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Restored bungalows in Suffolk's College Court are
a reminder of early 20th century way of life

 


BY JANIE BRYANT

Memories drifted back to Jim Lane as he stood on the front porch of his childhood home in College Court, Suffolk's historic bungalow colony.
He could almost see his buddies of 70 years ago tossing a football on the lawn, playing cowboy in the ravine und swinging from vines in the tall trees.
"Did that every time a new Tarzan movie played in town," Jane chuckled. "We had our own 'Our Gang' comedy here.
Back then College Court was a gated community of six sturdy bungalows set on 3 manicured acres in downtown Suffolk.

 


The St. Paul's Catholic Boys School, shown here in 1891, was hidden away behind an addition to a high school in the 1950s. For years, Olde Towne preservationists dreamed of seeing the building restored.

Educators, lawyers, and merchants lived in the rental cottages for decades and raised their families there. Vacancies were rare at the court, the only one of its kind inViginia, and perhaps unique on the East Coast.
Lane's family lived in the same bungalow for 46 years until the mid 1960's. He lives in Virginia Beach now.
About 25 years ago, however, College Court suffered the same decline that infected much of downtown Suffolk.
The bungalows often stood vacant, with peeling paint, broken walkways and overgrown shrubbery - until last year. Then Mickey Garcia and Trevor Spiers, two developers who saw the grace and charm buried under years of neglect, restored the court to its former porch-friendly character.
"Jim Lane was the first one out here to tell us what to do to get this right," Garcia said.
The renovated court is a major addition to the roster of restored buildings in Suffolk's historic district.
Buyers paid about $150,000 for each of five bungalows, which were built in the second decade of the 20th century. (One of the original bungalows had been privately purchased a few years ago and was not included in the restoration.)
Garcia and Spiers turned an old school building and two larger bungalows adjacent to the court into commercial space.
"Candlelight on College Court - The Bungalow Revisited", the 27th annual Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society Candlelight Tour will introduce visitors to the restored court as it might have appeared in its heyday.
Think back to circa World War I, when folks sang "Over There" and "K-K-Katie" and automobiles were still a rarity.

  For Lane and several other former residents, the tour will be a homecoming. Kate   Meechan, 25, who lives in the bungalow where Lane grew up, was so intrigued by his stories that she invited him and his family to dinner that weekend.
"I would love to hear more and have them see the house now," she said.
Around 1915, John Pinner, a Suffolk businessman, bought the site.
He created apartments from an early 1800's Federal style building that had once been a hotel and then a private school; popularly called "The College."
A trip to California inspired Pinner to add bungalow-style cottages similar to those on the West Coast - single-story structures with gables, bays and lots of elements of Arts and Crafts architecture.
The Arts and Crafts movement, popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, favored individual craftsmanship over industrial mass production.
Pinner built in custom touches, such as breakfast, nooks, French doors and glass-fronted butler's pantries.
Each of the three-bedroom houses was slightly different, with its windows and doors distinctive from the other bungalows surrounding the grassy center court.
College Court remained in the Pinner family until around 1987. Garcia Development LLC bought the old school building and the bungalows from Preservation of Historic Suffolk last year for $225,000 and then poured in bungalows, which were built in the second decade an additional $800,000.
They turned the worn cottages into 1,500 to 2,000 square-foot homes.
 

They painted the exteriors the warm browns, olives and fir greens popular 80 years ago put designed airy and spacious interiors with upscale kitchens arid baths.
Marcus Pollard and Paige Weiss bought their bungalow as the restoration began. At one point, a tree grew through the rundown structure.
"When we signed the contract, the house was still so bad that we stood in the basement and could look through the living room floor to the front yard," Pollard said.
Now sunlight streams through tall windows into cozy rooms, painted in the warm color palette of the Arts and Crafts style.
Antiques and period heirloom furnishings are authentically 1920s. An old safe from Pollard's great aunt anchors the living room, and a vintage drafting table is now a kitchen island.
Three of the bungalows, including the Pollard house, will be open for the tour.
Lane's childhood home, next door to the Pollard house, was the first home to be renovated and was used as a model for prospective buyers.
A third bungalow across the coart has been furnished in its original 1910 period style.
One of the larger bungalows adjacent to the court will also, be open for a display of quilts and antiques, a history exhibit and the Sugar Plum Kitchen selling homemade sweets.
Holiday cards featuring a drawing of the College Court wrought iron gateway will be sold to benefit the Historical Society.