The N.C. Association of Realtors will use the upstairs of the old Heck-Andrews mansion on North Blount Street for its Raleigh office, but plans to make the ground floor available for public events.
The association expects to spend anywhere from $1.3 million to $2 million on renovations, in addition to the $1.5 million it will pay the state to buy the 146-year-old Second Empire-style house with the distinctive four-story tower.
Preservationists hope a similar fate awaits four more old houses the state recently put on the market on the next block. The state began acquiring houses along North Blount Street in the 1970s as part of an ill-fated plan to build parking lots for the nearby State Government Complex, and many have remained empty for years.
“I think everyone in the preservation community is thrilled to see movement,” said Martha Hobbs Lauer, executive director of the Raleigh Historic Development Commission. “The worst thing for a historic building is to sit empty. To see them renovated, restored and brought back to life is just a wonderful thing.”
The state will need to find more buyers like the Realtors association – with the money and the motivation and patience to restore long-neglected historic homes. While the state spent more than $1.2 million making the exterior of the Heck-Andrews House look like new, the interior hasn’t been touched in 30 years. Large chunks of plaster from the ceilings and walls have fallen, and the kitchen floor has partially collapsed.
CEO Andrea Bushnell said the association began looking at the state’s Blount Street houses when it decided to buy a property for its eight-person Raleigh office (the organization’s headquarters will remain in Greensboro). The Heck-Andrews House stood out.
“This was the one that you just sort of went ‘Wow, this is an amazing opportunity,’” Bushnell said. “It’s an amazing house; it has this amazing history. We felt for our purposes it was the right statement to make as a Realtor organization.”
The association will probably lease some of the upstairs space to another tenant, while the ground floor – with its large rooms and grand staircase flanked with columns – will become public space for events and small wedding receptions.
“To make it open and available to the public – we feel like that’s a duty we owe to the house and the state,” Bushnell said.
The Heck-Andrews House was built at a time when North Blount Street was Raleigh’s most fashionable, lined with homes of some of the city’s most prominent families. By the time the state hatched its plans to turn the area into parking lots, many of the grand old homes had been turned into rooming houses or divided into apartments.
The sale of Heck-Andrews, approved earlier this month, is part of a renewed effort by the state to sell off the property it acquired in what is now the Blount Street Historic District. Starting in 2007, the state sold two blocks of houses and parking lots to developer LNR Property for Blount Street Commons, a plan to eventually restore or redevelop much of the state’s property in the historic district, including Heck-Andrews.
But the recession intervened, and LNR’s work is limited to the initial two blocks. Rather than selling the remaining properties to a single developer, the state is putting them on the market individually. Last year, it sold six houses along Person Street, including a pair that had been moved there as part of the Blount Street Commons project.
Now the state has put for sale signs in front of four houses on North Blount Street a block north of Heck-Andrews. Two of the homes – the Andrews-Duncan House and the Higgs-Coble-Helms House, both completed in the 1870s – are Raleigh Historic Landmarks.
One of the houses is the newest on North Blount Street, the McGee House, a brick Tudor-revival home built between the two historic Victorians after in the late 1940s. Blue tarps now cover much of the McGee House where the roof has collapsed, and last year the state made plans to demolish it.
Lauer of the city Historic Development Commission said she’s happy state officials have changed their minds about the house.
“It’s important as a representation of the variety that’s along the street,” she said. “We sincerely hope that it’s restored.”
The condition of the McGee House shows the neglect that the historic properties have experienced under state ownership, says J. Myrick Howard, president of the statewide advocacy group Preservation North Carolina. He says the restoration of the homes by private owners will turn a dark, neglected neighborhood into a showplace for the city.
“I am absolutely delighted to see these properties going back on the market,” Howard said. “I think when it’s done, it will be one of the biggest tourist attractions we have in Raleigh, because of the richness of the architecture that we have there.”
Also for sale
Not pictured on this page, but also for sale is the Bailey-Tucker House, 213 E. Lane St. Built in 1917 and acquired by the state in 1967, it once housed guests to the Executive Mansion across the street. $1.1 million.