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  • Writer's pictureseanlcraft

3018 Griffin Avenue – A House Story

About Me:

It has been 7 years since I have flipped a home. From 2001–2008 I was flipping several a year while holding down a full time job as a VP in Healthcare. Most of this was made possible during the “go go” 2000’s riding the wave of easy money and ravenous home buyers. I studied and was degreed in Historic Preservation and Architectural History from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and currently am a Realtor specializing in sales in this neighborhood.

In fact, I have flipped three homes already within close proximity to 3018 Griffin and was a resident for 4 years in these various projects. When flipping previously, I did great work preserving historic homes with sympathetic and appropriate updates that fed my creative needs. So, the market is back, interest rates are low and I am jumping back in the fray. I have decided to document my progress to show those how it is done and to share my trials and tribulations with friends, family, clients and potential buyers.

The Neighborhood:

Brookland Park Boulevard Business District and 4th Avenue Trolley

3018 Griffin Avenue is located in Richmond's “Northside” Brightwood sub development which was laid out by a developer who typically bought multiple lots and built on them. It was often the developer who named this sub developments. For example the neighborhoods surrounding “Brightwood” are “Ginter Park Terrace” to the West, “North Richmond Terrace” to the East, and “Edgewood” to the North. There are many small subdivisions within this larger area commonly referred to simply as “Battery Park” by many.

This area is in close proximity to Downtown Richmond and is registered on the National Register of Historic Places mainly due to the fact that this neighborhood is seen as “the first streetcar suburbs in America”

The lengthy report on the neighborhood can be read here:

Like most Southern Cities, Richmond’s historic neighborhoods were effected by the “white flight” to the suburbs starting in the mid 1950’s. This neighborhood can be seen as on of those that transitioned from being completely white to largely middle class African American in the decade from 1955–1970. The neighborhood declined most during the late 70’s until the mid 2000’s when renovations started taking place again. As the older population ages out the homes are usually sold and renovated bringing new life back into the old neighborhood.

As is typical for these first suburbs near the city core people are moving back from the suburbs after raising families and the Millenials have little interest in the suburbs and are thus being drawn to quickly gentrifying neighborhoods like this one.

Like many older neighborhoods Brookland Park Boulevard is the “main street” of this area and still exists as part of the gentrification. Two new restaurants have opened in the past few months ushering in a new awareness of the importance of rebuilding the infrastructure to support the homes being sold as quickly as they are renovated. An historic movie theater, bank buildings, a bakery, a bike shop and now a thriving Farmers Market are all heralding the come back of a really cool place to live. The local blog site “Brookland Park Post” recently went live and is a great source of information.

Barton Heights – Late 1800’s

The Story:

This was a “short sale” and was owned by Chase Bank. It took a YEAR for me to close on it……so much for keeping it short, right? I was ready to close in Febuary but a cold snap and the fact that the owners failed to keep oil in the tank had the house freeze in unseasonably cold temperatures that lasted a week. All the radiators blew and they had left the water on so all of the pipes froze and burst. I found this on the day of my walk through and, needless to say, did not close. It then took another 6 months of insurance claims and renegotiation to compensate me for the house now having no heat or plumbing. Needless to say it was a nightmare but I kept my eye on the prize and finally took possession first week in September 2015

The House:

3018 Griffin Avenue was built in 1922, is approximately 1668 square feet, and of the “American Foursquare” architectural style. This is a typical size and layout for the American Foursquare style by far the most prominent architectural style in this neighborhood with most of the houses on the street being of this style and a few bungalows thrown in for good measure.

See this Wiki link for more info: American Foursquare Style

Currently the floorplan is typical and is comprised of a full length front porch, open stair foyer, living room with fireplace, dining room with French Doors and a cut out to kitchen, full bath, coat closet and basement staircase with a walk out door to outside.. Kitchen has been stripped and will be opened up to accomodate a more modern layout with new 42 inch cabinets, granite counters, stainless appliance suite and a bigger pass through to the dining room. The rear of the kitchen was extended out from what was a smaller pantry and will have a built in old fashioned “booth” for eating.

