Wineka column: Hambley-Wallace House comes alive for OctoberTour

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 8, 2012

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY – Over the past two years, armies of craftsmen – guided by Spencer and Janie Lane – have brought the Hambley-Wallace House back to life.People walking and driving by the elegant mansion at 508 S. Fulton St. couldn’t help but slow down or even stop, trying to take in this polishing of a jewel.What wasn’t as obvious, but just as impressive, was the rebirth going on inside.
For good reason, the Hambley-Wallace House has been called Salisbury’s Biltmore – the city’s most magnificent residence.
The size alone is daunting – 10,000 square feet, 20 rooms, muscular granite accents and seemingly endless spires, pinnacles, turrets, gables, towers and chimneys.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Hambley-Wallace House has shown up on lists – along with Asheville’s Biltmore – as one of the 10 finest examples of the Chateauesque-style of architecture in the country.
For owners Lee and Mona Lisa Wallace, the 1903 Hambley-Wallace House’s rejuvenation has simply reinforced for them the home’s importance to Rowan County history and their family’s own heritage.
They’ve made it a preservation project for the community and for generations of Salisburians and family members to come.
“We just thought it was the right thing to do,” Mona Lisa Wallace says.
The paying public will be able to take in all the home’s renewed glory Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 13-14, when the Hambley-Wallace House is centerpiece for OctoberTour, Historic Salisbury Foundation’s annual tour of homes.
The mansion also will be backdrop for Thursday’s Harvest Moon Patrons Party and Friday’s Secret Garden Tour and Luncheon.
Last night, the Hambley-Wallace House starred in the foundation’s 40th Anniversary Gala Celebration, a lavishly catered affair with New York pianist Rick McDonald and the John Brown Jazz Band.
Trolleys shuttled people to the front entrance from downtown parking locations. As Mona Lisa Wallace, daughter Whitney Wallace (chairwoman of the tour), Janie Lane and historian Betty Dan Spencer sit in the grand foyer, trying to describe the detailed facelift the mansion has gone through, you grasp how enormous the project was.
Just from this vantage point, the home reveals its abundant use of stained glass windows, mosaic marble tile and wooden floors, architectural mantels and fireplaces, brass fixtures and sconces, elaborate chandeliers and oak woodwork.
A classically detailed staircase rises level by level, and rooms everywhere in the two-and-a-half-story home flow effortlessly into one another. Just when you think there can’t be more, there is.
Every room qualifies as a show-stopper – its furnishings reflecting a turn-of-the-century eclecticism, the woods encompassing maple, mahogany and oak.
The house took two years (1901-03) to build at a then considerable cost of $50,000.
It has been lost in most conversations about the home’s history, but it actually was sold at auction twice – once for $38,000.
During OctoberTour, what people will be talking about coming out of the Hambley-Wallace House will differ with taste.
It could be the elaborate white Rococo Revival-style plaster ceiling in the front parlor, the interior granite “fence” of the upstairs sleeping porch, the skylight ballroom on the top floor, the octagonal-shaped tower room nearby, the dining room and its furniture, the completely remodeled and modern kitchen, the second-floor bedrooms with their private dressing rooms, the stained-glass window on the grand staircase, the granite porch and balcony or just the grounds themselves.
Whitney Wallace says tour guides probably will keep their house, room and history descriptions succinct, so visitors have time to take everything in.
The top floor will be devoted to Wallace family history, and all floors in general are filled with historical and family photographs connected to the Wallace family and going back to the house’s original owner, E.B.C Hambley.
Spencer painstakingly brought much of the history together, frame by frame, along with selected artifacts from the old V. Wallace & Sons wholesale dry goods business.
The house’s owners’ legacy on local commerce – from Hambley through three generations of Wallaces – cannot be denied.
Spencer tracked down the original plats and Charles Christian Hook’s architectural plans for the house, and the basement held virtually every bill of sale from the old wholesale business.
“We really have used this home to reconstruct the history of the city and county,” Mona Lisa Wallace says.
Before the total makeover, the mansion was in a slumber of sorts. Since 1941, Leo Wallace Jr. and his wife, Virginia, had lived in and lovingly maintained the home.
But in more recent years before their deaths, the family priority became the Wallaces themselves, not the mansion. The Wallaces lived their last years at Trinity Oaks.
After Leo Wallace died in 2010, his oldest son Lee and wife Mona Lisa purchased the house, and Mona Lisa persuaded her brother, Spencer Lane, and his wife, Janie, to lead the renovations of the house and grounds.
Janie Lane says the couple routinely worked 18-hour days, and as many as 50 people – carpenters, painters, electricians, plumbers, roofers – might be on the site at one time. The Wallaces hired local craftsmen when possible. Woody’s Painting of Salisbury was, for example, on the project for about a year.
“It’s been a boost to the economy,” Spencer says, and she’s not kidding.
