Chip Callaway remembers it well.
His friends, Michael and Eric Fuko-Rizzo, had just bought Hillside, the historic Julian Price home.
And he was worried about them; fixing up the place would be a chore, to put it mildly.
When they asked Callaway, a landscape architect, if he wanted to be involved with the project, he said: “Fellas, goodness, let’s don’t do that.”
Who could blame him? The underbrush at Hillside all but hid the four-story, 31-room mansion.
Invasive exotics, like bamboo, English ivy and Japanese honeysuckle were thriving. Then there was the native stuff. Poison ivy. Everywhere.
In the end, Callaway recalls, “I said you know what, it’s going to be easier to explain why I am doing it rather than why I’m not doing it.”
And so he is doing it — making the 1.6 acres surrounding the mansion beautiful again.
“And, no,” he says, “it’s not going to look exactly as it did in 1929, but it’s going to look appropriate to what estate houses looked like in the early part of the 20th century. “
Callaway would know. He’s one of the most prominent garden designers in the state — perhaps in the South. And he has had broad experience working on historic properties.
This particular historic property is just a few blocks from his home and office in Fisher Park. So Hillside, at 301 Fisher Park Circle, is his neighbor.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Callaway says, “but it’ll be so much fun to watch it happen.
“That house is so symbolic to me of downtown Greensboro. For years, nobody would go near it. Nobody wanted to be there. ...
“And now, no more. … The house is becoming magnificent, much like our downtown is.”
And there’s another consideration. This will be home for the Fuko-Rizzos and their daughters, twins who turn 3 in September. Callaway wants to make it a happy one.
Hillside’s history is guiding its restoration.
“We’ve been able to get photos of what it used to look like,” Michael Fuko-Rizzo says. “We’ve been able to talk to people about the beauty of it.”
The sprawling Tudor Revival mansion was built in 1929 for Julian Price, a philanthropist, civic leader and president of Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Co. The architect was Charles Hartmann, who also designed the iconic Jefferson Standard Building downtown.
In the late 1940s, Hillside was donated to First Presbyterian Church for use as its manse. In the 1970s, it was sold to interior designer Sandra Cowart and her husband.
It is on the National Register of Historic Places and the Guilford County Landmark Properties list.
But these days, Hillside is best known for its star turn on “Hoarders,” a TV series on A&E.
After a court fight with Cowart, Bank of America foreclosed and sold it to the Fuko-Rizzos last September.
The couple found the house piled high with … all sorts of things. So they contacted “Hoarders.”
A team from the show staged an intervention and cleanup and televised it in January.
Workers are still uncovering traces of Hillside’s past.
“We found a beautiful original tile patio in the backyard,” Fuko-Rizzo says.
Then there is the board-and-batten gardener’s cottage that had been hidden by the bamboo. They’re thinking about using it as a playhouse for the girls or as a guesthouse.
One of his biggest challenges at Hillside is dealing with the mature tree canopy, Callaway says.
“These trees did not exist when the garden was initially designed and installed but are such an important contributing element to the landscape today that we’re taking every effort to protect them … all while trying to return the sweeping lawn in the front of the mansion as they were in early photographs.”
That lawn — what he calls “the chief stylistic thing” about Hillside — requires sunlight and lots of water.
“There are going to be a lot of things we’re going to have to do like irrigation and weed eradication in order to be able to put those sweeping lawns back in there.”
The stone walls on the property are also original, and walls and trees don’t always get along, Callaway says.
That results in “some sobering decisions.
“That tree was not planted by the Prices; that tree was planted by a squirrel 12 years ago. Are we going to let it get big enough to take out these walls?”
As another focal point, he says, “we have to reinvent a stylized boxwood garden on the south side of the house off the solarium, where we have evidence one once thrived.”
The front of Hillside will offer neighbors an unimpeded view of the lawn leading right up to the mansion. But the back will be about family.
Callaway plans to use a lot of native trees like American hollies and viburnum — snowball bushes — as well as plants common in gardens at the turn of the century to give it “a sense of detachment from being right on the street.”
There will be a play area for the twins, maybe even a swing set — though Fuko-Rizzo says the words make Callaway cringe.
“I’m going to return daffodils to the woods over there,” Callaway says. “And put them all over the park too.
“And make that house scream joy again.”