, and three fireplaces. Many of the visitors admired the windows that kept their old wavy glass and diamondpointed sash pattern.

After a long life of more than a hundred years, the only original pieces from 1907 still in the house are a door and fireplace mantle. In the remodeling process, the door was moved to be near the mantle in the master bedroom so the oldest pieces could be near each other.

Susan was thankful to all who contributed to the success of the home such as Briggs from Preservation Greensboro, the College Hill neighborhood, Mike Cowhig from the planning department, Dave Collins the contractor, and Minister Jason Harvey.

When asked why he thought preservation was important, Richard said, “A society that doesn’t preserve its past, loses its past I suppose. It’s important for a community to maintain some sense of history.” !