NEW ALBANY — A New Albany couple is offering the historic downtown house they own for free. The catch? It needs some work, and the new owner must pay to remove it from their property.
The Smith-Franck House, built around 1860 for early New Albany resident Russell Smith, is a roughly 1,545 square-foot, single-story clapboard house at 412 – 414 E. Ninth St. in New Albany, according to www.historicnewalbany.com.
It features a Craftsman style porch, estimated to be built around the 1920s and a roof less than 10 years old. It is currently divided into a duplex, with one bedroom and bathroom in each unit.
The house and land it sits on was recently bought by Jude Loew and his partner Barry, who have lived on the block for 21 years.
Loew said although they appreciate the historical aspect of the home, keeping the house isn’t something they’re interested in. The owners approached the New Albany Historic Preservation Commission seeking the OK to demolish — there is a lot of rehabilitation needed and they are more interested in expanding their yard to the land the house sits on.
A condition of that is that they would market the house for 45 days past the March 29 meeting and if no one wanted the structure, they would be granted permission to start the demolition process any time after May 12.
Loew said the two didn’t see any reason to try to charge for the home itself.
“We feel like the value could be in the moving,” he said. “We don’t have any need for the home … we do value preserving our community and we feel it’s only appropriate to offer the house for free to anybody who wants it. Therefore we give it the opportunity to carry on — just not on our property.”
The house is currently a contributing structure within the locally-designated East Spring Street Historic Corridor, Laura Renwick, community preservation specialist with the Indiana Landmarks Southern Regional office, said. This area is bordered by parts of Spring, Elm, Vincennes and Fifth and 15th streets.
Renwick said the house is an important part of the city’s history and she hopes it will be preserved, even if that means relocation.
“It is quite important to save this house,” she said. “It’s one of the older houses in this district and it’s considered a contributing part to the historic district — it does add to the character and overall look of the streetscape.”
If moved, it would create a hole, she said. But she added that it would be a good candidate for relocation because it is a low, framed home, not brick, which makes it easier to move.
But it does happen, she said. The very building that houses Indiana Landmarks office in Jeffersonville was relocated from behind Clark Memorial Hospital to make room for renovations. There were also several structures that were moved for construction of the Big Four and Abe Lincoln bridges.
“It’s kind of an approach of last resort, in order to save a building from demolition,” she said. “It’s always preferable to be able to save it and rehab it on the same site.”
New Albany city councilman and historian Dave Barksdale said the date the house was built makes it significant, along with the Greek revival architecture featured.
But moving the building versus demolition is a more environmentally responsible approach too, he said.
“First of all, it doesn’t end up in the landfill,” he said. “All the energy and resources that were put into the construction of it … it would be more green to relocate instead of build a new house somewhere.”
He said it would be ideal if the home could be relocated to an open lot within the historic district. This would also require permission from the preservation commission. If it is relocated out of the district, it would not be historically protected by the aesthetic rules of the commission.
If an interested party takes over the house, Loew said they would enter an agreement as to how long it would take to be moved. Right now he can’t say for sure how long that would be, or how long after the May 12 deadline they would tear it down, if there is no response.
People can tour the house today from noon to 1 p.m., and Friday, April 20, at the same time.
And as for the property, that, too, is something the couple will decide on once the house is removed.
“We are unsure what we’re going to do,” Loew said. “We’re just going to let the space speak to us.”