Anyone who has lived in the area for a few years and passed the corner of Queens and Sharon will recall the house across from Myers Park Baptist Church – a genteel beauty that had fallen on hard times. The overgrown yard was choked with ivy and the house looked – let’s just say it – haunted.
When Margy and Walt Pettit bought the home last year, they became guardians of its history. Margy learned all she could about the red-brick Tudor Revival, listed on the National Historic Register as the Albro House. Two years after it was built in 1926, it was partially destroyed by fire and rebuilt.
Since then, nothing – save for one coat of paint – had been added or changed. The house had been in the same family from 1929 until 2008, when the reclusive owner died.
The original hardware was still on the doors. The original terrazzo floor was (and is) in the sunroom. Even the servants’ bathroom and a coal furnace remained in the basement. So did some coal.
The plumbing and electricity were positively state-of-the-art – for the 1920s. “Remarkably unaltered” is how the Blast for the Past Historic Charlotte Preservation Award submission charitably describes the house as the Pettits found it.
Yet they were undaunted. “We loved it as it was,” says Margy.
The Pettits hired an architect and contractor who loved the house, too. Jack Rorick, a Myers Park resident who served as general contractor, calls the Pettits “brave” for taking on the massive restoration. Allen Brooks of ALB Architecture says the house, like any great work of art, speaks for itself.
Despite the house’s ramshackle appearance, a structural report indicated it was sound except for the roof. Rorick painstakingly took the tile roof off, shored it up and put it back on, tile by original tile. He estimates 85 percent of the tiles are original.
Brooks wrote in the application for the Historic Charlotte Preservation Award (to be presented Oct. 15), “Great economic burden was expended toward the purpose of completely dismantling (the) red clay tile roof and reinstalling with new guttering.” Judges agreed and awarded the team the residential preservation excellence award.
The Pettits, who have two grown children, had long been aware of the house, but they weren’t even contemplating a move. Then a friend told Margy the price had dropped – for the fourth time – and Margy thought it was time to take a look. Walt agreed.
She and Walt were happy in the Summer Lake home in the SouthPark area where they had lived for 20 years. But when Margy fell for the Albro house, she began to notice a few things she’d change about their old home. They never used their great room, for instance.
And she’s since discovered they never needed a big laundry room. Their Myers Park home has a small, but functional, second-floor laundry room that used to be a linen closet.
Bigger isn’t always better
Now, they use every bit of their 3,500 square feet. They hardly added to the existing footprint. What they did add was out of necessity.
A crack in a rear brick wall demanded a fix. The solution was a rear addition of just 30 square feet that accommodated what the architect calls “a socially relevant entry” from the back. The “wet bar foyer” (surely a feature all homes should have) means a guest can walk in the back door and be handed a mint julep or other libation immediately.
The home is relatively modest in comparison to some of its neighbors. With four bedrooms (one of which – the old sleeping porch – Margy uses as a serene sitting and dressing room) and two and a half baths, the Pettit home manages to be grand without being pretentious.
Forget the big, open kitchens requisite in new homes these days. Margy left the kitchen laid out exactly as it was. It’s actually three distinct rooms: one room where the sink and stove are; a butler’s pantry (where the refrigerator and barware are) and the breakfast room. There’s even a small fourth space: An old screened porch now functions as a mudroom. It still has the original ceiling, including shabby-chic peeling paint.
Blueprints in the wall
The decor is minimal and includes an eclectic mix of antiques and contemporary pieces set against a neutral background of beiges, golds and pale blues. Margy enlisted the aid of the decorator she’s worked with for years, Ann Atkinson, who subscribed to the Pettits’ vision of preserving what was there.
Both upstairs bathrooms still have the 1920s toilets, sinks and bathtubs. “The only reason the downstairs powder room is new is because the sink wouldn’t pass code due to its separate hot and cold faucets,” Margy says. “So we put in a new sink and toilet. Jack insisted we needed one new toilet that people would know how to flush without asking for help.”
“Maintaining original bathrooms with the fixtures and devices, down to the toilet paper holders, (testifies) to the commendable stewardship of the owners,” wrote the architect in the awards submission.
The original blueprints were found inside a wall when the house was being rewired. But the first page was missing, so the Pettits don’t know the name of the original architect. (If you have information about the house, you can email Margy Pettit at email@example.com.)
Still, it’s one of the few things they don’t know about their home’s history.
In some ways, Margy Pettit seems destined to have restored an old home. The history major and former teacher is a property manager at The Lofts at 7714 in Mint Hill. (It’s an old hosiery mill that’s been retrofitted as office space.)
She’s a Charlotte history buff, too. She and Walt, a partner at The Hutchens law firm, met in Charlotte in 1981 at the now-defunct Spinsters and Bachelors Club. A fourth-generation Charlottean, Margy has seen the city tear down much of its past and said she wanted to try to preserve a piece of her hometown.
Brooks calls the Pettit-directed restoration “remarkable and thorough” and says the couple was “willing to adapt to what the historic house could offer rather than change it for what they wanted.” Rorick says he and his team basically “disassembled” the old house and put it back together – on site and by hand.
Taming the yard proved nearly as challenging as restoring the house. The new landscaping, which Bruce Clodfelter designed, recaptures the original parklike setting.
Tax credits helped
The Pettits declined to discuss renovation costs, but their architect says tax credits helped with the “substantial cost” of restoring the house. But, Brooks notes, they qualified in the nick of time. “The N.C. legislature, in their budget cuts for next year, did not seem to think it was important to extend (those tax credits),” he says.
In many ways, the restoration feels like a present to Myers Park neighbors and to all who pass by. The neighborhood has responded; the Pettits recently won the Connie Brown Myers Park Homeowners Association Preservation Award.
People feel a connection to this home. Rorick speculates that’s partly because it has long been “that broken-down house on the corner.” (He compares it to the dilapidated house people threw rocks at in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”)
Neighbors and passersby have called out to the Pettits to thank them for saving the house. Some knock on the front door to say thanks. After all, the Pettits could have bulldozed it and built a faux chateau in its place.
Although preserving history was important, Margy says, “We didn’t want to live in a museum. We wanted a comfortable, gracious, Southern home.” The home turned out a lot like its new owners.