Group seeks $2.5 million for landmark mansion

Nonprofit owners of historic Cady-Lee house put property on the market

Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2006

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Charlie Shoemaker⁄The Gazette
The historic Cady-Lee Mansion at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Piney Branch Road in Takoma, D.C., is for sale after being run for four years by the current owners, the Forum for Youth Investment.

The 19th-century Cady-Lee Mansion is for sale, disappointing community advocates who are once again on the watch about whom the next buyer could be.

‘‘The house is so important to the heritage of this community. It’s the only house like it that’s still with us,” said Sabrina Baron, president of Historic Takoma, of the mansion which sits on a half-acre at Eastern Avenue and Piney Branch Road in Takoma, D.C. ‘‘It’s such a unique survival ... this is the signature property in our historic community.”

Baron added that the house had been under good ownership with the Forum for Youth Investment, a nonprofit organization that trains youth and adult leaders to better provide youth services in their communities. The group has owned the home for the last four-and-a-half years.

However, David Moore, director of special programs with the organization, said the group hasn’t been using the house efficiently. The 15 staff members who work in the three-story, 22-room house have more space than they need, and even those 15 are ‘‘flex-time,” meaning they are not in one office regularly.

‘‘We’re a nonprofit. When the real estate market’s done what it’s done, we need to ask, has this investment come back with this return?” Moore said. ‘‘We won’t sell if it’s not a good buyer, or not a fair price.”

The house was originally sold to the Forum for Youth Investment for $1.1 million in 2002, made possible by a loan from a nonprofit lending company. Over the last four years, the group put in about $480,000 in renovation work and finished the basement, now used for storage.

The group is now asking for $2.6 million, based on area commercial office space sales. Moore said the ideal situation would be finding a buyer willing to share space with the Forum for Youth Investment. A separate bathroom and kitchen area on the third floor could make that kind of arrangement possible, he said. One organization could be housed on the top floor, one on the second, and the bottom floor could be shared space. Otherwise, Moore said the organization may look at office space in downtown Takoma Park or the Silver Spring area.

But ‘‘A transaction involving the entire property makes the most sense,” said Paul Ehrenreich, a real estate advisor working with the property through Corporate Real Estate Service Advisors, co-headquartered in New York City and Boston.

Ehrenreich added if the property was sold or leased to one buyer, that buyer could then lease space to the Forum for Youth Investment. ‘‘A number of groups have come through the house,” he said, but there haven’t been any serious offers.

Apart from a typically slow summer real estate season, the challenge hasn’t been how much space a buyer would be taking on, but the location of the building, Ehrenreich said. Since the building is under a number of zoning regulations, groups that would be allowed — schools, churches, small-time law firms or dentist home⁄offices — don’t typically consider the neighborhood in which the mansion is situated.

‘‘Most groups are looking downtown, so this one’s a little out of the way,” he said. ‘‘But the way it’s laid out, it lends itself perfectly to a nonprofit association. And if you’re looking for image, that sort of thing ... this is a very desirable piece of real estate.”

The mansion, on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1887 by Washington real estate and insurance salesman Henry Cady and his wife, Lucinda. The property was kept in the hands of the Cady family until 1975, when Mary Cady Lee, the daughter of Lucinda and Henry, died at 94.

In 1977, it was purchased by Takoma Park residents Gerald and Sandra Kurtinitis, but the upkeep and renovation of the home proved more difficult than the couple had originally thought. Between 2000 and 2001, Takoma Park restoration specialist Frances Phipps took the project on when talks of tearing the building down threatened the site.

‘‘When in a lifetime do you get to bring something like that back?” Phipps said. ‘‘It’s an amazing historical resource ... it bridges the gateway between Maryland and D.C.”

It is now the last of its kind in the area, a Queen Anne Victorian with 12-foot ceilings, Chinese-inspired mantelpieces and a Tiffany-inspired stained-glass window.

Moore said he hopes a decision will be made by the end of the year, but if an appropriate buyer does not offer a fair price, the organization is not committed to a deadline for the sale.

For now, the group wants to reassure community advocates that the house won’t be sold to developers who want to tear it down or to a buyer who would dramatically change the interior.

‘‘This community has worked over many decades to protect and preserve that particular property,” Baron said. ‘‘Not only does Historic Takoma have a role as stewards of the historic district, but a significant proportion of the population does as well.”