Wednesday, June 10, 2009

CPA urges auctioneer to reconsider sale of mansion's fixtures, details

Cincinnati Preservation Association (CPA) preservation director Margo Warminski has written an e-mail to Waverly House Auctions asking them to reconsider a June 13-14 estate sale of the furniture, fixtures and architectural details from the 17-room*, 7,870-square-foot mansion at 4008 Rose Hill Avenue in North Avondale.

Warminski says that the Jacobethan Revival house is historically and architecturally significant to the neighborhood, part of a proposed historic district encompassing Rose Hill and Beechwood avenues that is currently under review by the Ohio Historic Preservation Office.

"The house was built in 1906 for C.H.M. Atkins, proprietor of Warner Elevators, one of the nation's leading elevator manufacturers," Warminski says. "It was designed by Werner & Adkins, a distinguished architectural firm who designed many other fine buildings in the neighborhood."

On their website, Jamie and Michelle of Waverly House Auctions call the estate sale a "treasure hunt", saying that their goal is to sell everything.

"This is NOT an auction," the website says. "This is a 'you find it, you buy it, you take it home' sale. Once you have created your 'pile', we will settle on a reasonable price."

A new owner, whose name has not been disclosed, wants the property stripped so that he can modernize its finishes and mechanicals.

"We have heard that energy efficiency concerns prompted the decision to sell the windows," Warminski says. "By working with a qualified contractor with extensive restoration experience, it is possible to install modern utilities unobtrusively and greatly improve energy efficiency while keeping a house intact."

Paul Wilham, an architectural consultant who is currently restoring a historic house in South Fairmount, has reported extensively on the sale on his Victorian Antiquities and Design blog.

Wilham agrees with Warminski's assessment, and, in a post yesterday, reported on a communication that he received back from the auction house.

"The owner only replied that he intended to modernize the home and to make it more energy efficient by replacing the windows with modern, as well, he explained that due to the old wiring, many walls and floors were going to have to be severely damaged and/or removed, and because he is intending to 'update' the home, he thought there would be buyers that have historic homes that could use these items, or people who would like to add historic architecture to a new structure," the communication said.

Wilham questions that explanation.

"Auction houses routinely deal with historic property," he says. "Any auction house knows that removal of historic detail adversely affects the value of historic property. Many reputable auction houses now refuse to sell or assist in the sale of salvage items."

Wilham believes that there may be other reasons why the property owner wants to strip the house.

"So either the property owner is being deliberately misinformed by a 'hack contractor', or there is some 'hidden agenda' for this property such as conversion for nursing home use or offices," he says.

Whatever the reason, the house will be less valuable if it's stripped, Warminski says.

"Its value will greatly diminish, it will be much harder to sell, and it will be very unlikely that it will be restored," she says. "Also, features such as mantelpieces and flooring have little value once they are removed from a home. You would likely realize a greater profit by selling the house intact."

* Waverly House Auctions lists the house as having 25 rooms.