Wendy and I spend plenty of time walking Lulu around our neighborhood in Old Town Alexandria, and we often find ourselves dreaming about what could be if we were ever able to afford one of those grand historic homes we've mentioned so often. We also tend to spend a lot of time on the blog talking about these very same majestic homes. Like this one.

You can't blame us for dreaming,can you? However, what we don't do very often is talk about ...ahem...the not so nice houses around town.

If you don't know our area, you have to understand, there are not a lot of "bad" houses to be seen, especially in the heart of the oldest parts of Old Town. This is even more true now than when we bought our house nine years ago. However there are still a few examples of "unrestored" homes and we often ogle with a sort of fascinated confusion at those homes as much as we do the grand examples of historic renovation. It's hard to imagine how these few places have, through various ways, avoided the renovation angels.

But if we were forced to pick the one home in all of Old Town's historic district that represents the "worst house" in the neighborhood, I think we could make that decision without hesitation. Wendy and I would both say at the exact same time "The Rastafarian House!" Jinx!

The aptly nicknamed structure gained it's monicker several years ago when the owners decided to slap a coat of paint on the splitting, somewhat rotted, and badly peeling siding and trim. I believe the color selection may have come during a late night session of Bob Marley listening. Green siding, yellow trim, and an orangish red door (sadly, we never got a picture of the door) worked together to stunningly create a pot head's dream color scheme.

The house was in a sadly tattered state. Missing shutters, peeling paint, water damage, splitting clapboards -- it's just sad. I didn't mention the paint they chose was all below builder's grade flat interior paint that quickly stained, faded from the weather, and began peeling off within three years of the last "fresh" paint job.

I think the anonymous arm and thumb on the left of the photo says it all. This small house sits on the north east corner of Duke St. and Royal St., and (to put it very kindly) it's seen better days.

Ownership of the home last changed in 1992 when the current owner purchased it and apparently never really lived in it. We first noticed this house and its mate shortly after moving to the area in 2000 as the small houses that look a little beat up. It's a small place that really looks like it hasn't been lived in for a while, but I have to believe it hasn't always been quite so bad. Over the years, due to vacancy and poor maintenance on failing paint and structure, this home has really started to suffer the effects of owner neglect.

The house, and it's mirror twin next door, were built in the late early 1800s by a man named Thomas Davy, a local 19th century grocer. Just about three rooms deep with two floors and an attic, they are each only about 1,200 square feet with a large amount of the home's livable space taken up by the huge fireplaces and chimneys. 

The back yard of the house in question is small and completely overgrown. There's a cool wood fence that borders the sidewalk, which has sections that are falling over, rotten and near the end of their life. The entire house is doing sort of a gangster lean away from the street, perhaps knowing that if it needs to suddenly collapse, it should do so away from pedestrians. This is just my exterior assessment of a structure that Wendy and I are both completely fascinated by. Sadly, we've never been inside (and the windows are covered in black trash bags to prevent peepers like us), but I'm not so sure Wendy would trust an interior inspection, no matter how much she wanted to take a look around.

Even more bizarre is the juxtaposition of this house with the surrounding homes. Just look at some of the neighboring houses. Each home is just stunning, well maintained, and quite nice. This is definitely a case of "one of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn't belong." (You can sing along if you'd like.)

The house next door to the Rastafarian House sold a few years ago and received a nice little face lift and is looking pretty good, but even if you're looking good and wearing a nice suit, your Siamese twin sitting in his underwear, 50lbs overweight, un-showered and guzzling beer tends to detract. I guess you just need to try to ignore him and hope he cleans up his act at some point.

One evening back in 2010, we saw a notice taped to the front door notifying the property owner of pending legal action for failing to take care of the house. To our amusement, a passerby scribbled a note on the notice letting them know "Dude, NO ONE lives here!" Thanks for that.

This past summer while out walking Lulu, we stumbled on something that we didn't expect to see. The faded little green house had been shrouded in scaffolding and house sized tarps. Was it possible that what was once a neighborhood eyesore was finally getting a long overdue overhaul? Had the house gods finally granted a miracle on this seemingly forgotten home?

Wendy and I patiently waited, walking by every few days to see if any progress had been made. After a very long wait, the tarps and wrap were all removed from the house and we finally got our glimpse at the big reveal.

Nothin?!?! We waited all that time for a coat of bad paint and a changed trim color? Now it's not even the Rastafarian House, it's just the crappy looking white house. Boo.

They took their time on the paint job, and after a delay eventually painted the back of the house. But honestly, deep down inside, we're a little happy this house didn't just become an overnight flip "success." Even though it's still in pretty rough shape, there's still hope that it will eventually be cared for and brought back to what it once was and still could be.

Sure it looks better with a coat of white paint on it, but how long will that last? Someone needs to rescue it, but first the current owner needs to put it on the market. If you had a renovation budget of roughly $100,000-$200,000, it would be the perfect small home on one of the best blocks in all of Alexandria for (what I assume would be) a good price for the area. Hopefully the structure of the house isn't too far gone by the time it actually gets put on the market. I just wonder what the floor looks like. If anyone reading this can hook us up with a tour, we'd LOVE to go.

Sorry to go a bit negative in this post, just trying to keep it real. After all, life's not all rainbows and bubblegum, even in the heart of Old Town Alexandria. :-)

What do you think -- rough shape, too far gone, or can it be salvaged? And how does it compare to the worst houses in your neighborhood? C'mon, we know not all houses can be picturesque. Let us know what "that" house looks like on your block.

Comments 19


2/3/2012 at 10:31 AM
Gosh I would love to get in there too. I remember seeing someone clearing the back yard this past summer and thought "oh! finally!" Please keep us posted if it goes on the market!!
We'll let you know if we hear anything!
2/3/2012 at 11:59 AM
Wow, how sad. I would love to be able to restore a house like that. According to public records the city did the clean up and paint job. Hopefully the house is not too far gone to be saved.
I had no idea the city was behind the clean up and paint job. Good to know they're keeping an eye on places that aren't being properly cared for! And let's all hope it can still be saved!
2/3/2012 at 1:03 PM
That is sad. I have never been able to understand people who don't care for their homes. Also, all that history will eventually be lost if the house isn't preserved... things only last so long if they aren't properly taken care of. :(
I know. The way we look at it is if you're an owner of a historic property, you have a responsibility to preserve, if not improve, a piece of our nation's history. And if you're not in a position physically, mentally or financially to keep up with the maintenance, then you should do the right thing and let someone who can take over. (Wow, soap box moment. Sorry about that.)
2/3/2012 at 1:10 PM
Unfortunately, Baltimore is full of these. There are rowhouses that date from about the 1820s through the turn of the 20th Century scattered all over the city in various stages of neglect or victims of horrible remuddling in neighborhoods that range from mostly restored to third world quality. Many of them can be saved, but I'm afraid most of them will not be. At least this one has a lot going for it - it's in a good neighborhood in one of the most prime real estate markets in the East, so it's not so much of a question of if as it is when.

On our street, it's the house across the street from us. It's a nice 5 bedroom 1920 brick foursquare with a sunporch and two upstairs balconies that has a ton of potential. It's been in foreclosure for about a year and a half now and Bank of America will not sell it. There have been at least eight people (families, not investors) interested in it and none have been successful in getting the bank to budge. I have no idea what they are waiting for, as the house continues to deteriorate with no one in it. There's also another BofA foreclosure a couple of streets over with the same story. They're really starting to tick the entire neighborhood off.
Oh no, so sorry to hear. And it sure sounds like the house across the street could be amazing if the right people are given the chance. Fingers crossed for you and your neighbors!
2/3/2012 at 1:23 PM
Snowed in today (Denver)... Off topic-Do you still have the contact info for the Mr Yoder who can replicate wood windows and doors? I just discovered your blog and really enjoy reading about your restoration projects. I love old houses and am currently living in a 1908 house that I am slowly restoring. I moved to Denver from Alexandria (Old Town and Del Ray) in 1995, and often think about returning, but with the price of Old Town real estate, the only house I could afford would probably be this house :)
Hi Cate,

We're so glad you found out blog and welcome! I'll have to check with Alex to see if he still has Yoder's contact info.

Your house sounds amazing and Denver is such a great city!
Cate, we found Mr. Yoder's contact info. Actually, Bill from www.enonhall.com found his contact info. I sent him an email and he dug through his old construction records and was able to find it. The Internet's a small world I tell ya!

