It has come to be known as “the Castle” - the Queen Anne Victorian house at 1310 College St. that has stood for generations, marking the gateway to Western Kentucky University like a page in the school’s history.
Now the Castle itself has fallen victim to time, and to a real estate market that has not been kind of late to such historic properties.
Current owners John and Alisa Carmichael began the massive task of restoring the house when they bought it almost 10 years ago, after decades of use as an apartment building. But like the house, the Carmichaels have run out of time and money. They now must sell it or begin dismantling the structure and selling off some of the most precious architectural elements found in any of Bowling Green’s many stately homes.
Located in the College Hill Historic District, the house - the largest of its kind still left in Bowling Green - has been on the market for two years. It was the Carmichaels’ dream to fully restore and convert it back to single-family use, along with several adjoining properties. They made significant progress until job relocation and mounting medical bills made the project impossible to finish, John Carmichael said.
Carmichael, the former director of bands at WKU, has relocated to the University of South Florida in Tampa with his wife, Alisa, former director of the Warren County Public Library, who now works at a small college there. The Carmichaels still share a passion for restoration, but have found it difficult to effectively market the Castle from a distance, particularly in the current economy.
“I love that house,” John Carmichael said. “Ultimately, I want to see someone in there who loves it as much as I do.”
But that might not happen unless a buyer is found soon, he added. With five bedrooms and two baths, the Castle is 7,000 square feet and still needs work, an intimidating prospect for many people. But a lot of the heavy lifting has already been done, like tearing off the brick facade that was put up in the 1970s, jacking up the foundation and detailed interior painting, said Carmichael, who paid $140,000 for the house in 2001 and has put well over $100,000 into it since then. He estimates it would take $50,000 to $75,000 to complete the job.
Also known as “Potter Castle,” the house was built in the 1880s by James Erasmus Potter, the son of prominent local banker Pleasant J. Potter. Among its most unusual features are a turret - inspiration for the Castle label - balconies, bay windows, gingerbread trim and stained-glass windows. The house has passed through a number of families and was eventually divided into 12 rental apartments.
The Landmark Association, which encourages the preservation of historic homes in Warren County, has called the restoration “one of the most ambitious projects in the area’s history” and placed the house on its annual Christmas tour. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Every year we had someone on the tour who spoke up and said they had stayed here at some point while they were at Western. And a few who’d say they remembered waking up here but not how they got here,” John Carmichael said with a laugh.
“It’s a very unique house with a lot of potential and the Carmichaels have done a lot of work on it, but it will take just the right person,” said Jonathan Jeffrey, board member of the Landmark Association.
“I would hate to see those architectural elements removed because that would be detrimental to the restoration,” he said.
In an e-mail last week, the Landmark Association reminded its members that the house is still for sale.
“It’s a tremendous project for someone to undertake,” Jeffrey added. “But I think the economy is the main reason it has not sold. It’s not the best time to be buying property.”
According to Jeffrey, the property would be best as a single-family residence; a bed and breakfast would be a good alternative use.
Landmark board member and Bowling Green Historic Preservation City Planner Miranda Clements agreed.
“The house needs someone to continue the work that has been done before it’s too late and it deteriorates,” she said. “The restoration becomes more expensive the longer the house sits there.”
Clements also said that since the house is a historic property, it meets guidelines for federal and state tax credits.
The Federal Historic Tax Credit is equal to 20 percent of the cost of rehabilitation, if the property is income generating, Clements said. A bed and breakfast would fit that use, she added. Kentucky’s Historic Rehabilitation Tax Incentive is a credit for residential structures, up to 30 percent for costs incurred in residential buildings and 20 percent for commercial properties.
The property could be used as a fraternity house and a Greek organization has expressed interest, according to Carmichael, who’d like to see WKU purchase the house to use it for an alumni center. In order for the house, which is currently zoned RM4 for multifamily use, to be purchased by the university, it would have to be added to the University District, while a bed and breakfast would require a conditional use permit from the Board of Adjustments, according to Daniel Fuller, plans reviewer for the City-County Planning Commission of Warren County.
The home would also make a nice tea room, said College Hill Historic District resident Dorian Walker, husband of Bowling Green Mayor Elaine Walker and a preservationist himself.
“The vision the Carmichaels have worked so hard to achieve needs to be preserved,” Walker said. “I just hope and pray that it is.”
Walker, who restored his own Queen Anne home, said that while restoration of the Castle seems daunting, the house is no bigger than many of the new luxury homes under construction in high-end developments like Olde Stone.
“John Carmichael saved that block of College Street,” Walker added. “He lit the torch of restoration there. The Castle has so far withstood time, wear and tear, everything but the bulldozer. Now it needs someone who’s willing to roll up their sleeves, pick up John’s torch and continue his vision.”