Historic College Street home saved from ruin to become office suites

College Street home built in 1900 to become offices

lfabian@macon.comNovember 11, 2012 

When it comes to real estate, Wendy Cassidy can look beyond rotting wood, rickety staircases and chipping paint.

“I just love old houses. They’re beautiful,” Cassidy said on a tour of her most recent acquisition at the corner of College Street and Hardeman Avenue. “I just love being around them.”

In recent weeks, Cassidy has spent plenty of hours around, under, inside, outside, up and over the house at 501 College St. Her contractors are renovating 5,000 square feet on the first two floors into 14 offices. She’s calling it Washington Commons.

It’s the same concept as Stanislaus Commons, the executive suites Cassidy commissioned two years ago. In that case, she rescued an 1879 house on the corner of Vineville and Pierce avenues.

Cassidy had no problem renting offices there and only recently had her first vacancy.

The economic climate was ripe for another project, she thought, and she set her sights on her latest restoration project -- a treasure in trouble that she found in foreclosure.

The stately, two-story, brick home near the main post office and across from the Washington Library was built in 1900. An overgrown magnolia tree and front bushes had, until recently, long obscured the facade with its Corinthian-columned front porch and balconies with views in all directions

Cassidy has learned former chief deputy clerk of the federal court, Cecil Morgan, built the house on the lot catty-cornered from Washington Park.

“It was obvious to me the person who built this house had a lot of money,” Cassidy said.

Enamel-glazed brick fireplaces are in nearly every room. Colors range from variegated greens in the left downstairs parlor to tortoise-shell shades in the right parlor and fading hues of light blue, gray and taupe in upstairs bedrooms.

A couple of stained glass windows catch the light coming in on both sides of the house. Delicately ornate, arched cabinets surround the fireplace in what might have originally been the dining room. Intricate moldings line paneled walls, and carved spindles flank the front staircase.

An unusual painted, wooden partition curves around the side of the first flight of steps. A window near the top of the patterned paneling allows people to peek out to the foyer while standing on the first landing.

“It looks like a ‘Juliette’ balcony,” said Cassidy, thinking of Shakespeare’s heroine looking down on Romeo.

The purpose of the architectural anomaly remains a mystery, unless it allowed upstairs residents to see who was calling below. Cassidy’s work crews earlier removed a ceiling and door that closed off the second floor at that landing.

The house had been divided into apartments, including living spaces in the basement and large attic.

Cassidy already has a tenant for that top floor: her son Jimmy, who will be joining his father’s dental practice a few blocks down at 148 College St.

“He is the very type of professional that College Hill Corridor is trying to attract,” Cassidy said.

After graduating in May, the young dentist likely will ride his bike or walk the few blocks to work.

He was just a toddler when his mother took on her first renovation project next door to his father’s office in the 100 block of College Street.

Her 2010 Stanislaus Commons project won a rehabilitation/reuse award from the Historic Macon Foundation.

She’s not interesting in flipping houses, but she renovates them for rental income.

“I’m from Savannah, and I just can’t stand to see them fall into disrepair,” she said. “I just hate it because once they’re lost, they’re lost.”

This one nearly fell victim to the type of deferred maintenance that can be common when folks are struggling to stay afloat.

Water damage ate away at the wood around windows. A rounded turret that stretches up to a curved attic balcony on the Hardeman side of the house will also need major repair.

While leading a tour of the house, she gingerly bypassed one of the loose steps on the back staircase.

Cassidy’s husband used to sometimes ask her, “What were you thinking?” But he has learned to trust her, she said.

The success of her Vineville property made the $275,000 investment into this house feasible. She is fascinated by the hand-crafted construction of the turn of the 20th century and would love to learn more about the history of the house.

She’s heard it was once used as a temporary location for Hart’s Funeral Home and may have been an infirmary for neighboring Wesleyan College before the college burned.

“If only the walls could talk,” she said.

Upstairs, they do.

Graffiti is painted in some rooms as clues to its final days as residential apartments.

“A single-family couldn’t afford this house, so to have it have a second life as an office is probably as good as it gets,” Cassidy said.

She’s hoping to find tenants who have discovered that working at home to save money has its drawbacks -- barking dogs, family interruptions and no suitable place to entertain clients.

Business renters will share parking plus reception, conference and break rooms.

“They write one check a month and it’s all utilities, the janitor and landscaping,” she said.

Painting is under way outside, and then the contractors will begin the inside finish work.

The building is expected to be ready by early 2013.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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