Here is a recipe for turning the plain into poetry.
When famous British poet James Fenton – along with his partner, award-winning writer Darryl Pinckney – set out to search for a house in Manhattan over a decade ago, the couple searched for a home with enough money. space to hold their library of 10,000 books.
Not only did they find it in a 10,000-square-foot, five-story townhouse in Harlem, which they bought for $ 1.85 million in 2010 – but they also stumbled upon the opportunity to restore the decrepit hull of a former grandiose residence.
“Once we found this place of course the motivation to preserve it somehow became very important to us,” said Fenton, 72, a former poetry professor from Oxford. , known for its association with Christopher Hitchens and Martin Amis. To post.
Built in 1890 for John Dwight, a co-inventor of Arm & Hammer baking soda, the home at 1 W. 123rd St. later gave way to an art school. then a black synagogue; occupancy in a single room; and finally a refuge for squatters, graffiti artists and a drug dealer who sold PCP. Now the property – which the couple and their helping hands have spent 11 years meticulously renovating – is ready for a new chapter.
Located in historic Mount Morris Park, the 25-foot-wide expanse recently went on sale, asking for $ 8.5 million – the highest demand for a townhouse in Harlem.
With other tastefully restored perks including eight fireplaces and a grand wooden staircase, the house is a far cry from how Fenton and Pinckney found it, when they bought it from developers who didn’t managed to transform it into condominiums. The cellar was under 3 inches of water. The dining room, as well as the three oval-shaped bedrooms on the upper levels, had been cut into odd spaces with a toilet tucked away to the sides. Someone had even cordoned off the great wooden staircase. Fortunately, he was not beyond repair, and with access to original photos and plans, they fully understood his previous aspect.
“In some ways it had been pretty well preserved because no one had paid the cost of ripping up the interior,” Fenton said. “There was still a lot going on, but everything, like everything about the house, needed updating. “
Fenton declined to reveal how much it has cost so far to get everything in shape, but said “it’s millions,” and a new owner will have to carry the rest of the work across the finish line. For example, plans are in place for an elevator and central air conditioning to be installed. Some projects already completed required a great effort. One was cleaning the house’s mahogany and oak woodwork – a specialized task that took almost a year. The replacement of the 52 windows required the approval of the Monuments Preservation Commission.
The couple brought in Samuel G. White, 74, founding partner of PBDW Architects, as the official architect to help with administrative processes and design, and it was not a random hire. A Boston painter named Franklin Hill Smith designed the house for Dwight, with apparent influences from McKim, Mead & White – the famous Gilded Age architectural firm co-founded by Stanford White, Samuel’s great-grandfather , who designed the Washington Square Arch.
By the late 1800s, McKim, Mead & White had left their mark on Boston, in part, by designing tony homes along Commonwealth Avenue, one of which was owned by U.S. Representative John F. Andrew and – similar to the Harlem townhouse – features a bay-shaped protuberances in its facade.
“[It also] had elaborate woodwork… there were very finished oak elements, ”said young White of this Boston home. “You feel like Smith must have seen this house and it just impressed him, because there was nothing back then that McKim, Mead & White did that didn’t look like this. Smith had very few models to copy.
In short, the scope of the work “cleaned up the block,” said Compass associate broker Bruce Robertson, who shares this list with Nick Rafello of Compass. “[The home] was derelict and a real horror. They cleaned up this corner, and it’s just one more step into the Harlem Renaissance, in my opinion.
It’s a similar sentiment others have shared with Fenton.
“It was something that a lot of people thought had to be done,” he said.