Driving down Fair Street in Pawtuxet, it is easy to see the property at 69 Fair St. is run down. In fact, the home once known as Fair Mansion is in a condition that makes it uninhabitable, but House of Hope CDC aims to transform it into a place for people to call home.
House of Hope purchased the property in November 2012 for $185,000. The project, as with all House of Hope work, will be funded entirely through grants.
Taylor Ellis, the housing development manager at House of Hope, explained that his organization had been interested in the property since acquiring and renovating the historic home next door six years ago.
“We were so happy to be able to acquire the building; we’ve always had our eye on it,” said Ellis. He said the building will be transformed into efficiency apartments for individuals moving out of House of Hope shelters.
Standing on the property’s expansive yard, Ellis points out the Greek revival architectural details that House of Hope will maintain during renovation. Per the regulations set down by the Warwick Historical District Commission, the historical building’s exterior needs to be maintained, but the inside can be completely renovated.
Ellis said that he and other staff from House of Hope have met with the commission to discuss plans and take suggestions.
“We are very excited about what they are going to do,” said Ginny Leslie, a member of the Warwick Historical District Commission. “They were receptive to our suggestions.”
Leslie said the commission had some minor suggestions, including railings and parking.
“We have to make sure any changes are done in kind,” said Leslie.
Ellis explained that the plan is to maintain many of the details outside and inside the facility.
“We will save any historical feature we find buried in the walls,” said Ellis, who explained that the property needs new heating, new walls and new plumbing, just to name a few.
Following renovations, the Fair House, which House of Hope plans to call the property, would feature five House of Hope efficiency apartments. Each occupant would have their own bedroom and bathroom, but share a common kitchen and living area. There would also be office space for a House of Hope social worker to assist residents.
Ellis added that they would like to create a circular driveway for better parking and the house needs to be brought up to ADA regulations.
Ellis is hoping to feature aspects of the property’s rich history in the renovation. According to the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, the house was built around 1820, and Leslie said that it was used as the headquarters for the Society for the Encouragement of Domestic Industry.
According to an article about the Fair Mansion featured on the Warwick Digital History Project’s website, the original building was built by William G. Budlong and his son, Anthony, who were both members of the Society. The property was used as an exhibit hall during the Rhode Island State Fair and Cattle Drive, a meeting place for the Society, and a school. The Society was formed on Feb. 25, 1820 and brought the Fair to Pawtuxet; it was held in “the area bounded by present day Fair Street, North Fair Street, South Fair Street and Atlantic Avenue.”
In 1848, the Society sought larger quarters and more space to accommodate Fair attractions and a larger attendance. The Fair was relocated to Narragansett Park and the property at 69 Fair St. was sold.
According to the Warwick Digital History Project’s article, the property served as a school for many years after the Society left, but in 1940, the King’s Daughters and Sons took ownership. The property has had many owners since then and was most recently used as a nursing facility known as Gaspee Mansion.
With the help of city historian Henry Brown, Ellis said that House of Hope has acquired plaques from the fairs that were hosted at the property. We are working to really understand the history,” said Ellis. “We would be looking to set up a history corner in the house.”
They are also hoping to maintain the main staircase in the entrance foyer because of its beautiful original woodwork.
While maintaining history is key, there are also plans to add to the property. Ellis said House of Hope would like to add a breezeway from an existing door on the original house to a new, yet small addition. The addition would feature four one-bedroom apartments. Each apartment would have their own kitchen area and living space so those individuals would not need to utilize the facilities in the main building.
“We could make something small enough not to distract from the property,” said Ellis. He added that the proposal is far below the number of apartments that could fit in a property the size of Fair House. Ellis said the smaller number fulfills House of Hope’s mission.
“We don’t just want buildings, we want to support people,” said Ellis, explaining that the property would be quality housing, not just rooms.
In total, House of Hope will provide nine new apartments for currently homeless individuals or couples; the accommodations would not be large enough for family housing.
“There is a great need in this community for places like this,” added Ellis.
Ellis estimates that more than $1 million will be needed to complete the project. While the property was used as an assisted living facility until three years ago, previous renovations could be considered “patchwork.” Ellis says extensive renovation is necessary to bring the property to quality living.
According to Ellis, House of Hope has actively been applying for grants to provide for this project. They recently received a $400,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston’s Affordable Housing Project. They are also awaiting word on sizable grants from federal sources, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Applications are also being prepared for Rhode Island Housing.
In addition to suggestions for the property from the Commission, Ellis said House of Hope is looking to owners of houses in the neighborhood for input. Ellis explained that the surrounding community was very supportive of the renovation of the first property and has been equally receptive to House of Hope’s purchase of Fair Mansion.
“We want to be good neighbors and add to the area,” said Ellis. He added that special consideration would be given the property’s best feature. “The most important part is the view; we want to keep this view.”
The next step for Ellis is to submit updated plans to the Commission at their June meeting, followed by a meeting with House of Hope staff and Fair Mansion neighbors to address any concerns. Then Ellis will work with the city to continue through the construction process.
“So far, House of Hope has been successful moving things forward,” said Ellis.
If the appropriate parties approve plans and the funds are in place, Ellis believes construction could begin sometime in 2014 and be completed by 2015.
Leslie is looking forward to seeing what House of Hope has planned for the property.
“It is just so grand; it is one of the grandest buildings in the village,” she said of Fair House.