House brought back to life

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 8, 2006

By Scott Jenkins

Salisbury Post

There were times, Ann Lyles admits, when she wondered, “Oh, what did I get into this for?”

But Lyles is glad now that she did. And so are a lot of other folks.

The house at 531 E. Fisher St. had a near-death experience, but Lyles and dedicated friends and family gave it new life. On Nov. 30, they opened it to visitors for the first time.

The city came close to demolishing the house after it sat vacant for years, entered only by drug users and authorities responding to dozens of calls there. Lyles stepped in to save it.

“We knew if this one went, it could just start a domino effect, and we didn’t want that,” Lyles said as she hosted an open house for people and organizations who helped in various ways to preserve the 1912 bungalow. She was joined by son Preston Sale and his partner, Ken Weaver.

“It’s a good, solid house now,” Lyles said.

The house was fairly sound, at least structurally, when Lyles bought it from the city for $18,000. But it had been disgraced over time, Preston Sale saw when he entered it after the purchase.

“It was left with all the accouterments that go along with a crack house,” Sale said.

Sale and Weaver found garbage shoved into corners downstairs and a shag carpet, filthy with trash and human waste, covering the floor upstairs. A vagrant had set fire to one room and the ceiling had partially collapsed. Joists under the kitchen floor had been damaged by water.

Sale said he actually argued against his mother buying the house.

“It was pretty ratty,” he said. “It’s come a long way.”

With initial help and ongoing consultation from Lyles’ other son Karl Sale, who restores homes in New Orleans, they went to work. Among the renovations: they replaced the bad joists and laid a new kitchen floor, repaired broken kitchen cabinets, repaired or replaced hardwood flooring downstairs, removed and repaired nearly all the window sashes, took up the carpet and painted the floors upstairs.

They installed new columns to hold up the porch roof out front and, around back, poured a new concrete driveway and erected a privacy fence.

The workers painted inside and out. And with boards no longer covering the windows, the polished, airy bungalow opens onto a neighborhood where children could be seen strolling by the evening of the open house. Visitors came through the front door of the sage green bungalow smiling.

Lyles gave Historic Salisbury Foundation Managing Director Jack Thomson the grand tour, stopping along the way to show him pictures of what the house looked like before the renovation.

“I’m glad we held onto it,” Thomson said. “I’m glad it got into the right hands, that’s for sure.”

The foundation honored Lyles earlier this year with one of three Private Preservation and Neighborhood Revitalization Awards for her efforts.

Including the purchase price, Lyles estimates her group has put about $75,000 into the house. She hopes to sell it, and she also hopes what she calls a “gateway house” is a catalyst for positive change in its neighborhood just outside the Brooklyn-South Square Historic District.

Already she has seen upkeep at neighboring homes improve. And another nearby house, similar the one Lyles and company saved, is under renovation.

“I think it’s had a positive effect on other houses around it,” she said.

Linda Edmondson, who helped work on the house and lives nearby on Bank Street, stood at the threshold and called the finished product “outstanding, absolutely outstanding.”

“I’m very happy to see this house saved,” she said. “These houses just aren’t replaceable.”

Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248 or sjenkins@salisburypost.com.

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