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Real Estate Editor

August 8, 2004
Section: J
Edition: 01
Page: 01


Oakleigh Venture Revolving Fund helps revive abandoned, rundown houses again and again

Builder William Carroll is proud of his latest renovation job - he turned a burned out shotgun-style house on Charles Street into a pretty Victorian cottage that already has sold.

''It's more fun doing historic houses," he said, walking through the state-of-the-art kitchen that sports shiny black countertops and pine floors.

The restored house is one of 15 homes that was built or renovated with money from the Oakleigh Venture Revolving Fund. Some of the homes have sold in the $60,000 to $70,000 range, while the larger homes are priced in the $130,000s to $150,000s.

The nonprofit fund was launched three years ago and has received almost $900,000 in grants from the Fannie Mae Foundation and the Bedsole Foundation, according to Palmer Hamilton, a local attorney who spearheaded the fund along with other residents in Oakleigh.

The idea is to revive abandoned, rundown houses, sell them and use the money to do it all over again. The Oakleigh fund is overseen by the Mobile Historic Development Commission, which also handles the Mobile Revolving Fund. The fund members are volunteers and take on projects as the balance in their operating account allows.

The Oakleigh group is set to tackle its largest project: building four to five new homes on a large vacant lot at Marine and Palmetto streets. The fund will finalize the purchase of the property this month.

''Revolving funds are set up to go into places where normal investment would not occur, and that's what Palmer and his group is doing," said Devereaux Bemis, director of the MHDC. ''They also want to create home ownership. They want to turn the homes over to homeowners who will take pride in the houses, rather than absentee landlords."

Architect Douglas Kearley has designed the new homes to fit in the historic district, and all are built in the style of a bygone era.

''We wanted to bring back the architectural styles that we've lost," Hamilton said. For example, the new two-bedroom ''side house" on Church Street has long porches on the first and second floors, reminiscent of what was built here in the 1840s. Just two side houses remain standing in Mobile , Hamilton said.

''People are passionate about their historic neighborhoods," said Chris King of Roberts Brothers, who resides in Oakleigh. ''It's turning vacant lots into houses that fit in with the historic structures. Some people want to live in an historic neighborhood, but like the idea of having a new house."

''We would like these revolving funds to be used as models for other neighborhoods," Bemis said. ''It takes the ability to raise money," to do the projects, he said. ''But some buildings can be bought cheap and fixed with sweat equity." CUTLINES: Photos by MARY HATTLER/Staff Photographer

These two new homes on Church Street were built on lots purchased by the Oakleigh Venture Revolving Fund. At right is a two-bedroom worker's cottage-style house that is listed for sale at $139,500. At left is a side house with long porches on the first and second floors, and it's listed for sale at $154,900. The houses, designed by architect Douglas Kearley, reflect styles that are almost non-existent in Mobile . Above, the newly-built gingerbread Gothic house on Marine Street is similar to a style of house that was built in the 1850s in Mobile , and some of these styles can still be found on Old Shell Road.

Below left, Palmer Hamilton stands in the entryway of a new house built on Church Street. The nonprofit Oakleigh Venture Revolving Fund provides money to restore homes and build on vacant lots in the historic neighborhood.

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