One of the true lessons of old home ownership was the realization that few people really know what lies beneath when opening up floors, walls, or ceilings. You're equally as likely to find solid "bones" of a house as you are to fine the patchwork of projects gone bad. Those that are truly lucky find treasures or cash. But everyone finds a little piece of history that's been hidden away for decades or centuries. It's typically not glamorous, but in a way, it can be poetic or inspiring.

While we're in the midst of reminiscing about our siding project undertaking from a few years ago, I wanted to share something with you that I stumbled on this week in Old Town that I think is pretty cool.

Over the weekend Wendy and I decided to order a pizza for dinner and headed over to the newly opened store in north west Old Town to pick it up. While over in that neck of the Old Town woods I stumbled on an in progress renovation project that I felt I just had to share with all of you. But before I get into it, let me give you a little background on the area.

The part of Old Town I'm referring to is actually not the "Old & Historic Alexandria," but rather the "Parker-Gray" Historic District. Parker-Gray is a separate and recognized historic district that actually sits nestled up right along side the Historic Old Town section of town. While Parker-Gray doesn't have buildings that are quite as old as those in the oldest parts of Old Town, there are still a good number of 19th century buildings, and quite a few early 20th century places as well. In the years since we moved to Old Town we've seen the streets of Parker-Gray slowly transform, one renovation after another, and spring to life.

I still remember one home on North Alfred Street that was covered in asphalt fake brick shingles and had two cast iron cats affixed to the front of the house, looking like they were scaling the wall. Those cats are long gone now, the house fully renovated with wood siding, and I really regret not getting a photo of those cats before they were removed and the building before it was renovated. I was able to find this old photo of the group of houses where the cat house was. If you have any photos of these homes, please let me know, as I'd love to see them.

Anyhow, back to my original topic.

While picking up our pizza I came across a building in the midst of an absolutely major renovation. It was so major I actually had to do a double take to see exactly what it was I was looking at. The building in question is on the corner of Pendleton and North Patrick Streets right in the heart of the Parker-Gray Historic District. I've passed this building quite a few times and always thought it looked rather strange and out of place. Since I don't have a photo of the original building, I had to go grab a few from Google Street View.

As you can see, it's not covered in FormStone as that is far more of a fake looking concrete stone, but it's actually covered in flat and irregular stones with some sort of a concrete grouting between them.

I think this was the only building in the Old Town area that was completely covered in stone, and I always wondered what it looked like in a previous life. 

As you can see in the street view photo, the building was on the market and I believe someone bought it and launched a massive renovation. When we passed the structure this weekend (I'm calling it a structure now, because it's not really a building or home at this point) we got answers to the questions of what this place may have once looked like and what is under that horrible stone?

Can you believe that's the same place? Crazy!

The stone's been removed, as well as any other underlayment, and the original clapboards have been revealed. 

The detail above the front window is clearly visible and, with a little imagination, you might be able to picture what the front used to look like.

Obviously this structure is in some pretty tough shape. The siding probably hasn't seen the light of day in 60 or more years. There's no insulation to speak of, the place is heavily listing to one side, and there are portions where you could waltz right through the wall and into the place.

I'm very interested to watch how this comes together. I'm not deluded into thinking they will undertake a massive restoration of the building, no matter how much I think it's appropriate, but being in an historic district should at least require they make it look mostly correct.

This is just another example of old building renovations where you really have no idea of what lies beneath the facade until after you start to remove it, piece by piece. I'm just very happy we happened to pass it when we did, otherwise we might have missed this midway point, which I think is almost as cool as the finished project may be.

Are there any homes or projects in your neck of the woods that are undergoing a massive rehab? Were you surprised to get a glimpse into what they may have looked like back in the day? We'd love to hear if we're not the only old house snoopers lurking around corners with our smartphones.

Comments 16


Jesika Davis
7/25/2013 at 10:07 AM
Where were you getting pizza??? Can't wait to see where this place goes in the next year. I wonder if it will be a home or commercial building?
I'm going to guess commercial, just because of the location on Rt. 1.

