As recently as the 1970s and '80s, Old Town wasn't the quaint, desirable, charming destination that it has become. Historic properties had fallen into disrepair, crime was rampant, many homes were being used as tenement rooming houses, and, according to an elderly neighbor, the intersection visible from our front door was the place in town to pick up some female companionship for an evening or an hour.

Luckily, as the urban revitalization of metro Washington, D.C. neighborhoods began, the government and citizens of Alexandria embraced the value and historic significance of Old Town. A preservation and gentrification effort began and has since revitalized both the residential and commercial aspects of Old Town, making it the place we fell in love with when we moved to the D.C. area in 2000.

In the ten years we've been residents of Alexandria, Old Town has truly come a long way. The once boarded up movie theater reopened in 2002, and the addition of the Hotel Lorien, wine bar, gourmet cheese shop and the like, have transformed the western half of King Street making it a destination from the Potomac to the Metro. Even our block has seen a dramatic improvement, thanks to hardworking neighbors who, like us, pride themselves on lovingly caring for these historic properties. Unfortunately, we've sort of let our house slip just a little bit.

Let's take a look back to the way the house looked when we bought it in 2003.

Between our home on the left, and our neighbor's on the right, "charming curb appeal" isn't the first thing that comes to mind. The paint job, which started a dreary color, had faded significantly. The door was depressing, the stairs didn't fit the house, and seemingly endless layers of paint had masked some of the only intricate and decorative architectural details the exterior of the house possessed. About the only thing the house had going for it was the significant tree that proudly shaded our relatively simply home.

In early 2005, the house next door was purchased by a couple who began a full scale renovation. It was quite refreshing to see their house's transformation, but it also lit a fire under us to start our long overdue exterior changes. Our first task at hand was to strip select areas of paint to reveal some scrollwork above the windows and door.

Lucky for Alex, he picked some of the hottest days of August to do this work. We're talking 100+ degree days with 100% humidity. He spent many nights with a scraper and dental tools revealing the details. 

Well worth enduring the heat, wouldn't you say? And geez, I forgot how ugly those basement curtains were!

After revealing the details, the next step was to have the house painted. This is another project we hired some pros to take care of. I'm sure Alex would have loved to take this on himself, but there was no way I was letting him up on a ladder to paint the top half of the house. We chose a grayish taupe Sherwin Williams color called "Anonymous" with accents done in "Pearly White." I think the colors complement the neighbors' house nicely, but it still stands out in our row of houses. To this day, I still love the colors we chose.

Next up, we nixed the little cement planter under the front window in favor of two cast iron urns we picked up in Lucketts, Virginia. 

Though this was a significant improvement, there was one major element that stood out as just plain wrong...the front stairs. At some point the original stairs were lost and replaced with a brick stair with simple iron railing. From the looks of the railing, it seemed like the house was probably adorned with this misplaced entry stair in the 1950s or 1960s. At any rate, it had to go.

Alex searched and researched how we could replace the stairs for several years until we caught a lucky break. While watching This Old House's D.C. season several years ago, we found a local contractor that specializes in salvaged cast iron stairs. No joke, he exists. His name is Fred Mashack, and he was Alex's new favorite person. I'll leave the whole saga of the front stairs for Alex to go into nerdy detail about in a later post, and will just leave you with a beautiful after photo.

The front of our house was really starting to take shape, and the pair of sister houses were night and day from when we first laid eyes on them.

But that takes us back to present day, and our current state of the house. Despite some significant progress since we first bought the house, unfortunately over the last year the front of our house has taken a turn for the worse. Sadly, we lost our great 70 year old shade tree last summer. Over time, it developed rot, and after a close call between a falling limb and a neighbor and his dog, the city responded to our calls and removed the tree.

What this left us with was an ugly stump that passer bys started to throw garbage into, as well as an oddly placed parking sign that once was partially disguised by the trunk of the tree.

Later, realizing the water meter in that bed was unsteady now that the tree had been removed, the T&ES department took action, placing a construction sandwich board and cone over the treacherous meter.

And to compound matters further, a teenage neighbor, in an effort to lure Alex into the street to have one of our many neighborhood snowball fights, attempted to hit our front door with snow balls. Unfortunately for us, his aim stinks and our front light took a few direct hits, resulting in some broken glass.

So now, the home we were proud of for a short period of time, has quickly transformed into a neighborhood eyesore, reminiscent of the days gone by. (Well, or even of the days when we took ownership.) I guess it just goes to show that even though a renovation project may have been checked off the list, maintenance of your hard work must still continue. And situations and setbacks outside of your control may happen.

In an effort to no longer be known by new neighbors as "the house with the construction cone out front," today serves as my public proclamation to restore our home's curb appeal. Soon, city safety accoutrements, broken light fixtures, dead flowers, and barren tree lawns will be a thing of the past. We have set our sights on returning...make that exceeding...our home's former glory.

We're going to be bringing ghetto sexy back. We hope Justin Timberlake would be proud.

Have you had any experiences with "two steps forward, one step back" projects on your home? How about any proclamations for improvement you're committed to tackling this summer? Let us know.

Comments 3


5/6/2011 at 2:09 PM
Great update! I'm looking forward to the post on the stairs... I loved that season of TOH.
Thanks, Ryan! Who doesn't like a little JT with their blog posts?

The DC season was really good. I feel like they've been slowly getting away from the classic old home renovation and moving towards the gut and rebuild renovations. I miss the old ones.

Keep an eye out next week for the post on the stairs. It'll probably be a two parter.
Steve (Our Old Rowhouse)
5/9/2011 at 1:09 PM
Did your neighbors decide to replace their stairs at the same time with the same guy? How did that work out? (Looks fantastic with both of them matching. As it was intended to be, no doubt.)
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