New owner to unveil renovation of Manassas house that escaped wrecking ball


The neglected house on Prescott Avenue. (Jared Soares/For The Washington Post)
August 21, 2013

On the day Hugh Ickrath bought the dilapidated house at 9300 Prescott Ave. in Manassas, friends passed plywood over its chain-link fence, stacking it in preparation for the impending renovation. They ignored the spattering of rain that had begun.

The work ahead looked daunting. The Queen Anne-style house, which dates to the turn of the 20th century, had been in decline for nearly two decades, the longtime owner rebuffing city officials’ pleas to fix it up. The house’s wide, Southern porch had visibly weakened to the point where the city strung yellow hazard tape from pillar to pillar. Plywood covered the windows, its pointed roof was badly warped, and the flaking white paint revealed the weathered wood underneath.

Some thought it had been left to the elements — or the city’s wrecking ball.

Not quite three months after that rainy Saturday, the exterior renovation is nearly complete. To celebrate his progress, and the fact that he is no longer subject to the city’s mandated timeline — officials said when he bought the house that he had 45 days to stabilize it and make it presentable — Ickrath has planned an unveiling of sorts.

Unless city inspectors object, Ickrath plans to hold a yard sale at 9 a.m. Saturday and to open the house’s doors from noon to 4 p.m. He is asking for a $5 donation; proceeds will go to Habitat for Humanity.

“It’s really for the community to get a look and see what the fuss has been all about,” Ickrath said.

He lives on the block and long championed neighbors’ efforts to force the house’s former owners to fix up the property. When Manassas officials announced their plans to tear it down under state blight laws, Ickrath helped lead the charge against such a move.

His last-minute pleas to the Feaganes, the longtime owners, worked. They sold the house to Ickrath and two investors. He threw himself into the project with gusto, saying that 100-year-old Victorians are worth fighting for.

Its makeover is remarkable. The house’s distinctive porch has been reconstructed, and new columns stand sturdily in place. New green siding (“heathered moss,” Ickrath said) is in place, and purple trim on the dormers — the peaks on top of the house — punctuates the change.

The stop sign in front of the house has served as an unofficial gawking point. The hundreds who stream past daily honked and yelled when progress became evident, Ickrath said. Many have stopped to chat, expressing wonderment at the rapid turnaround. Only one has expressed disapproval. She didn’t like the color, Ickrath said.

Ickrath hopes to eventually find a buyer for the house, although he said that wasn’t what motivated him to schedule Saturday’s event. For about $125,000, he estimates, the new owners could finish the interior themselves. It needs a complete overhaul: new bathrooms, kitchens, electrical and plumbing. But that’s what old-house junkies like to do, and it would save them thousands, Ickrath said. If he does the work himself, he would expect a buyer to pay for it, plus a mark-up for all the time spent.

But Ickrath said he doesn’t necessarily have a preference.

“We’ll see if we can let it sell itself,” he said. If it doesn’t, he’ll continue the restoration.

A look inside the house Monday revealed the extent of the work ahead. Walls and ceilings are damaged; copper piping and a radiator have been stolen; and the kitchen floor is torn up in places. But, it turns out, the 100-year-old building is still standing for a reason. Ickrath jumped up and down on the second-floor landing. Anything moving? Walls whining? Fixtures squeaking? Just solid thuds, he noted.

Bob Carter and his wife, Harriet, have lived across the street for years and long lamented the house’s gradual demise. Manassas has “lost so many really great old houses over the years,” Bob Carter said. “This was a nice surprise.”

Ickrath said that $80,000 and countless hours later, he is grateful for the renovation crew he hired from West Virginia. He pointed to the porch’s graceful round curve, which was totally rebuilt. And the new columns have no chance of sagging the way the original ones did; they’re made of fiberglass.

“This is going to be the last house standing in Manassas,” Ickrath said.

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