Raymond H. Yoder
9443 N. Ryceville Road
Mechanicsville, Maryland 20659

At least several years ago Mr. Yoder would periodically go to a pay phone to receive calls. It is probably best to first send him a letter and then you can work out details from there. If it turns out good for you, be sure to let us know. I do think you'd need to make at least one trip out this way to meet with him, and I have no idea how his prices stack up against other places.
2/5/2012 at 6:47 AM
Petersburg, VA, where I live, is a microcosm of Baltimore as described by Tom and Jada (love their blog BTW). It's an almost 400 year old small city with a lot of poverty and is almost entirely comprised of old houses and buildings from the late 17th century to the mid-20th century -- almost nothing built after that. There are fantastic old homes all over, many deteriorating and most of those won't be saved. While real estate was selling well here before the crash, there's never been enough old house lovers with deep pockets to rescue all of the gems here.

In my neighborhood of mostly 1920s houses, the one I watch with longing -- and dread -- is a charming brick Tudor on a 1.5 acre corner lot with what must have once been a magnificent garden. It's been broken into by squatters and, being nosy, I've looked around inside. The layout is functionally obsolescent but there's a ton of possibilities. Many, many people over the years have tried to buy it but apparently the Richmond-area owner won't budge. He also does no upkeep and is billed by the city when, out of desperation, they cut the grass and clean up fallen trees on the property. The surrounding neighborhood is really nice; next door is a 4000 s.f. beauty on 2 acres that would cost at least $2-3M where you live.
Ugghh. Hearing that makes my heart hurt. I absolutely love tudors -- they're probably my favorite style house much to Alex's dismay. (He's more of a 1700s kind of guy if he had his way.) What I wouldn't do to bring that beauty back to its former glory. And how frustrating it must be to see that the owner won't sell, and won't do anything to preserve it!
2/5/2012 at 2:45 PM
There is a lot of interesting information about this house and the City's dealings with it on the City's website, e.g. - dockets.alexandriava.gov/fy11/062511ph/di22.pdf
Wow, that was one heck of an interesting read. Thanks for sharing Kim! I can't believe this has been going on since 1998.
2/6/2012 at 9:59 AM
The little bungalows in my neighborhood range from fantastic preservation/restorations down to 'trees growing on the roof' disasters.

I just cringe whenever I drive by the later - it's just a block from my house and I so want get a ladder up there and clean out those gutters!!!
I know exactly what you mean. There's a rental property near our house that calls out to me to weed its garden every time I walk by. One of these days I'm going to have to do it!
2/9/2012 at 11:34 AM
I was always curious about that house every time I wandered by.. now I know.
8/21/2012 at 4:42 PM
Ok folks, I am one of those community activists who gets things done for others. I don't live anywhere near you in Alexandria, but I share your sentiments. MY BFF wanted to buy a nice house in Houston, made an offer, but it was stuck in never-never land because the original foreclosure bank had never actually filed as a foreclosure and would continually repackage it and send it along with $2 billions packages of loans to a third party, where it would get rejected and sent back. It broke my heart to see her so frustrated and longing to buy this house, which had been forclosed ona dn empty for over 10 years, so one night I woke up very early in the dark with the solution. I googled the name of the institution, now bankrupt itself, and the prime mover of subprime mortgages in the heart of the scandals, and found the name of it's president in California. I waited until they were open, called and asked to speak with him. Of course I got the local branch and someone said they had never heard of him. Aghast, I repeated his name with incredulity and said you have never heard of _____??? Well, dear, he is the president of your company. Is this the California office? NO? Well then, you need to send this up the corporate ladder until it reaches his hands. Finally I got a call back from his executive assistant, where I informed him of the issue, that they had a willing and well qualified buyer, the paperwork was incomplete and the closing agent at the title company needed this paper signed stating that this company had the authority to sell this property. The pool was full of mosquitos, snakes, frogs and fish, and I was sure the HOA was on the verge of suing to have it drained because of the West Nile Virus recently discovered in the area. There would be hefty fees to pay the HOA, as they were very strong in Texas!! I pushed the urgency of the issue, and the danger of the contaminants (choose your local legal issue and insert here), and emphasized that the solution was in hand but for the paperwork snafus. Within hours she had a closing date, purchased and rehabbed the home where she lived for a few years, until she relized the grandkids were not coming to visit that often and it was too much house for her and her never-home husband. She has it on the market after renting it for a good sum for a few years to weather the downturn in the economy. The moral is, find the right owners, make a concerted effort to buy or have another buyer take over the property, and emphasize the legal problems they will have to deal with if they don't sell this forclosure, and make it happen. I would drop Obama's name a few times if any of you know one of his aids, or find one of the names of a govrnment department head that oversees these forclosures. Does anyone on here want to buy this little gem? Make it happen, or contact me on FB if you need some help.
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