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Renovated city property is made to order for office space

January 18, 2013 12:10 am


A new metal shingle roof and clerestory-type attic windows add to the curb appeal. hh011813panneram5.jpg

LEFT: The building dates to around 1889 and is directly across the street from the city courthouse construction site. hh011813panneram4.jpg

Inlaid strips of contrasting wood border the parquet flooring. Craftsmen at the time would have had to cut and nail each piece individually. hh011813panneram2.jpg

TOP: Carpenter Jonathan Swindells tightens up the front door hinges at 702 Princess Anne St. earlier this week. 011813hhprincess2.jpg

ABOVE: Abby Construction photo shows building's stairwell after part of structure was gutted by fire nearly a year ago.


As the smoke cleared nearly a year ago at 702 Princess Anne St., the damage appeared severe but not catastrophic. Firefighters had contained the flames to the back, where it had started, and blamed the blaze on a space heater left running near combustible materials.

It was nevertheless an emotional experience for owner Sally Valentino when she first saw it.

"It was a shock," she said earlier this week. "I cried."

Today, the structure, which dates to around 1889, is on its way to looking like new--and probably better than new--after a six-month project taken on by Abby Construction.

Located directly across the street from the new city courthouse, the building is being offered for sale or lease strictly as office space as there is no kitchen. There are, however, six off-street parking spaces out back. It is listed with Betty Westerlund of Keller Williams Realty of Fredericksburg. The asking price is $624,900. Leasing is offered at $3,200 per month.

Located in the Historic District, it's an attractive building with Victorian touches inside and out. The repaired and restored front porch retains its combination Ionic and Corinthian-style columns.

The yellow-painted pine siding, retained and replicated where necessary under Architectural Review Board guidelines, stands out with dark red shutters. The overhangs of red metal roof, which is part shingle, part standing seam, protect the dentil moldings.

Inside, handsome period features, including transoms and intricately carved newel posts and fireplace surrounds, were retained.

Valentino owns the Sears kit home with her husband, Francis "Rudy" Valentino. She bought it in 1993, opened her own arts and crafts supply business there and taught some art classes.

Eventually, the couple retired to Southside Virginia, leased the building, and it became an antiques shop, The Old Blantons Store.

She was in Chase City at the couple's retirement property when she got the call about the fire from her husband on Feb. 9, 2012. From his description of the damage it was clear they would need to act quickly to prevent the weather from doing even more damage. The house was filled wall-to-wall with antiques at the time, many of which were damaged or destroyed by the fire, water and smoke.

The Valentinos called on Abby, and an effort was made to tarp the damaged roof. Once the antiques were out, the overall damage was easier to assess. Chris Huie, who is heading up the project for Abby and is the son of company owner Mike Huie, said the interior was spray painted with Kilz, a primer that helps seal in the smoky smell.

"The whole place was this ghostly white," Huie said. "But it did what we wanted it to do."

The actual renovation and recovery project was delayed for about six months as insurance issues were worked out.

Huie said a significant amount of framing at the rear of the structure had to be replaced. To everyone's surprise, the floors were almost entirely salvageable, except in the immediate area of the fire near the back door.

"After more than 1oo years that heart pine is like petrified," said Huie.

Not only will the pine be lightly sanded and refinished, the classic original hardwood parquet in the foyer also will be renewed. The intricate parquet was labor-intensive work for a turn-of-the-century carpenter, with each small plank of oak laid and nailed individually. The foyer floor was then bordered with inlaid bands of two different shades of wood, perhaps cherry and/or walnut.

The main level has three rooms for offices, the original living room or parlor, the dining room behind it, and a room that was probably once a kitchen behind that. A new full bathroom is being added nearby.

The living and dining rooms have their original, coal-burning corner fireplaces that feed a single flue. They are more or less ornamental at this point.

The second floor has a similar layout to the first, with an extra room above the foyer. Sally Valentino said a wall that separated two of the original bedrooms had been removed at some point and was rebuilt by Abby to provide two separate offices.

The third, half-story is being renovated as well, but the space will be limited to storage use. Until the courthouse is completed, a clerestory-type window provides a bird's-eye view of Fredericksburg beyond Princess Anne Street toward the Rappahannock.

The basement has a concrete floor and areas of it could be used for storage, though it does get some moisture seepage after heavy rain.

Huie said the crew turned up lots of 1930s newspapers that were used for insulation in walls and round pipes.

The building has gotten completely new plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems. The monstrous old oil furnace and boiler had to be removed from the basement piece-by-piece.

Valentino touts the ideal location of the building, close to post office, government offices, restaurants and all the rest downtown has to offer.

Richard Amrhine: 540/374-5406

WHAT: Open house at newly listed office property.

WHERE: 702 Princess Anne St., Fredericksburg, opposite the new courthouse. WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 2, 1 p.m.-3 p.m.

If a building could be a jack-of-all-trades, 702 Princess Anne St. would be it.

Since its construction in around 1889, it has housed an accountant's office, a dentist, a uniform shop, a wedding dress shop, an antiques dealer and a craft store.

Given its location directly across from the new Fredericksburg courthouse, owner Sally Valentino and agent Betty Westerlund are both thinking: law offices.

That's also the role long served by neighboring 700 Princess Anne, at the corner of Charlotte Street.

--Richard Amrhine

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.