Other local contractors and businesses included Cohen Roofing, Salisbury Millwork, electrician Noah Bernhardt, Textile Products, Fine Frame Gallery and Master Plumbing. That’s hardly everyone.
The house’s rejuvenation on the outside brought back emerald green window casings, meticulously cleaned the gray granite and pumpkin-colored brick, restored the roof with Vermont slate, replaced copper gutters, added scores of storm windows and opened up a back porch, which had been closed in.
The transformation of the grounds – Janie Lane’s consuming project – has accented the house’s beauty. The first order of business was to trim back and remove truckloads of out-of-control bamboo, ligustrum and wisteria and other overgrown bushes and shrubbery.
The process uncovered a virtually forgotten fountain and pool, led to a careful rebuilding of a columned arbor for wisteria, refurbished an original doll house, remodeled servants quarters, restored the rose garden, trimmed century-old boxwoods and trees, rejuvenated granite and concrete boundary walls and installed new lighting and landscaping, including topiary gardens.
Over the decades of changing styles and trends, Leo and Virginia Wallace had covered up many of the house’s interior details with rugs, draperies and paint.
But nothing original to the house was ever lost.
Thanks to the full basement and the outside buildings, items such as original light fixtures were stored away intact and could be located and returned to their rightful places. It was like finding lost treasure.
“They saved everything,” Janie Lane says.
Leo and Virginia Wallace essentially lived on the first floor, while using a study and bedroom upstairs.
Other areas of the house were shut off and required considerable attention when the rebirth began.
One of the first tasks was to remove asbestos in the basement. The Lanes also oversaw the restoration of plaster walls, ceilings and molding and generally breathed new life into floors, mantels, radiators, light fixtures, clawfoot bathtubs, stained glass windows and brass fixtures and sconces.
Janie Lane had five Rubbermaid tubs full of brass window locks, door handles, faceplates and hinges that had to be cleaned by hand.
“That was my winter,” she says.
The radiators held at least a dozen coats of paint. When those layers were removed, the fixtures revealed their original wooden knobs, used to control the release of steam heat.
(The house has a modern, forced-air heating today and a state-of-the-art security system)
As work progressed in the interior and exterior, the Wallaces and Lanes consulted with a number of experts in trying to make sure repairs, paint colors, furnishings and changes were consistent with the original house and its fixtures.
“The beauty covered up was amazing to see,” Janie Lane says of every room in general. “The home was well taken care of.”
Through its history as a residence, the Hambley-Wallace House served as the venue for private parties and the home to many community meetings, even painting classes in the ballroom.
Ella Belle Wallace – Leo’s mother – was a driving force behind the local English Speaking Union, YMCA and Red Cross. Leo and Virginia Wallace hosted bridge parties here, and the tables would have individual heaters for players to keep warm in the drafty home.
The Betsy Brandon Book Club traces much of its long history to the mansion.
Mona Lisa Wallace remembers how her in-laws dressed up in costume to meet children trick-or-treaters at the door for Halloween, and how the home always was the family gathering place for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. The mansion also had many New Year’s Eve parties.
“It meant so much to them,” Mona Lisa says of the house, “because Salisbury meant so much to them.”
She thinks the Wallaces would be pleased with the way their house looks today. “I think they would be smiling,” she adds.
Janie Lane took great care in restoring the grounds to their past grandeur. She believes in flowers and has planted varieties that will offer color at various times throughout the year.
Ella Belle and Virginia Wallace’s rose garden has returned to good health. Spencer notes that Ella Belle (Leo’s mother) had written into the deed of the house that her rose garden would be maintained as long as she lived. It became a favorite place of Virginia Wallace.
Ella Belle Wallace died in 1958 after outliving her husband, Leo Sr., by 23 years. She spent those years in the mansion, residing with Leo Jr. and Virginia.
So as not to damage them, workers tediously held up the ancient wisteria vines that cover the back arbor while it was completely rebuilt.
Loving care also has been given to the front lawn’s large Japanese ginkgo tree, which was planted in 1917 and is considered one of the state’s finest.
After the bamboo was cut way back and designed to create a boundary hedge on the south side of the property, large metal plates were driven deep into the ground to prevent the bamboo’s spreading again.
The old servant quarters at the rear of the 1.65-acre tract have been made into bathrooms and a prep kitchen. The stables were left pretty much as is.
The original elevator cage from the Wallace Building (today’s Plaza on the Square) has been restored, becoming a handsome trellis feature in the back yard.
“It’s been an adventure,” Janie Lane says of everything that’s happened in the past two years.
With its awakening, the Hambley-Wallace House faces a bright future.
Mona Lisa Wallace says the family hopes the mansion can be used for charitable fundraising and family events.
It could even return to a full-time private residence some day.
Whatever lies ahead, the Hambley-Wallace house is guaranteed one thing – many more looks from people passing by.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or