Manassas Prescott house could be saved by mystery benefactor at final hour


The historic house, circa 1905, at the corner of Prescott Avenue and Quarry Road in Manassas. (Christy Goodman/THE WASHINGTON POST)
December 10, 2012

An eleventh-hour effort from a mysterious benefactor could save a historic home in Old Town Manassas that has gone from cherished city prize to neighborhood scourge.

The Manassas City Council did what was expected Monday, allocating $30,000 to demolish an early-20th-century Queen Anne-style structure at 9300 Prescott Ave. that serves as a looming presence among the street’s historic homes. But a pitch from a benefactor’s representative has possibly postponed what seemed to be inevitable.

The benefactor’s promises came by way of his attorney and delivered a late-hour plot twist for a home that has been the subject of debate and consternation since the mid-1990s. If repairs are not made as promised, the city could demolish the home under “blight” laws, officials said.

Timothy Purnell, a Manassas lawyer, told the council that he represents a benefactor who was friends with homeowner Dorothy Feaganes’s late husband when they both worked in the airline industry. The benefactor, who wants to remain anonymous, learned of the issue recently in a newspaper story, Purnell said.

“He said, ‘Let’s take it step by step,’ ” Purnell told the council of the benefactor’s promise, adding that the man has already paid for Purnell and a contractor to begin drawing up plans. “Our belief is the house itself is sound.”

It is not known exactly how much repairs would cost for a structure that has been allowed to deteriorate for more than two decades. The sweeping Southern porch is deteriorating and will have to be demolished. The city’s building inspector said detailed plans still need to be submitted and approved.

Contractor Tony Pancione, who attended the meeting, said his recent walk-through of the house was encouraging. It was not leaning or falling into the earth, he said. The lines were straight and he believes the structure is repairable, he said.

“The goal was to put her back in the house,” Pancione said of Feaganes, who is in her 80s and has declared bankruptcy.

City Council members have heard promises before. The city has sued the homeowner, placed liens, written countless letters and demanded attention for the home . Instead, they have watched it go from a piece of prized history to eyesore.

Feaganes has maintained that she will never sell the home and hopes to live there again.

In February, Mayor Harry J. “Hal” Parrish II decided that if Feaganes did not make repairs by a certain date, the city would move to demolish the house. That date has come and gone. The house remains, leaving the opportunity for the last-minute overtures of what was described as a “well off” mystery man.

Aside from his ties to Feaganes, Purnell would say only that the potential benefactor lives in Virginia.

Some just plain weren’t buying it. “I’m a little suspicious,” said council member Marc T. Aveni (R). “In my mind, time is up.”

J. Steven Randolph (I) said he has dealt with the issue nearly his entire time on the council. “I’m still an optimist. I’m still hopeful,” he said. But, he added, “I definitely want to see some benchmarks.”

The issue has also divided residents at meeting after meeting over the years, pitching small-government conservatives against preservationists.

“I don’t believe that government bailouts are necessary for anyone,” one resident said at a public hearing this year. Others, including resident Mickey Tamer, argued that the government should do the right thing by the house.

“Without the past, it’s like you don’t have a compass, you don’t have a road map,” Tamer said.

Purnell said that when plans are approved by the city, the benefactor plans to begin the work. It was not clear when that might be.

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