Auction providing reprieve for house

Victorian structure was to be destroyed for BP gas station


March 01, 2001|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

If walls could talk, the handsome old Victorian house on Route 108 in Howard County probably would be rejoicing like a pardoned death-row inmate right about now.

A few months ago, the 100-year-old house with the broad porch and high-peaked roof was earmarked for demolition to make room for a gas station in Clarksville, near the newest Columbia village of River Hill.

But that was before a group of Howard County preservationists put out the word that the house was available to anyone with the money to relocate it and a lot to receive it. The group took so many calls about the house - more than 300, its president estimates - that BP, which owns the site, has scheduled an auction as a way to choose among potential owners.

The group, Preservation Howard County, will use the proceeds to relocate endangered buildings in the future. The bidding is expected to start low, and the group has no target price.

The house's rescue from the wrecking ball represents an unusual instance of corporate and citizen cooperation in the battle to balance growth and history, preservationists and BP officials said.

"We saw the opportunity here to do something to help the historic preservation community, and we thought the best and most celebratory way to get public awareness for this was to" hold an auction, said Jeff Folks, BP's mid-Atlantic director of public, government and media affairs.

Preservation Howard County at first was reluctant to hold an auction because it had advertised the house as free for the taking by anyone with the needed money and land, said Mary Catherine Cochran, president of the group. But the group decided that an auction would help ensure that whoever claimed the house was committed to relocating it, she said.

"It's a way to weed out folks who aren't that interested," Cochran said. "If they have a couple thousand dollars invested in it, they'll work hard to move it."

Shirley Frazier, whose great-grandfather, William T. Clark, is believed to have built the house about 1900, is among those looking forward to the auction.

"It's the last Victorian in Clarksville. They've all gone by the wayside, one by one," said Frazier, a school secretary who visited the house when her great-aunt lived there.

Relocation experts estimate the house will cost up to $50,000 to move, depending on how far it has to go. Each set of power lines that must be detached to make room for the house while in transit will cost about $1,000, they say.

Together, buying a site, moving the house and renovating it could cost at least $225,000, Cochran estimated. But in today's real estate market, she noted, that's a relatively good deal for a house that boasts walnut banisters extending to the third floor, oak and hard pine floors, dormers and Palladian windows.

Of the hundreds of callers who have inquired about the house, Cochran said, only about a dozen "had a really good idea what they were getting into," and even fewer had a nearby lot available to receive the house and the money to move it.

Some of the inquiries she received were more memorable than others, Cochran said. One was from a woman in Baltimore who, when told that it would be expensive to truck the house to the city, started calling helicopter companies to explore airlifting the three-story building.

Another was from a woman who said that she was very interested in the house but that she "hadn't talked to her husband yet."

Open lots are scarce in the River Hill area, but several of those interested in the house have managed to find unlisted land nearby, Cochran said. Others excited by the prospect of moving the house have been frustrated by their inability to find a place for it.

Vicky Green, who with her husband has been seeking a larger home in Howard for their six children, jumped at the preservationists' offer, but the couple has come up empty in looking for land.

"There's nothing. We didn't see any signs for anything," said Green, who lives in the Columbia village of Harper's Choice. "It would have been perfect for us, with such a large family."

An open house will be held at the house, at Route 108 and Ten Oaks Road, near the juncture of Route 32, from 10 a.m. to noon March 17. The auction, which is being handled by Alex Cooper Auctioneers of Towson, will be held at the house at 11 a.m. March 24.

To take part, interested parties must bring a certified check for $5,000, which will be returned to those who lose the bidding.

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