In life and historic houses, it is the little things that count — or at least, that is the hope for the Ewing-Bordeaux Cottage at 405 N. Lumina Ave.
The 924-square-foot cottage is a little rundown from its 100-year stint on Wrightsville Beach, but Madeline Flagler, Wrightsville Beach Museum of History director, said she thinks its small charms, like a little set of stairs leading to a tiny gate on the way inside and its glowing gold pinewood floors, outshine the problems.
“They are older pine floors that have a really deep yellow to them … a warmth and beautiful golden hue that you can’t get with an oak floor,” Flagler said. “There are various different types of unique qualities to that house, in the architecture, the way it’s built and situated, that are so different from contemporary houses. It has a really unique beauty to it.”
For Flagler and others concerned about the future of the building following its March 2014 listing with Intracoastal Realty, the question is: will the cottage’s one-of-a-kind details outweigh its disrepair and save it from the wrecking ball?
No one knows for sure, but the question landed the cottage a spot on Historic Wilmington Foundation’s 2014 Most Threatened Places List.
George Edwards, foundation executive director, said disparate values assigned to the cottage and the property place the cottage at a higher risk of demolition.
“Real estate values drive all considerations at the beach. We’ve placed some [beach]structures on the threatened places list before and they’re … gone,” Edwards said.
The building is valued at $60,500 while the 50- by 85-foot lot swells the total price tag to $1.09 million.
The threatened places list is intended to generate new ideas, proposals or buyers for historic places in danger of neglect or demolition, places on the verge of what Edwards calls the “but” part of the process.
“A feeling with the most threatened places is that we’re just about to the ‘but’ for this effort, when the place is lost,” Edwards said. “The ‘but’ means we’re trying to draw visibility to a site and generate new ideas.”
Throughout the years, a couple of places were saved because visibility drew a buyer but occasionally the spotlight has the opposite effect, prompting demolition instead.
Even though the Ewing-Bordeaux Cottage’s predecessors on the list met disappointing outcomes, Edwards is hopeful about recent preservation efforts at Wrightsville Beach like the National Register listing and rehabilitation of the James D. and Frances Sprunt Cottage and adaptive reuse of the Palmgren-O’Quinn House by the N.C. Coastal Federation.
The cottage is designated by the Wrightsville Beach Historic Landmark Commission so potential owners can bank on a property tax reduction as a benefit of rehabilitation. On the other hand, disadvantages like size, extent of disrepair and its low setting on the floodplain might make the cottage less likely to receive a residential rehab.
Edwards said on-site preservation would be ideal but another option remains if a new owner is uninterested in saving the building. The cottage could be moved to Wrightsville’s Historic Square for nonprofit use.
“You can point to the fact that some beach cottages have ended up as office facilities: the Wrightsville Beach Museum, the chamber of commerce, now the coastal federation,” Edwards said.
Flagler said the museum is vested in the future of the cottage and would be willing to take responsibility of the property.
“We haven’t actively pursued [purchase of the property]. We’re just trying to look out for the best interest … long term. The No. 1 priority as far as the museum is concerned and also, it feels like the intent of the will, is that the building be preserved,” Flagler said.
In fact, the museum has a remainder trust on the cottage, meaning it will eventually fall under its control.
“There are two pieces of property, 405 and 407 N. Lumina Ave., that have been left to the museum and have been left to other people for their lifetime. They have a life estate in it. Whatever is left of all that when they pass away, the museum will get,” Flagler said.
In the meantime, Flagler said she hopes a buyer with an eye for detail and the resources for restoration comes along.
“The people who would be interested in this building would be interested in historic preservation, who would see it not just as a place, but who are interested in … its charms, its uniqueness,” Flagler said.