Orange County

Owners rebuilding to preserve historic feel of Chapel Hill house

Construction is underway this spring at 704 Gimghoul Road, where new owners Bob and Virginia Buysse are building a new, two-story home reminiscent of the former home’s architectural style and size.
Construction is underway this spring at 704 Gimghoul Road, where new owners Bob and Virginia Buysse are building a new, two-story home reminiscent of the former home’s architectural style and size.

The fate of a 1920s-era house at 704 Gimghoul Road was sealed last year, when the town’s Historic District Commission finally approved its demolition and replacement.

That wasn’t their intention when they bought the house, said Bob Buysse, who with his wife, Virginia, is building a new home on the land.

“We spent at least a year or more trying to come to grips with renovating that thing, and finally, we threw up our hands and were going to walk away from the whole project and sell it,” Buysse said. “Then we regrouped and decided to give it one more go and take it down and to build a new one.”

The new house replicates the old architecture and scale, he said, from the traditional flanked porches to shingle siding in the same color.

“I think that most folks when they drive down Gimghoul after we finish, will have ... a hard time distinguishing it from the original structure,” he said.

The house had remained largely unchanged for decades, making it one of three nearly original, pre-1932 Gimghoul homes. But its future was uncertain after new owners asked to demolish and replace it in 2013.

Those owners, Tanner and Mimi Hock, delayed their request in April 2014. They returned with a proposed renovation in June, based on a structural engineering report and work with Preservation Chapel Hill. But by October, they had put the property on the market.

The late 1920s home at 704 Gimghoul Road in Chapel Hill was showing its age when former owners Tanner and Mimi Hock sought a demolition permit in 2013. The Hocks eventually sold the house to longtime Gimghoul neighborhood residents Bob and Virgina Buysse. Staff photo News & Observer

The Buysses, Gimghoul residents since 1998, bought the house in January 2015 with plans to modernize the interior. They filed demolition and building plans with the commission in 2016.

“After gaining that approval (to renovate) and having our contractor look at it in detail, it was concluded that it was too far gone to renovate,” Buysse said. “It had six-inch tree roots growing up the fireplace, it had mold and mildew, and every other vermin and insect inside the house. It was just concluded that it was beyond repair.”

They had hoped to move a small stone cottage in the back yard to a new spot, but it was too dilapidated, Buysse said. After four months and thousands of dollars, it fell apart during the move. The stones will be used in low walls around the property, he said.

704 Gimghoul demo
A pile of rubble is all that was left in mid-2015 of the house at 704 Gimghoul Road in Chapel Hill. Contributed

A Durham restoration group salvaged other building materials, and brick pavers will be reused for the walkways and driveway. Black walnut trees removed from the property will become furniture and cabinets for the new home, Buysse said.

The reaction from neighbors has been very positive, he said. They hope to move in by December.

“It’s the neighborhood; that’s what it’s all about,” Buysse said. “It’s not a big, big house; it’s a little bigger than what was there, and of course, we preserved the big, old magnolia tree that’s out front. We’re pretty excited.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

History note

Gimghoul, just east of UNC’s campus, is one of three local historic districts in Chapel Hill and one of five on the National Register of Historic Districts.

The two-story Colonial Revival-style house at 704 Gimghoul Road was built in the late 1920s for a local doctor, according to National Register of Historic Places documents. In the 1930s, respected UNC marriage and sex authorities Ernest and Gladys Groves bought the house and built a stone cottage behind it as an office and library around 1935.

Actor Andy Griffith is rumored to have lived in the stone cottage for three years while attending UNC.