Home torn down to become nature area
BY BRETT BENNETT Northwest Arkansas Times
Posted on Saturday, December 27, 2008
The steep hillside along Center Street east of Duncan Avenue makes the land challenging to build on for developers.
Now, the one remaining structure that was at the top of the small ravine is no more, and for the upcoming new year, the hillside is undeveloped once again and being restored to a more natural habitat.
Just before the July 4 holiday, a small brown flat-roof apartment building known for featuring a sign with the words "Be Free" on the front door was torn down by the University of Arkansas, the current owner of the property. The demolished building was located near the recently built Duncan Avenue Apartments owned by the university.
"That was one of my renters who put that sign up," former property owner Tom Howard said.
The home might have stood out to drivers going by for two reasons. It was the only building on that north-side stretch of Center Street in recent years, and the flat roof made it difficult to discern if it was a residence or small commercial office building.
"It was unique," Howard said. "I really liked it."
Although it looked short from the road because of the way the building was positioned against the hillside, Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Mike Johnson said it had an upstairs and downstairs. The home actually had a driveway that went down into the ravine, but the driveway is also now gone.
"Downstairs there was a garage. If you had anything bigger than a Volkswagen you couldn't fit it in there," Howard said.
It was most recently used by the contractor working on the Duncan Avenue Apartments.
"We used it as a construction office," Johnson said. "It wasn't in very good shape."
The structure was originally built in the late 1940s by Harry Vandergriff, a retired Fayetteville School District superintendent, administrator and high school football coach.
Vandergriff and his wife built two homes on that side of Center Street. One was a white stucco structure that was torn down several years ago, and the next one they built was the recently demolished brown home, he said.
They moved into the brown building and rented rooms in the white stucco house to UA students, he said.
"We built it and we moved into it and had our first child," he said.
They found a builder who helped construct the house but it was built without any formal building plan designed by an architect, Vandergriff said.
They lived in the home for a brief time then sold it and built a new house on Virginia Avenue. Vandergriff said the location of the home on Center Street was convenient to the high school.
"We enjoyed it while we were there," he said.
The university has since built a paved trail path behind the home that goes behind the new apartments.
"It's kind of the beginning of what we're calling the Oak Ridge Trail," Johnson said.
According to Linda Osterich, an employee in the city's permit office, the city has issued 30 demolition permits for 2008, most of which were for commercial structures.
The University of Arkansas does not have to obtain a permit from the city offices to raze or build a structure, she said.
Also, a demolition permit for a single-family house is not always required provided the nature of the demolition meets certain requirements, she said. A single-family home demolition may be permit exempt, for example, if it affects only one structure and not multiple houses within the same area, she said.
Other demolitions in Fayetteville for 2008 include the former Beer Barn building at 646 W. Sycamore within the last month.
It was formerly used as a beer store and the one-time location of Soap & Suds, a laundry where people could reportedly drink while washing their clothes. After Beer Barn, it was the first location for the Church at Arkansas before the church moved to a commercial building on Mission Boulevard.
According to records at the Washington County Assessor's Office, the structure was approximately 5,510 square feet and built in 1984. The records indicated the building was owned by Lenwyn K. and Kathy Edens until Feb. 15, 2006, when it was sold for $500,000 to Blind Squirrel in the Barn, LLC.
After demolishing the building, workers tore up the concrete in the parking lot to be crushed and re-used as rock.
City Planner Jeremy Pate said a request was made and approved early this year to use the property to build additional apartments for the Skate Place Condominiums on Chestnut Street north of the one-time Beer Barn location.
"There are three buildings each with five units, and they will each have 15 units," he said. "It's a small project, but it's extended to the north."
According to the city's permit office, no one has yet applied for the building permit to build the new structure. A demolition permit was granted earlier this month.
The Fayetteville School District also demolished a home, which was technically a portable building, behind Asbell Elementary School this past semester.
The district used the space to house its "resource center," and it moved to the Jefferson Building which houses the district's adult and community education program.
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