With the announcement that Waverly Auctions was cancelling their Auction Tag sale this weekend Historic Preservationists could count the day as one for the "win' column, a rare occasion when a house is saved from certain destruction. In 20 or so years as someone active in Historic Preservation efforts I have seen some "bizarre" circumstances but none quite so twisted and convoluted as this.
Historic houses often find themselves as major players in "soap operas'. Birth, death, divorce, sibling rivalry are all forces that can put a historic home on the "brink" of destruction. Certainly the set of circumstances in the case of the Avondale mansion all point to how diligent we as individuals passionate about saving all things historic must be now.
Not only do we have to check the obvious things like demolition permits, Condemn orders and change of ownership, we now have to check such things as death records, court cases, auction sales and foreclosure records.
Consider for a moment the set of circumstances concerning the Mansion at 4008 Rose Hill. the property is owned by an elderly woman who is a 'compulsive buyer' . The house is packed to the brim with purchases, one literally cannot walk through some rooms because of all the 'stuff' inside. She feeds her 'buying addiction' through profits made from renting what one might be referred to as 'slum properties' in other parts of the city while she lives in one of the more exclusive areas in a proud little mansion.
The owner dies and several people come forward to "claim' and inheritance but because of her addiction to buying things, EVERYTHING she owns is heavily mortgaged including the Rose Hill Mansion. Bills have piled up and those creditors want their money. So banks do what banks do and file foreclosure proceedings against the "estate". Hopefull heirs,real and imagined, expectant of a windfall, come to the realization that there is no "pot of gold' at the end of the rainbow, but rather a quirky eccentric who literally bought junk on a daily basis, spent all her money and because of her buying addition went heavily in debt. There IS no inheritance , no pot of gold.
USBANK goes to court and is awarded the only major thing of value the Rose Hill Mansion and they request a Sheriff's sale to satisfy the debt. The house is "packed ' to the brim with stuff' and it all will likely wind up in some dumpster somewhere.
So some "heir" comes up with a scheme to make a buck, get a share of that "pot of gold' they were "cheated' out of by the eccentricities of a dead woman with a compulsive buying addiction. days away from a sheriff's sale they approach an auction house claiming ownership and arrange a tag sale of the contents of a house they have no legal right to even enter. Knowing that the house will soon be sold they concoct a story that they will be doing some "updating' to the house and decide to sell off windows, mantles, light fixtures, flooring, anything they can "pry up' because they know in less than a week the house will be sold. Presevationists become skeptical of this.
The auction house has no clue of the subterfuge at hand and they almost become accomplices in a major theft. Had a loyal reader of my blog not done some deep digging and research, and found out about the impending sheriff's sale and had I not sent that information to the auction house. The mansion on Rose Hill might have been stripped of everything valuable and the courts would be spending years trying to track it all down. Avondale might have lost an architectural treasure. Neighbors are keeping a watchfull eye until the sale in an effort to keep family members from stealing anything from the house at this moment.
So preservation 'wins' one today. Unfortunately it is only a small victory. the house will be sold at sheriff's sale with an opening bid of only 140,000.00 a fraction of what the historic mansion is worth. We can hope that someone comes along who will be a good steward of the home, who will love and cherish it but we can not be certain. There is no protection for this home. Avondale is not yet a declared historic district and that at best would only help protect its facade. Its historic interior, the grand woodwork and historic plaster and fixtures are still very much at risk. So while we won a small victory the final chapter of the manison on Rose hill is not yet written. We can only hope the right buyer comes along. They will certainly have a story to tell of the eccentric old woman witha compuslisive shopping addiction, greedy heirs , and unwitting auction house and preservationists who saved the day.