Return to glory

The Old House Web

By Karen Appold
Special to The Old House Web

michael stanton

Michael Stanton in the new penthouse apartment created in the old ballroom. (Appold photo)


The red brick building at 218 Broad Street was the place to be and to be seen in 1926. On the third floor, couples danced the night away under the elegant vaulted ceiling and crystal chandeliers of a spacious ballroom overlooking the streets of Oneida, New York.

Fast forward to the year 2000. Time has not been kind to the once-grand mansion. The ballroom ceiling is partially collapsed with damage from years of a leaking roof. The wooden dance floor is covered in layers of wet insulation. Windows throughout the building are rotted and major systems are either antiquated or dangerous -- or both. Carved up into apartments, the building is known locally as "The Roach Motel."

Enter Michael Stanton, a former Air Force major with a real estate background, an entrepreneurial spirit -- and a lot of optimism.

"I could see the beauty in the beast," says Stanton.

After four years, nearly a half million dollars in renovations the rest of Oneida also can see the beauty. The crowing glory of the renovation of the building, once all but abandoned as hopeless, is the third floor penthouse suite, complete with a new hardwood floor and a restored vaulted plaster ceiling.


218 Broad St.
218 Broad St. as it looked when Stanton purchased it four years ago. The original portion of the building was built as a single family house in 1853. The ballroom addition dates to 1926.  (Michael Stanton photo)

chimney
New windows were paid for with a grant from the City of Oneida. Decorative brick marks the location of one of the building's original five chimneys. The chimney opening in the roof has been replaced with a skylight. (Karen Appold photo)


History

The building was constructed in 1853 as a single-family three-story home for an affluent and well-known businessman, B.F. Chapman. The Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization dedicated to bettering the community, purchased the residence in the mid-1920s for its headquarters. In 1926, the group added a ballroom, commemorated by a stone bearing the year and its emblem.

In the 1950s, the Odd Fellows sold the building and it was converted into a 13-unit apartment building occupying the first two floors. From there, it deteriorated. It was not until Stanton purchased it in 2000 that the building would return to its original glory.

Fresh from a real-estate investing course, and a realtor in his father's business, Stanton was intent on turning an eyesore into a thing of beauty. He bought the 15,000 square foot building for $255,000.

10th try is a charm

Stanton acted as the general contractor, using some knowledge of renovation, a team of sub-contractors, and lots of trial and error. The most difficult -- and most rewarding -- project was recreating the graceful curves of the plaster ceiling on the third floor. It took Stanton and his crews 10 tries to get this part of the project right.

old balltoom
The ballroom in 2000, before renovations began. The floor held loose piles of insulation, the ceiling was in danger of collapse from water damage and plastic bags served as collectors of rain water.  (Stanton photo)

ballroom
Mid-way through restoration, the ballroom has a new floor, new walls and a partially repaired ceiling.  (Stanton photo)

ceiling repair
Old plaster is removed and mesh put in place to form for the new plaster. (Appold photo)

ceiling repair
Ceiling with a new rough coat of plaster. It took Stanton's crew many attempts to replicate the graceful curve of the original ceiling. (Stanton photo)

moulding repair
Plaster mouldings also needed repair, but the original plaster ceiling medallion, below, survived the years of damage. (Stanton photo)

medallion
The crystal chandelier was removed from the plaster medallion before Stanton bought the building. A ceiling fan hangs in its place today. (Stanton photo)

finished ceiling
Newly restored ceiling and moulding in ballroom apartment. (Appold photo)

ceiling repair
Stanton inserted blue lights along the kneewall in the ballroom to give the ceiling the appearance of soaring into the sky.  (Appold photo)


Before the inside could be touched, structural issues needed attention. The top of the building and its leaking roof were at the top of the list. Roof leaks were the source of much of the interior and exterior damage to the building. The original roof, probably slate or wood, was long-gone. The 20th century black asphalt roof was replaced with green architectural shingles.

Stanton received a $16,000 grant and a $16,000 loan from the city of Oneida as part of an investor-owner program under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Eligibility required one major renovation and two minor renovations.

The grant covered replacement of all 72 original windows, many of which had cracked panes loosely supported by rotted frames. The city grant specified new double-hung thermal pane windows, which were custom made to fit into 84-inch high openings.

The two minor projects were replacing lead piping with PVC piping and replacing an old gas line with a modern one.

old and new brick
Replacement windows were custom built and unify the old parts of the building, left, with the newer addition. (Appold photo)


The renovation also included gutting each apartment, adding four apartments in unused space, replacing an antiquated gas boiler system, installing a laundry room, restoring mortar joints, adding a wooden deck and stairwell, burying telephone, electric and cable lines and bringing the building up to code.

After existing units were refurbished, Stanton converted the unused attic into three apartments. To save existing features, he installed skylights on angled upper walls and refurbished original hardwood floors. One unit is in a raised area, the former orchestra stage.

Sweet seventeen

The crowing glory of the restoration project is the 2,500 square foot third-floor penthouse. This 17th apartment unit is in the former ballroom. When Stanton looked at the space four years ago, the floor was a bed of insulation from the ceilings of the apartments below and it had no plumbing, heating, electricity or telephone lines. Crews had to lay a plywood subfloor before they could walk in the space.

As Stanton oversaw restoration daily, he marveled at the beauty of the ballroom space. Eventually he decided to revise his plans to carve the space into three apartments, opting instead to create a palatial penthouse suite.

dormer room
The original 1853 part of the building had turret and dormer rooms. Stanton preserved the original shapes of the nooks and crannies in the house, adding skylights for additional natural light.  (Appold photo) 

bathroom
The new bathroom in the ballroom apartment is a skillful blending of three periods in the building's history: the dark wood beadboard represents its mid-19th century origins, the glass block wall and curved ceiling the 1926 addition, and the modern hickory cabinetry and Jacuzzi tub the modern building era.  (Appold photo)

detail
Original cast concrete rosettes around entry were restored. (Appold photo)

Surrounded by demolition debris, Stanton had a vision for the space, which he quickly sketched out and handed to his crew. He wanted to preserve the beauty of the old ballroom, but wrap it into a contemporary look. Restoring the acoustic plaster ceiling was challenging, giving new meaning to "learning on the job."

Stanton and his crew read up on restoring old plaster.

First the old, wet plaster was cleaned up. Next expanded metal lath (diamond mesh) was attached to the wood lath, in preparation for three layers of new plaster. Stepping plaster produces a strong and, eventually, fairly invisible patch. But it took Stanton's crew 10 tries to replicate the original curves of the ceiling.

After the ceiling was completed, insulation was blown in from above. New steel cables tie the floor to the roof and are concealed by wood boxes that match original moulding on the walls.

Stanton also installed a hardwood floor to recapture the elegance of the 1920s ballroom. Modern touches include stainless steel kitchen appliances, a Jacuzzi tub, a two-person glass block shower and a remote controlled gas stone hearth fireplace.

In the end

Did Stanton ever have second thoughts about undertaking the massive project?

"Some," he admits. Including the $32,000 grant, Stanton spent $400,000 to restore the building over 4 years. Purchase price was $225,000.  Stanton believes this property is worth $950,000 in today's market.

I waited four years to design this unit and it has exceeded my expectations tenfold, he says.

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