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Historic Dilworth house on East Morehead won’t meet the bulldozer after all

If things had gone as local preservationists feared, the elegant Dilworth bungalow at 602 E. Morehead St. would have spent next year – the centennial of its beginning – getting cleared by bulldozers.

Instead, there’ll be a party there in 2015, celebrating the construction 100 years ago of the home for prominent Charlotte real estate broker Gaston Gilbert Galloway.

Ron and Nicole Sodoma are planning the party. They’re keeping bulldozers away. Instead, they stepped up this month to buy the brick home with its distinctive sweeping, rock-faced porch and columns – among the last of the stately homes that once lined East Morehead.

The couple already own the historic Walter Brem House at 211 East Blvd., where Nicole bases her Sodoma Law firm, and where Ron has run his capital finance business the past two years.

Now, after a little updating to the G.G. Galloway House, he’ll move his Doma Vida Capital into the 10-room, 4,800-square-foot home that once housed a restaurant and, more recently, Nelson Casstevens’ law firm.

Casstevens recently retired and dissolved his firm – so he had no more need for the house.

He put it up for sale and found a buyer who wanted just the dirt under the house. In August, Casstevens filed for a certificate to demolish the house for which he’d sought and won local historic landmark designation the year after he opened his law office in 1981.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission granted the certificate but used its authority to delay demolition for a year in hopes of saving the house. Consulting director Dan Morrill described it as “a well-preserved, handsomely appointed example of bungalow-style architecture rendered in ... a large elegant manor.”

The Sodomas had their eyes on the house even before an Observer story in September announcing the possibility of demolition.

With word of Casstevens’ intentions out, the Sodomas pounced and closed on the property this month.

“We are so excited to have it, we can’t see straight,” Ron Sodoma said. “I don’t call myself a preservationist, but I do love these old houses and want to re-purpose them in such a way that allows their story to continue.”

Houses hold stories

He knows about houses with stories.

He and Nicole moved separately to Charlotte in 2000; Ron took a job with Bank of America and Nicole practiced law.

They met in 2005, married and bought the C.C. Hook-designed Walter Brem House for Nicole to open her law firm in 2008.

Charlotte native Brem, an insurance agent and son of a Confederate colonel, built that house in 1903. Eleven years later, Regger Craver, who owned a network of movie theaters in the Carolinas and Virginia, bought the house. He died suddenly in 1928, and his widow couldn’t afford it when the Depression hit. The house was sold at a foreclosure sale, according to landmarks commission documents.

Thomas Culp, a Duke Power foreman, rented the house and moved his family there in 1934 in the heart of the Depression. They stayed until 1936, when Mae King Blume bought it as she continued to build an empire of hotels, ultimately living in the house from 1939 into the 1980s.

On the day the Sodomas closed on the Galloway house on Nov. 7, they threw a party on the Brem house’s 110th birthday.

Mayor Patsy Kinsey, an invited guest, brought a City Council document proclaiming the day as “Walter Brem Day.” They hired an actor to portray Brem, and among the other guests was Dr. John Culp, Thomas Culp’s son who brought a photo of him at age 2 or 3 sitting on the porch.

“The Brem House taught us that these old houses have rich stories that need to be preserved,” Ron Sodoma said. “That’s why we wanted the Galloway House so badly.”

‘Ready to go, as is’

The house on Morehead has it own rich history.

By the time Galloway built it in the new streetcar suburb of Dilworth, he’d gone into business with Peter Brown, a former Charlotte mayor and county commission chairman who owned the Trader’s Land Co.

In 1913, the year Galloway was appointed the company’s vice president, Brown died suddenly. Galloway took over the company and soon married Brown’s daughter, Carrie.

The newlyweds bought a lot on East Morehead between Caldwell and Euclid streets and hired another prominent Charlotte architect, William Peeps, to design it. A London native, Peeps had become one of the city’s leading architects – designing uptown’s Ivey’s department store (now condos), the Latta Arcade and Brevard Court and many other buildings and homes in the region.

After Galloway died in 1974, the house became the Stonehenge restaurant. The restaurant was popular but closed after five years. Casstevens and his former wife, Barbara, bought it in 1981.

Barbara supervised extensive restoration.

“The place is ready to go, as is,” Ron Sodoma said. “They did a terrific restoration; I don’t think Nelson Casstevens ever wanted to see the house torn down. We want to update the kitchen and office space a little, but nothing to take away from the integrity of the house and its historical glory.”

‘A great victory’

Morrill is delighted with the outcome.

“It is really a great victory,” he said. “It won’t be a house museum. The adaptive reuse by the Sodomas gives this house an ongoing economically vital function and that’s the best kind of preservation.”

Sodoma agrees, especially when he saw his young sons racing through the house.

He said he was approached last year by a man interested in buying the Brem House. He pondered the man’s proposal, then looked at his three sons and said: “‘You’ll have to take it up with them when they’re older. They’ll have to decide.’ The same is true for the Galloway House. That’ll be up to them if the houses are sold when it comes their time.”

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