Project Spotlight

The Story of Charlotte House

The Grande Dame

Hello, there!

We are Jack and Jim, and this is the story of how we became the owners of a dirty old frat house.

Once upon a time, we decided we wanted to buy a building where we could both live and run a local small business. Jackie was pregnant at the time, and without any family living nearby to lend a hand, it just made sense to keep everything within arm’s reach.

Real estate in our small city was also pretty hot, so finding something we could budget for meant that we needed to keep our eye on properties that were a little worse for wear and could be improved over time.

It wasn’t too long before destiny presented us with a very special gift—the kind of opportunity that seems truly unique, full of potential, and just perfect…for someone else?

In fact, when we first walked through the house, Jackie was impressed with the old woodwork that “someone” would make beautiful again, and how good the house could look once “whoever” was going to buy it took over. Jim, on the other hand, was smitten. (This, by the way, is essentially the story of this relationship. He is the yin to her yang, the peanut butter to her jelly, the “W” to her “TF”)

Not pictured: The stars in Jim’s eyes

At any rate, we are both gluttons for punishment and don’t seem to know what’s good for us, so with only a mild amount of convincing and probably a foot rub, Jack was on board and we decided to go for it.

The house was nearly empty at this point, as the fraternity had mostly already moved into a newly-expanded house closer to their school campus. What was left was all the stuff so gross that even a bunch of college kids didn’t want to touch it.

Stairway to questionable decisions
This photo was drunk when we took it

But we moved forward, hoping to seal the deal and get some contractors going before the baby came. But the old grande dame had other ideas.

Here’s a fun fact you probably weren’t interested in knowing: when a property is appraised, it receives a “C” value. This represents the condition of the building on a scale of 1-6, with 1 being a brand-spankin’ new build and 6 representing a condemned cesspool.

Guess what we got?

If you guessed a 6, your pessimism is admired and appreciated. In this case, however, we did in fact receive a 5 – an honorable mention in the “How gross is this place” category.  

While not the worst of the worst, our lender was sufficiently grossed out. They took their ball and went home, and we went on a hunt for a new lender. Luckily, there is a great local bank that was willing to allow us to make some improvements and get the home reappraised. The downside of this was that the delay in switching lenders and making repairs meant that we also had to push back the closing date, and with the baby due in a matter of weeks, we pushed it back even further to allow for a nice buffer between birthing a human and buying a catastrophe.

Apparently this space is unsuitable for human habitation
You mean you don’t want to pee here?

Eventually, the repairs were made(-ish), the human was birthed, and sale went through. And with that, we began our journey of home renovation chronicles that mostly follow the same inevitable loop: a questionable plan, an energetic start, a world of pain and frustration, and a final leap to eventual success and glory.

As we’ve trudged along with our restoration these last few years, there have been huge changes within our family and the world around us. Our squishy new baby became a big brother, and his little sister will soon become a middle child. There’s also been a whirlwind of political and social upheaval, plus a pandemic to boot. Plans for the business have been put on hold, but it’s full steam ahead for finishing up the living space and getting the fam settled in our new digs.

We’ve made it a long way over the past few years and have lots of stories and strategies to share, so thanks for taking some time to check out our story and follow along!

»

6 COMMENTS

  • Malcolm Root

    I saw your Instagram story where you mentioned that you are being inundated with new commentary from Franklin and Marshall students about your house renovation project. Our Kappa Sigma fraternity has a Facebook page and your project was brought to our attention today. You now have about 100 new people very interested in watching what you’re doing. I was a brother from 1977 through 1981 although I never lived in the house. However I spent the majority of my social life there and ate two meals a day there for 3 1/2 years. I know every inch of that house, and as a pledge at one point cleaned every inch of that house. I feel your pain as you talk about cleaning it today I can only imagine what you are finding.
    We always knew that the house has great bones, and all it would take is someone with time, energy, and the right budget to bring her back to the grand lady she once was. I am hoping although doubtful that you kept the bar that was in the basement. We built that over the course of a week, actually during hell week, as pledges, and it was built solid enough to park a car on. It lasted for over 40 years.
    Now with regards to the reason you have to call it a fraternity and not a frat goes back to some of the hazing we used to do. If it anytime a pledge forgot and did not refer to it properly as a fraternity there were, shall we say, repercussions. To this day, and this is probably unique just to the chapter members of this fraternity, when we hear somebody call it a frat it is like fingers on a chalkboard.
    I know I am speaking for quite a few people when I say I have some of the best memories of my life from probably the best time in my life within the walls of that building. I am absolutely delighted to see that someone is giving it the attention it needs. Even as a 20-year-old I was impressed by the intricate woodworking especially on the stairs. I am happy to see you are restoring that. The room in the front, to the immediate left upon entering through the front door, that I think you turned blue was known as the Phil Schreiber library in honor of someone who was there long before I was and who I never met. I would be happy to, and I know many others as well, share with you some of the history of that house, although much of it is not safe for your children’s ears. I will continue to follow your project with great interest. Love to see more pictures.

    • jack
      AUTHOR

      Thanks for sharing so much info! There were two bars in the basement when we bought it, but there was so much water coming in every time it rained, everything down there ended up covered in mold and needed to be torn out. Was definitely not a pretty sight down there

  • Glenn

    Best of luck with your renovation! Look forward to seeing the finished house. So many memories at 249 N Charlotte (most of which you probably do not want to hear!) 🙂 I lived for one year in the bedroom with an ensuite bathroom immediately to the left when you reach the top of the staircase. Doing repairs on your house (1980-84) seeded a lifelong interest in restorations that led me first to restore a 18th century chalet (wood) in the French Alps and now, more recently, a series of trulli (stone) houses in the south of Italy (Puglia). You can view my restorations here: https://www.pugliah.com/our-trulli-1
    Wishing your family many happy memories to come in 249.

    • jack
      AUTHOR

      Thanks so much! We think the room you’re talking about had that bathroom removed at some point, it was just a closet with a bar when we bought it. Jackie has actually been to Alberbello and Ostuni, so she’s familiar with the trulli as well! Thanks for following along!

  • John Bacci

    I was in that wonderful house between 1978 and 1982, and LOVED the woodwork, the layout, and the attention to detail in every room. By the early 80’s the house was still in OK shape. I’d come back as I got older and realized it was being neglected to a point of being a tear down. So very glad that you’re taking the time to restore this old beauty. Those walls held much meaning for hundreds of wonderful people who have gone on to do amazing things. I wouldn’t have traded my time there for anything.

    PS. if you find my watch while you’re poking around, drop me a line. GOOD LUCK!!

    • jack
      AUTHOR

      Thanks for your message, John! Things were definitely in rough shape when we bought the house, but it’s really starting to look wonderful again and we’re super excited to share about it with everyone here. We’ll keep our eyes peeled for that watch 😉

Leave a Reply to John Bacci Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *