Back in 1978, Richard Nuckols and three investors bought a group of four apartment buildings in Richmond’s Byrd Park neighborhood and set out to convert them into condominiums. At the time, it was still a fairly new concept in the city.
Conversions of some of the city’s most prominent historic apartment buildings, including The Prestwould, The Tuckahoe and Tuscan Villas, were still a few years off. In fact, Greater Richmond’s first new-construction luxury condos were themselves less than 10 years old when Nuckols’ group bought the apartment buildings at 501-507 South Davis Avenue. (The buildings also have separate entrances at 2421 Rosewood Avenue and 2420 Maplewood Avenue.)
Convincing buyers that condos would be appealing wasn’t the only challenge Nuckols faced. “The buildings were in total disrepair and unoccupied,” Nuckols said. Plus, the neighborhood didn’t have the name recognition that others, like the Fan District, enjoyed, says Chris Small, a real estate broker and president of Small & Associates.
‘A pretty straightforward rehab’
Still, the buildings were worth saving. They were designed in 1922 by Carl Lindner Sr., a successful Richmond architect who produced designs for commercial buildings, single-family residences, apartment buildings and places of worship throughout the city.
Among Lindner’s architectural standouts are Byrd Park Court (1922), which he designed with his cousin, Charles Phillips; the Tudor Revival-style mansion at 5103 Cary Street Road (1928); the Georgian Revival-style Kenwyn mansion (1929) at 6 Ampthill Road, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register; and the Colonial Revival-style Lord Fairfax Apartments building (1923) at 3101-3115 Monument Avenue, which he designed with Phillips. (In 1926, Lindner also designed the attractive row of nine houses next to the Lord Fairfax.)
Although Nuckols had to undertake a complete rehab of the four buildings on South Davis Avenue, he managed to preserve a lot of their architectural details, including the large bay windows that face Fountain Lake. “The bay windows are stunning when you’re inside,” Small said.
The rehab included installing HVAC units and new kitchens and baths, as well as some new interior walls. “But we didn’t face a lot of architectural challenges,” Nuckols said. “It was a pretty straightforward rehab.”
Work progressed quickly on the buildings, which Nuckols named The Fountain Lake Condominiums.
“We completed them a building at a time, and we sold them as we went,” Nuckols said. “We sold the first three buildings quickly. Then an economic downturn got us, and sales slowed down in 1981.”
In 1982, one year before Nuckols hired Small to sell the remaining units, the interest rate on mortgages was 16 percent, and back then, the Byrd Park neighborhood didn’t resonate with homebuyers, Small says.
“Still, $39,000 for a fully renovated condo with central AC and modernized kitchens and baths was a great value,” said Small, who bought a unit in Fountain Lake and lived there in the mid-1980s. “Richard was very forward-thinking to convert those four buildings to condos.”
Fountain Lake Condominiums has 48 residential units and one commercial unit. The homeowners association capped rentals at 10 units, so at least 38 are owner-occupied.
“Most of the residential units have two bedrooms and one bath, although some have two bedrooms and two baths,” Small said. “Six units have three bedrooms and two baths.”
Sizes in the residential condos range from 750 to 1,200 square feet. (The commercial condo is 3,000 square feet.)
Byrd Park’s reputation has improved dramatically since the 1980s, and properties in the neighborhood tend to sell quickly, Small says. But units in Fountain Lake rarely come on the market.
“In my building, which has six units, there’ve only been three new people since 2004,” said Jason Barker, who bought a condo in Fountain Lake 15 years ago and has served on the board of its homeowners association since 2007.
He added: “We have many residents who have been here as many as 20 years.”
In the last 24 months, there have been 11 sales, plus one currently under contract. The lowest price was $155,000, and the highest was $250,000.
The condos’ location is helping to drive sales, Small says.
“That neighborhood is terrific, and these days people understand the real value and assets of a neighborhood,” Small said. “They’re nice condos with great views, and residents can walk to Carytown, which has a lot of character.”
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