501 White avenue
I never liked this building before I bought it. In fact, I spent many lunch breaks sneering at it between bites of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This building is directly across the street from the old Second Ward Annex schoolhouse. That means I got to see it daily while working on the school house. And I also got to see it deteriorate daily. The building was in a sad state of repair. By sad, I mean pathetic. It was a classic example of a once stately home being carved up into tiny apartments to maximize profit. Zero thought was put into aesthetics or functionality. It was a slum.
I’m not saying it was necessarily the inhabitants that made it slummy, they were clearly there for the cheap rent. Rather it was a combination of terrible upkeep, overflowing trashcans and general unkempt grounds. I was in shock when a for sale sign appeared in the yard and the asking price was a whopping $600,000. Yes, the place had a considerable amount of land, but the building itself was a liability. Not surprisingly the building remained on the market. Once in awhile I would see potential investors shuffle through. Half-ass repairs were made and followed by more showings. But the for-sale sign never came down. It wasn’t until a swarm of fire trucks and police cars engulfed the parking lot that my interest really piqued.
It was April 2014. I was working at the school as usual when the fate of the building turned. I could tell that the police activity was a bigger deal than usual by the sheer number of officers that rolled in. Plus, all of the tenants were being evacuated, as if some sort of natural disaster were occurring and they had to reach higher ground. It became even more interesting when the fire trucks connected their hoses and started shooting water down the hillside. There was no fire to be seen, no smoke. Instead, there was meth and lots of it. Over 60 one pot concoctions of it in fact. One tenant had essentially turned the enormous cavernous basement into his personal clandestine lab. At least it was clandestine.
As you can imagine, having a meth lab in a building can really impact the sales price. The fading yellow and green realtor’s sign in the yard was now laughable. No one wanted to deal with the cleanup now that the entire building was condemned. To make matters worse, the state subsidies for remediation ran out the previous month. There were no more funds to assist property owners. The building was wrapped in caution tape, covered in unwelcoming signage and left to sit. This was the building’s greatest low. I felt sorry for it, adorned in bright yellow hazard signs and abandoned. It cried out for help. I heard it.
I bought the meth lab for a fraction of its original price. Meth is one of the best negotiating tactics I have ever come across. But it wasn’t all fun and games. Part of the condemnation process required the building to be shut up. That was in April. The building sat all summer long, in the heat, full of food, garbage and belongings that residents hastily left behind. The utilities were shut off which means any refrigerators had been sitting closed for months full of rotting food. When I went into the building with the remediation team, the walls actually moved as the cockroaches scattered in all directions. The sound of them crunching under your feet became a welcoming sound because that was one less you had to had to worry about it. Thankfully, whatever chemicals were used to eradicate the meth toxins, also eradicated the worst roach infestation I have ever witnessed. I never saw a roach in that place again after that.
The process of cleaning up and renovating revealed several things. One of the first lessons was do NOT open the refrigerators! Even if they were practically new, do NOT open. The smell that knocked you in the face would literally knock you to the floor. The only option was to wrap them in duct tape and haul them away. Secondly, I discovered several containers of meth that law enforcement had missed, tucked up in rafters and behind cabinets in the basement. I was in the process of removing it when my scrap guy showed up to search for scrap metal and absconded with it before I could even say anything. I never saw him again. To this day I don’t know what happened to him or the meth. It’s probably best I don’t go looking for answers.
Thirdly, I discovered a treasure trove of documents surrounding the history of the house. I found this haul the most interesting and probably spent a day or two reading old letters and receipt books instead of actually working. The attic contained old textbooks from when it was used as a school. It also contained all kinds of paperwork concerning the Edwards garbage hauling business. I turned all this over to the local history department at WVU hoping someone there would find it as interesting as I did.
Remodeling this building was an exceedingly long process, but I really felt like I was bringing something neglected and abused back to life. The woodwork and the detail put into the house was still there, it just had to be rediscovered and restored. We opened up the front porch again, more to its original design. We slightly reconfigured the apartments to open up some spaces and eliminate the excessive number of doors. Although not the single-family manor it once was, I know that is now cared for and maintained as if it were.