Hot Properties

On the Level

Circa-1895 storefront in Lenox.

by John Griffin

ou might just get the impression from outside that the building is not exactly in perfect shape. And you’d be right. The floors inside roll enough to bring the North Atlantic in winter to mind. The first thing you check for with bad floors is spring, which happens when the floor joists beneath are undersized. There is no spring here, which is good news. But there’s still some major unlevelness and it’s definitely going to take several house jacks and a good bit of sweat to correct it.

The building dates from 1895 and is probably one of the oldest structures standing in Lenox. It’s likely the storefront was added to the house. If they’d been built at the same time, a simpler, full two-story structure would have been more logical and more typical.

The house sits right on the Vinton Avenue property line, and the storefront – both in location and style very reminiscent of the commercial properties that line Magazine Street in New Orleans – is built all the way forward to the sidewalk on Cox with a chopped-off corner entry. The original pair of storefront windows with transoms above and panels below face east onto Cox but are now partially boarded up.

This location was home to Bryant’s Grocery for uncountable years. It’s now a big, open loft-like space with old pine floors under linoleum. This high-ceilinged commercial space would be a gorgeous living room, a spacious home studio, a great rehearsal space, or all three, for that matter.

The house attached to the rear of the commercial space has gambreled cross gables typical of the Shingle style. This roof form gives the second floor of the house almost as much area as the first. Although there is an interior stair, suggesting the house was originally occupied as a single-family residence, the space was last used as two apartments, one per floor.

The house doesn’t exhibit the terrible roll of the floors like up front but has suffered from generations of dropped ceilings and paneled walls. The ground-floor ceilings appear to be 12 feet high and both walls and ceilings still retain their original sheathing of 1”x4” tongue-and-groove beadboard in robin’s-egg blue-green. This color must have been the third most popular color at the beginning of this century, right up there with white and black-green. You see robin’s-egg blue-green on porch ceilings and old kitchen and bath wainscotting all over the South. It seems, in fact, to be the exclusive color used when beadboard was painted. And here it is again.

Both downstairs and up have two comfortable rooms and a kitchen and bath. It would be easy if you used the store as living room to have a generous residence down and renovate the upstairs to rent out. If another use for the front was desired, then I’d renovate the back house into a single residence. The fixtures here are minimal so you’d pretty much have to replace everything. The single-family set-up would, of course, cost less, needing only one kitchen.

It’s going to take someone with a willing imagination and unafraid of rolling up their shirt sleeves and digging in to realize the potential of this unusual property. But if you’re looking for a hands-on renovation because you’ve got more sweat equity to invest than cash, this is well worth considering. n

563 S. Cox Street
Approx. 2,000 square feet; Being sold “as is,” $39,500
Realtor: Coleman Etter Fontaine; Agent: Barbara Cowles, 767-4100

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