Winston-Salem woman wants to save house from wrecking ball


Penny Strong stands amid the stripped interior framework of the house she hopes to renovate at 66 West End Blvd. in Winston-Salem, NC, Tuesday, Mar. 11, 2014. Strong is fighting city code citations for moving too slowly in repairs to the fire-damaged house. She hopes to restore the house, which she believes was designed by noted architect Charles Barton Keene, as a bed and breakfast inn. (David Rolfe/Journal)

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Penny Strong knows there’s a lot of work to do, but she believes that her house at 66 West End Blvd. could be a showplace.

The house dates to around 1917 and has architectural features that suggest a connection to Charles Barton Keen, the man who designed Reynolda House.

In fact, historians say that R.J. and Katherine Reynolds owned the property and sold it in 1919 to E. Wright Noble, a department manager at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

But the house has been in violation of the city’s minimum housing code since 2006. City inspectors say that Strong, who bought the house in 2009, has failed to make the necessary repairs and are recommending demolition.

“It is not an issue of the soundness of the house,” said Bruce Bailiff, who heads codes enforcement for Winston-Salem. “It is an issue of the housing code, of repairs not being completed in a timely manner. You are approaching five years with a new owner, and the property is still not in compliance.”

Strong said she thinks it will take about $300,000 to fully restore the house, and admits she doesn’t have that kind of money.

Strong co-owns the house with a business partner, Stan Giroux, who lives in New Jersey. Strong lives in a restored “carriage house” behind the main dwelling.

With the help of a caretaker who lives in a converted garage on the property, Strong said she has been working on repairs to the house.

But even that’s a problem because city officials say she’s not supposed to be using the garage as a residence.

“I’ve committed myself to this property and I have worked on it for five years,” Strong said. “We have taken down all the plaster walls and pulled out the electrical and plumbing. It is down to the frame waiting for us to finish it.”

The city issued a “vacate or repair” order on the house dated April 13, 2006. Among the problems outlined then were missing and broken windows, no heating, defective electrical switches and outlets, holes in the walls and ceilings, and defective ceiling joists.

A fire in the front downstairs part of the house caused damage in 2006 that can be repaired but which has not been fixed.

Bailiff said the city’s current enforcement effort is a continuation of what began in 2006. He said he visited the house within the past two weeks and saw the work that Strong had done.

“You can see where they have taken a whole lot of wall stuff down and have not repaired the fire-damaged portion of the structure,” Bailiff said. “I am charged with enforcing the minimum housing code. I know that (the owners) have said they put a lot of money into the house, but the violations have not been corrected. We are recommending demolition, based on the minimum housing code.”

Bailiff said the house is actually more out of compliance now than it was in 2006 because of the removal of interior materials.

The city’s Community Development/Housing/General Government Committee, an arm of the city council, will hear the case on Strong’s house Tuesday. Although Bailiff’s office is recommending demolition, it would be up to the eight-member council to enact any demolition order.

“Usually, if there is historical value we do give an extension,” said Council Member Molly Leight, who chairs the committee that will look at the case. “If there is some willingness to work with the Historic Resources Commission and staff, there is no question that a delay is granted.”

The Historic Resources Commission recommended on Feb. 5 that Strong be given 365 days to bring the West End Boulevard property into compliance with the city’s housing code. The commission said that the house would help maintain the character of the neighborhood, and notes that the house is not considered unsafe.

Strong said she bought the house hoping to convert it into a bed and breakfast and a place where people might celebrate weddings. She said she is hopeful that she can receive tax credits that would help her accomplish the restoration.

In the meantime, though, city officials say she is violating zoning regulations by allowing a garage on the property to be used as a dwelling.

“She is allowed to live in the carriage house” despite it being a secondary dwelling on the lot, said Dan Dockery, the chief building official on the city’s inspections staff. “The six-car garage is a third dwelling unit.”

Dockery said Strong had agreed not to use the garage as a dwelling, but that she has continued to house the caretaker there despite knowing it is not allowed.

“I would love to see that house rehabilitated,” Dockery said. “It has got great bones. I have pointed out some places with water intrusion and some places with dry rot. Right now there is no maintenance on the structure.”

But Dockery said that if Strong keeps using the garage as a dwelling, the city could cut off utility service.

Council Member Jeff MacIntosh, who sits on the committee that will hear Strong’s case, is a real estate agent with experience in restoring properties. He said he worked on keeping the house on West End Boulevard from the wrecking ball back in 2006, after the fire that damaged a portion of the house.

“I think everyone wants to see the house get restored inside and out,” MacIntosh said. “It would be a bump to the tax base. The last thing anyone would want to do is have the house torn down.”

But MacIntosh said Strong needs to show “a good-faith effort to bring it up to code.”

“It was once a really incredible house,” he said.

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