Many homeowners who undertake a major renovation like to point out the improvements they’ve made. Frank Rizzo and Leslie Stack are a little different. They’re about to finish a two-year restoration of Holly Lawn, an architectural standout on Richmond’s North Side, and they’re ecstatic when visitors can’t see what they’ve done.
In fact, that’s exactly what they wanted all along.
On June 16, 2016, a 175-year-old red oak fell on Holly Lawn during a violent thunderstorm. Experts who examined the damage after the storm suggested that the tree’s expansive crown, which was especially dense with leaves after heavy spring rains, caught the high winds like a sail and lifted the tree out of the ground.
As it fell, the tree tore off a section of a turret that stood on the southwestern corner of the house, and a branch that was 42 inches in diameter crashed through the window of Rizzo and Stack’s bedroom on the second floor. But the house withstood the impact, and rather than falling into the structure, the tree slid along its front.
Holly Lawn wasn’t the city’s only property damaged during the storm, which left some 160,000 residents without electricity in the Richmond area. But it might have been the most architecturally significant one.
The buff-colored, Queen Anne-style house was designed by renowned architect D. Wiley Anderson and built circa 1900. With its towers, turrets and intricate roofline, it’s a singular achievement from an overachieving era in the city’s architectural history.
The property, which was home to the Richmond Council of Garden Clubs from 1969 to 1993, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.
Given the house’s architectural significance, Rizzo and Stack wanted to return the house as close to its original appearance as possible. If they did it right, the transition from the original, untouched parts of the house to the newly restored sections would be seamless.
It wasn’t a simple task.
While the house withstood the tree’s impact surprisingly well, the damage to the front elevation was extensive. As it fell, the tree sheared off the widow’s walk that had stood on the second floor, and once it came to rest on the porch, the tree pulled the porch roof from the house. In addition, the branch that hit Rizzo and Stack’s bedroom tore a radiator loose, and water from the burst line poured downstairs, as did the rain falling through holes in the roof and attic. The water damage was significant.
After removing the tree and moving furniture, rugs and books from the damaged parts of the house, Rizzo and Stack hired a restoration services company to undertake the two-week-long task of drying the house. In the meantime, they began assessing the damage, salvaging materials and coming up with a plan to restore the house.
That took from June 2016 to March 2017, Rizzo said.
Rizzo and Stack chose Edwin Holloway of Glavé & Holmes Architecture to be the lead architect for the renovation project. They hired Goodman-Gable-Gould Adjusters International to be their personal insurance adjustor and Restoration Builders of Virginia Inc. to be the project’s general contractor.
“Edwin had to write the narrative on how to rebuild Holly Lawn and give it to RBVa to start the process,” Stack said.
Because Holly Lawn is located in the Hermitage Road Historic District and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Richmond’s Commission of Architectural Review had to approve the plan before the city would issue a building permit.
Reconstruction work began in earnest in approximately May 2017. First, workers built a temporary structure over the house. Then they rebuilt the roof, the turret and the porch and turned their attention to the house’s interior. Workers replaced broken windows, and a local artisan used Italian plaster to repair the walls and the house’s elaborate crown molding and ceiling medallions.
“It’s a huge team that has done all this,” Stack said.
Rizzo added: “We’ve had as many as 35 to 40 workers at the house on any given day.”
At times, the project required extensive research.
With Holloway’s help, Rizzo and Stack tracked down the source for the house’s original slate roof in Buckingham County, and they harvested new slate from the same vein that had been used for Holly Lawn at the turn of the 20th century.
Holloway also studied photos of the house that were on file at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
“They were recent and fairly high resolution, so we could zoom in,” Holloway said. “Without those, it would have been much more of a challenge.”
With the photos, for example, Holloway was able to determine how many boards had been used on the underside of the house’s distinctive radius dormer.
“We’re used to making custom pieces, but we usually have something to fit it to,” said Wes Barger, one of RBVa’s two owners.
The goal might be to make Holly Lawn look like it did pre-storm, but the house also got a few subtle improvements during the restoration. The turret and porch now have steel beams to support them, instead of wood, and the porch now has a stainless-steel roof, instead of a tin one.
“It has the look of an old tin roof without requiring frequent painting,” said Thomas Flanagan, RBVa’s other owner.
Along the way, there have been pleasant surprises. Crews found an archway that had been covered up when previous owners added a bathroom, for example.
“Frank and Leslie didn’t want to lose the bathroom, but we remade the arch and set the door inside a niche,” Holloway said.
Ending with a celebration
Almost exactly two years after the tree fell on the house, work on Holly Lawn has begun to wind down. By mid-June, crews were refinishing the floors, and RBVa was making its way through its final punch list, with the expectation that work would wrap up by the end of the month.
“We’ve taken it from a job site back to a house,” Flanagan said.
Rizzo and Stack won’t move back into the house until later in the year, though, because they’ve agreed to have Holly Lawn serve as the site for this year’s Designer House, presented by the Richmond Symphony Orchestra League.
To prepare for the event, 18 designers will decorate the house, and it will be open for tours from Sept. 17 to Oct. 14. Proceeds benefit the Richmond Symphony.
“We really wanted to end the project with a celebration, and the Symphony House seemed like the perfect way to share it with the community,” Stack said.
Rizzo and Stack will move back into Holly Lawn on Nov. 1, in time to start planning for Thanksgiving.
“We have a lot of long-overdue celebrating and entertaining that we want to do,” Stack said.
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