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This Old House

Landmark Atlantic Holdings sets aside extra money to preserve historic Lowery House.

A daring ride through overgrown shrubs and bushes off Orchard Drive in Fairfax reveals a stunning property full of history and plenty of poison ivy. Without a machete, a car is needed to break through what looks like a rain forest at the entrance to the piece of land that will soon be home to a development of seven arts and crafts-style homes, plus one historic house that will stand out among the rest.

Landmark Atlantic Holdings, the developers taking on the project, acquire a lot of properties with historic value, said Mike and Cindy Pappas, historic home restoration enthusiasts. The couple developed a relationship with Landmark when they bought their historic home from the company years ago and have maintained their relationship ever since. When the Pappases heard Girard Lowery, the elderly owner of the house at 4101 Orchard Drive, was trying to sell, they hooked him up with Landmark to ensure the historic aspects of the property would not be ignored.

The Lowery House, which some say is nearly 200 years old, became the center of a plot of land Landmark wanted to turn into a cul-de-sac of arts and crafts-style homes. Before moving forward with the application process, the developers decided to ask the surrounding community for its opinion on the proposed development.

“They had two preliminary meetings and invited the whole neighborhood,” said Mike Pappas. “People around the community spoke highly in favor of the project.”

THE LOWERY HOUSE has its challenges though, said Karen Stevenson, president of Historic Fairfax, Inc. It has sat untouched for some time, becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other insects. The water damage to the basement of the home, along with significant damage to the home's foundation, made it an unattractive project for Landmark to take on, said Cindy Pappas, but they did anyway.

"They actually turned it into a positive," said Cindy Pappas.

"This is not your dream house," said Stevenson. "But you're only limited by your own imagination."

Even the Pappases were skeptical that the house was worth restoring, and they practically restore homes for a living. The couple had just completed the extensive restoration of their own home, and as optimistic as they are about fixing up old properties like the Lowery House, this one looked a little too ambitious.

"I even said at one point: I don't think you can save it," said Cindy Pappas.

Landmark isn't doing it for free though. While they are putting up extra money to restore the place, the company’s main goal is to turn it around for a profit. That doesn't bother the Pappases or Stevenson though, since their goal is to see that the house is properly cared for. Mike Pappas said the real gem of the home is the structural foundation made of logs, which architect Seth Ballard has agreed to make the decorative focal point of the home.

"Seth is a terrific architect," said Mike Pappas. "He has a keen eye and a great respect for these things."

"I was excited to look at this project," said Ballard. "It's a different animal than new homes."

BALLARD CAME IN just after the first approval process went through the city. He said beautiful floors that he thinks are made of chestnut run throughout the home. Ballard agreed with Mike Pappas about the log timbers holding the place together. These timbers, said Ballard, will be exposed and reinforced, making them more decorative than structural once the project is complete. All of these processes cost money, and Landmark is relying on the fact that the home will be well sought once the restoration is completed, said Ballard. It would cost about half as much to just demolish the home and start over, he said.

"Buildings can be saved and you can still make a profit," said Stevenson.

Some of the house will be demolished though. The north side will be the main part that is preserved and the surrounding shed and garage will be torn down. A courtyard around the back of the home that will also remain. Ballard said the home lacks a clear definable style, but it does have several aspects of many different design styles, which he said will be able to blend in fairly well with the arts and crafts style homes in the development. As long as the city approves the plans, which should be completed by Sept. 1, the restoration could begin sometime in mid-fall. The rest of the development should only take about six to eight months, so Mike Pappas said it makes sense to begin the restorations earlier than the rest of the construction. Restoring the Lowery House could also begin before the final building permits are approved, giving Landmark an even larger head start with the project.

"Working on an old house is like performing surgery on an older person, you have to work very slowly and very carefully," said Ballard.