Upstairs are 4 bedrooms at each corner all with closets, a hall bath and central hall. The plan is to preserve three of the bedrooms, and install a new master bath in the 4th rear bedroom and closing it off to the hall while creating an opening into the back bedroom as a private suite. We will incorporate additional closets and storage into the master bath as well as a drop down stair to the large hip roofed attic with dormers. The hall bath will be a walk in shower with new tile, vanity, toilet and fixtures.

I plan to keep the original hardwood floors in all the rooms if possible and have them sanded and refinished. This would include the kitchen and bathrooms where possible. Windows are being analyzed for repair as I, again, would like to keep things looking “as built” where I am able to given cost considerations. I am not a fan of vinyl replacements if they can be avoided.

Project Scope: The first two weeks of the project were demolition and removal of the storm windows and vinyl siding, awnings and anything non original. We exposed lovely thick cedar siding with the top half of the home being cedar shake tile, common to this era. An analysis is being done as to what can be saved vs what might have to be replaced or modified. I would like to keep it as original as possible but also would like to keep costs down. Stay tuned.

Inside, the kitchen and baths were gutted and a clean out of all the old systems in the basement, radiators, two heat plants, an oil tank, related hot water radiator piping, and all plumbing.

A new main drain stack will be installed to replace the cast iron original, something that fails at this age. All new PVC plumbing will be installed for the kitchen, master bath, hall bath and new basement full bath.

A new 200 amp breaker box will be installed to handle modern conveniences along with a new hot water heater and dual zone electric HVAC with two new heat pumps and air handlers. Electric service will be modernized, on breakers and surge protectors and outlets and switches will be added as dictated by the new plans.

The roof was replaced about 10 years ago so is in good shape but we will need to rebuild the soffits and ensure water tight seals in the built in gutters and replace the flashing in them to keep it water tight. We will also be installing new downspouts and making sure water drains away from the house.

The American Foursquare Style from “Old House Web”

“The American Foursquare appears throughout the U.S. in mostly urban neighborhoods. That’s not to say that you won’t find them in rural areas–some are even farmhouses. A large majority were built between 1895 and the late 1930s. I call it a type of house rather than a particular style. The basic form of the structure of the house classifies it as an American Foursquare. The style used on the other details can vary greatly.

The homes are usually two-stories. There is a large attic that when finished, the home could be considered a 2½ story. They were commonly built with the top few feet of the basement walls extending up out of the ground, creating a tall, boxy home on the lot. A steep-sloped hipped roof creates the large attic. The roof has a very short ridge, while others have no ridge, resulting in a pyramidal roof. There is almost always a dormer window, centered on the front slope.

The early models might have a box bay or angle bay extension on one side. Occasionally a bay pops out of the front of the second floor. I don’t think I’ve never seen a Foursquare without a covered front porch.

One other thing–they’re square.

The most common floor plan consists dividing each level into four primary spaces. The first floor usually contains an entry foyer, often with the stairs to the second floor, a living room, dining room, and kitchen. The second floor in the larger models has four bedrooms and a bath. Some smaller sized homes have 3 bedrooms and a bath.

I find very few that have had major structural changes from the original floor plan, proving the original design to still be functional for today’s modest families. The most common changes are a rear one story addition–to accommodate a larger eat-in kitchen–and finishing the attic into an office, studio, or bedroom.

The Foursquare has been built with every building material available at that time. Masonry–brick, stone, concrete block, and structural terra cotta, was easily used to create the square-box exterior walls. Wood frame was also used for many and exterior wall covering choices at the time were plentiful. Unfortunately, most wood constructed models are now encapsulated with modern vinyl or aluminum siding.

Some early homes had a few decorative details left over from the Victorian period, but much less extravagant. Some followed the Colonial Revival style and included a symmetrical facade. Many style details were saved only for the prominent front porch. Later Foursquare styles were influenced by the details of the Prairie, Craftsman, Mission, Arts and Crafts styles and interiors began looking similar to bungalows.

The American Foursquare was considered a practical, economic type of house. Its simple form was easily constructed, is easily maintained and the interiors maximized usable spaces. I think the observation that so few have been significantly altered shows that this type of structure may be one of the most sensible and livable since the early “Colonial” homes.”

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