A tattered photograph of a Victorian house in Atlanta has long sustained Washington builder J.W. Kaempfer's dream of duplicating the "charm and intimacy" of that structure here.
Finally, as the president of The Great Northwest Land Company Inc. put it, "the right property presented itself at the right time."
"The right property" is a lot 400 feet deep and about 80 feet wide on Chain Bridge Road NW, north of MacArthur Boulevard and across from Battery Kemble Park. Kaempfer's company is building four $350,000 to $600,000 "Victorian revival houses" there. Luther Blair, of Lewis/Wisnewski & Associates of Alexandria, was the architect for the project.
At a time when some developers here are having financial difficulties, Kaempfer said he is confident his houses will sell. The single-family dwellings are a departure from Great Northwest's usual condominiums and town houses, which have included Guilford Green in Alexandria and MacArthur Mews in Northwest Washington.
"I think that in bad economic times such as these, building real quality is the best idea," Kaempfer said. "What the buyer will get here is all the charm and elegance, and excitement of homes built 75 years ago combined with all the convenience of today. It's just about impossible to find this combinaton at this price in this area."
Kaempfer acknowledged there are true Victorian houses available in the city. But buyers of old houses have to cope with "a whole slew of problems" such as sagging floors, renovation difficulties and roofing in need of repair -- problems his houses do not present, the builder asserted.
The $600,000 main or "A" house in Kaempfer's project is his favorite. He describes it as a combination of the best features from his own 1923-vintage house facing the Georgetown Reservoir and the Atlanta house, with its oak exterior. A few concessions to modern adornment, such as the addition of a number of skylights, have been made.
Kaempfer made substantial improvements on his own home on MacArthur Boulevard, experimenting with ideas, as a prelude to building the Victorians.
"Building these homes from the ground up allowed us to incorporate all the best ideas from that structure," he said. "We're doing this more for fun than anything else. It's our only on-going project at the moment." Kaempfer said the houses would be finished by late summer.
The main house will be cream-colored, with shuttered windows and porch columns. All four houses have, hardwood floors, ceramic-tiled kitchens and three to five bedrooms.
In the main house, there are fireplaces with antique mantles in the library, a second-floor master bedroom and basement activity room as well as the living room. The four bedrooms have private baths, and the master bedroom has an adjacent study and dressing room as well.
The garage level has several rooms, including another bedroom and bath and a wine cellar. The activity room there opens to a red-brick portico.
A 14-by 32-foot swimming pool is the centerpiece of the backyard. Pools are usually an extra, but Kaempfer felt the yard called for one and had it installed.
Among the other details of the "A" house are skylights in the master bathroom and a third-floor loft. The house even has two dishwashers -- one in the butcher block kitchen and another in the butler's pantry.
"B" and "C," two of the smaller houses, have three-story turrets with skylights, kitchen greenhouses and octagonal rooms that are "perfect for a grand piano," the builder said. One of the houses has an antique weathervane.
On the "D" house, Kaempfer asked architect Luther Blair to fulfill his own fantasies. That house has a rectangular turret accented by a hugh diamond window on the third-floor.
"We researched a lot of old Victorian houses to create a functional design and the elements I liked were the wrap-around porch and turret," Blair said. The visitor steps from a dark, shaded porch into a stairwell filled with light. Kaempfer readily concedes the prices of his homes limit the pool of potential home buyers. "Buying a house like this is a major move," he said.
He anticipated the houses might be bought by buyers with substantial equity in houses they already own. He added buyers would necessarily be people "who feel confident that the world isn't falling apart."
Formal sales arrangements for the four Victorians have not yet been made, but Kaempfer expects them to go to market in a month or so. He said he is arranging for financing "well below" current rates, but said details have not been worked out.
"Look down this lane and imagine life as it was at the turn of the century," Kaempfer suggested. "People who come to see these homes will have been checking the area market. They'll see what their money buys in Potomac, and then head back here." CAPTION: Picture 1, no caption; By Scott Chase for the Washington Post; Picture 2, Victorian-style houses on Chain Bridge Road NW have turrets and porches, cost $350,000 to $600,000. By Scott Chase for The Washington Post.