We were just picking it up from Dominos. We had a coupon for a free medium pizza and there's a pretty new location at 500 Henry St. Far from an exotic pizza locale.
7/25/2013 at 10:28 AM
Ah! Starbucks block. I had no idea there was a pretty new D's there! We'll have to check it out.

I hope they bring it to it's original design. So much possiblity!

Also, forgot to link my little blog:
7/25/2013 at 11:33 AM
So many homes in Toronto were covered in that horrible "stone" in the 70's/80's. There's a Storefront not too far from us covered in it. It's so bad that gives me anxiety just looking at it. Here it is on Google Street View. . Shudder. I wish I could find some old photos of it, but the closest I could find is farther up the block in 1929 (the Storefront would be on the right side about half way down)
Kristen, I think your photo is actually worse than the Old Town one. Ugh, so horrible. But your second photo is amazing! Oh how I wish Old Town still had their street cars. I'd love to hear the rumbling of the wheels and clang of the bells. That's true character.
7/25/2013 at 11:48 AM
I pass that building every day on my way to work. I didn't pay much attention until it was totally stripped down and I couldn't remember what it looked like before. I'm curious to see what they do with it!
David Rodgers
7/25/2013 at 1:56 PM
I am so glad someone is putting time and attention into that place. I have always thought it to be one of the ugliest buildings in Alexandria. The stone facade looked like someone stole a bunch of stone pavers from peoples' yards and plastered them onto the building. Not to mention the changes to the window size and other features that led to mismatching patches all over. I remember the real estate listing because it was fairly unique. The brick building behind this one is actually attached and the property was being sold as both commercial and residential.

While much of this area is still redeveloping and rebuilding, its easy to see that there will be many more projects like this one, taking old, dilapidated buildings and refubing them into desirable residences or commercial properties.
I often kick myself for not walking around old town 10 years ago and taking photos of everything I could. I knew it was all going to change so much, and I feel like I missed out on the collection of those images. It's amazing how far it's come, but there is still a whole lot left.
7/25/2013 at 3:31 PM
Wow. Someone bought a big project.
Indeed. I'll be keeping my eyes on this one for sure.
7/25/2013 at 6:32 PM
I know the building well, since we bought our first house in Old Town just a few blocks away in 1978.

The "remuddling" of the building had been done long before that date as the structure was already in poor condition in when we moved closeby. Until recently, a popular neighborhood barbershop operated out of it, notable for an old fashioned barber pole, which was stolen several years ago.
Perhaps the stone actually kept it from falling into worse shape. I can't believe there's actually that much siding left on the house, but it's not in bad shape overall. I actually remember that barber pole, but would not have thought of it if you hadn't mentioned it.
7/26/2013 at 8:12 AM
I'm with you ... I think the gorey photos of a stripped down structure in the throes of its 'during' phase are fascinating! It's hard to appreciate the After if one doesn't have some Before and During to compare.
Case in point, your barn photos. Ever since I read all about your barn at some point a while ago, I've wanted a barn for myself. True story.
7/27/2013 at 6:36 PM
HOLY COW. That's both amazing, and frightening (on someone's wallet). Someone like me could easily redo the siding repairs and recreate the window trim, but even *I* would be overwhelmed, and couldn't do it all. I'd have to buy custom wood windows, doors, etc, and it would be pretty expensive even if I did all the labour myself. I do understand that the real estate prices in Old Town are pretty "insane" compared to here, though, so hopefully someone got a good deal on the building had has enough cash to finish the job.

It really has beautiful bones. Nice tall windows, matched "bay" type window projections, and a great cornice.

I'll actually be posting about a home going through a less drastic (but much needed) renovation.
No matter how much the place is worth, you're right, it's going to be an expensive effort to get it back into shape. If I were working on it I'd probably end up taking 20 years to get it all into shape, and it would surely cause a whole lot of heartburn along the way. I took a look at your post and that place is awesome!
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