Two men save a Victorian gem from the ravages of time
by David Moore . Q-Notes staff
Victorian houses are rare in the Charlotte area. Brick Victorians like the one shown here owned by Scott Wooley and Larry Dunegan are almost non-existent.
Partners Scott Wooley and Larry Dunegan bought the unusual brick Victorian on Sunnyside Ln. in Charlotte’s Elizabeth neighborhood in 1991 for $87,000. Today it’s valued at over $725,000.
Originally built in 1903 by the Rev. George Detwiler for his wife Mattie, historical records indicate Mattie meticulously oversaw every point of construction to the house, which the couple hoped to spend their retiring years in.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. In fact, the Detwilers never actually lived in the home — and ended up selling it in 1907.
In the next 100 years that followed, the house passed through several hands.
Robert Dye, a member of the Hal Kemp Orchestra, a well-known name of the Big Band era, grew up there.
Two other families raised their children there. For a time, the structure served as an office for an electrical contractor and a halfway house for mentally-challenged homeless individuals.
Another same-sex couple attempted restoration on the project in the early 1980s before it was then purchased by a neighbor to prevent a nearby business from bulldozing it in to a parking lot.
By the time Wooley and Dunegan sat their sights on it — it had passed through nine owners and uncountable numbers of tenants.
“It was in very poor condition,” says Wooley. “There were suspended ceiling tiles throughout the house and total paneling on every wall. All the fireplaces had been completely stripped out and in some places the carpet had actually decayed on to the floor.”
Wooley and Dunegan added stained glass to the home’s stylish turret.
Previously the two had owned an L-shaped Ranch in the Windsor Park neighborhood. After they finalized their plans to purchase the home on Sunnyside, things began to move quickly.
Their previous residence sold almost immediately.
“We were out of that house and in to this one in just two days,” Wooley recalls. “So it was a complete work in progress. We lived here while we were doing all the restoration work.”
Not an easy task for most, especially considering the condition of the home.
In the 16 years they’ve called the residence home, they’ve worked hard to restore it to its original beauty — and in some cases — upgrade some parts of the house where the original owners decided to cut corners.
“The original turret was just decorative — something viewed only from the outside,” says Wooley. “We opened it up from inside the house, so you can see straight up into it. We also added stained glass windows, because I think many parts of the house had them originally.”
In addition to the classically beautiful turret, Wooley and Dunegan added stained glass to the front door and to a number of transoms above doorways throughout the house.
One of the biggest challenges they faced was restoring the five original fireplaces.
“The mantelpieces had been ripped off and everything was covered over with that paneling,” Wooley explains. “The fireplaces were still intact and you could see the outlines from where the mantelpieces had been, so I was able to figure out the basic shape.”
Working from images of fireplaces of that era generally seen in Victorian design, Wooley was able to reconstruct the mantelpieces himself.
The house has nine rooms, three bathrooms, a carriage house and an outbuilding Wooley uses as a studio.
“We also added a stairwell and expanded into the attic,” Wooley explains. Upstairs they added bedrooms and another bath.
Aside from the beauty of the structure and the lengthy history behind the house there’s an extra-added bonus that the two men didn’t know was included in the purchase: paranormal activities.
“Oh yeah,” says Wooley. “We’ve seen stuff. Fast moving shadows. We hear heavy footsteps walking in the hallway. Sometimes the house is filled with cold pockets. The thing that happens most often is the sound of breaking glass. I don’t understand it. You always hear it — but there’s never any broken glass.”
In years past, Wooley and Dunegan owned two dogs that were apparently in tune with some of the house’s other-wordly visitors.
“They’d chase after things we couldn’t see — but then they would coming running back scared.”
As with most old houses, it’s not uncommon to find some traces left behind by former owners. According to Wooley, it was standard practice for builders of the era to leave something behind representative of the time — like a coin dated on the year the house was built.
When Wooley removed a door for restoration two years ago he found something far more interesting than just a coin. Behind a full-size mirror mounted on the door was a complete copy of a 1903 edition of The Charlotte Observer.
“Of course it could have been put there as some type of backing to stabilize the mirror,” says Wooley. “But I’d like to think it’s something more — like a time capsule.”