GREENSBORO — Passersby pause as they pass the rambling brick and half-timbered Fisher Park mansion.
Locals long have known the historic property as the former Julian Price home, built in 1929 for the president of Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Co.
Then in January, the home at 301 Fisher Park Circle gained national attention when it became the setting for an episode on the A&E television reality series, “Hoarders.”
More than 1.2 million households watched the drama unfold as crews emptied the 31-room home, packed with contents accumulated by former longtime owner Sandra Cowart.
Now it’s virtually empty. A few elaborate birdcages, a piano from the late 19th century and billiard table stand on the main floor, against a backdrop of peeling paint.
Michael and Eric Fuko-Rizzo bought the home in September from Bank of America, which had foreclosed on Cowart after a lengthy court battle.
The Greensboro couple aims to restore beauty to the Tudor Revival-style home known as “Hillside,” listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Guilford County’s list of historically significant properties.
“Our overall goal is to bring back to the neighborhood what was lost,” Eric Fuko-Rizzo says.
Owners are working with city and Guilford County historic preservation commissions, which must approve any changes.
The home is off-limits to the public. Chains block its circling driveway.
But on May 20 and 21, Preservation Greensboro’s Seventh Annual Tour of Historic Homes & Gardens will offer visitors a look inside.
“People like to see the ‘before,’” said Benjamin Briggs, executive director of the nonprofit that saves local historic and architectural treasures. “This would give people a chance to come in and see the ‘before’ as part of our tour.”
In the fall or in next spring , the home will become a designer show house, with proceeds to benefit Preservation Greensboro.
In the meantime, let’s take a peek at the “before.” For a video tour with Briggs, go to the online version of this story at greensboro.com.
Back in 1921, Price invited New York architect Charles C. Hartmann to move his practice to Greensboro.
He lured Hartmann with the prized $2.5 million commission to design the downtown Jefferson Standard Building.
Price later commissioned Hartmann to design his home.
“Charles Hartmann put his greatest hits together and incorporated them into what is arguably his finest residential project in Greensboro,” Briggs said. “It’s really the grandest Tudor-style house in the city and one of the grandest Tudor-style houses in the state.”
Briggs points out exterior details: the patterns of brickwork and the half-timbering above, the roof of Ludowici tile made by an Ohio company, a rear balcony decorated with quatrefoils.
“The architecture of the building is rambling, so the building takes an angled turn a couple of times as you look across the façade,” Briggs said. “That’s meant to be evocative of a medieval baronial estate in England that has seen additions and expansions as the family has grown.”
Briggs opens the door onto an octagonal entry hall.
“The front door alone with these giant, hand-forged, strapped hinges is just a fantastic feature of the building,” Briggs said.
That entrance faces Fisher Park. But directly opposite in the entry hall is a companion door, under a rear porte-cochére or covered porch, where those visiting by car could embark.
A smaller door inside the foyer leads to another surprise: a tiny telephone room.
“It has its own little light, it has its own little window, and you could have a private telephone conversation,” Briggs said.
The home has two floors of living space, plus an attic and basement.
Walk to the right from the front door, and visitors enter the dining and kitchen areas.
Walk to the left for the grand staircase, library, drawing room and sunroom.
Let’s walk to the left.
Briggs points out the gently-turning staircase.
“On the exterior of the house, you’ll notice these long windows and the stair tower,” Briggs said.
A library room off to the side includes a separate small bathroom.
Walk under a pointed Tudor arch on the way to the drawing room, the home’s largest room.
Note the wide-plank oak floor, attached using pegs and butterfly joints.
Metal and lead glass casement windows let in light.
On the opposite wall, the original mantel displays decorative terracotta tile, flanked by two bookcases.
A sign atop the mantel advertises a 1992 tour of Fisher Park historic homes, including Hillside.
“But the piece that captures a lot of people’s imagination is the ceiling,” Briggs said.
The decorative plaster ceiling likely was cast on-site.
England’s grand Tudor homes often feature such ceilings. “This is a rare example of a cast plaster ceiling in Greensboro, and a rare example in North Carolina,” Briggs said.
The adjoining sunroom displays a terracotta tile floor of warm colors, bathed in light from casement windows and glass French doors.
Returning to the entry hall, continue through recessed pocket doors into the dining room, the home’s second-largest room.
A small breakfast room sits off the dining room, adjacent to the kitchen.
Briggs points out the breakfast room’s plaster ceiling and cornices.
For early occupants, the utilitarian kitchen would have been more of a finishing kitchen, where food would be plated before serving. Another kitchen where it was cooked was removed long ago, Briggs said.
The remaining kitchen likely will see changes. “Today, people have an expectation of kitchen standards that exceed the standards of the past,” Briggs said.
Upstairs, five bedrooms accommodated family and guests, while three housed live-in help.
Keep an eye on Hillside for more changes that respect its architecture.
The owners are working with renowned landscape architect Chip Callaway on a plan to restore the grounds. Repairs on flagstone walkways soon will begin.
They have started to restore the sunroom’s plaster walls and ceiling and original tile floor.
Greensboro interior designer Linda Lane leads planning for the home to become a designer show house. East Coast designers will be selected to decorate each room, to showcase their work to the public for a limited time.
Proceeds from the event will benefit Preservation Greensboro.
Lane hopes that the designer showcase will be held in the fall, around the time of the semi-annual High Point Market. If not, they will plan it for spring 2018.
After the designers and their decor are gone, the Fuko-Rizzos will plan to move in.
“There is a lot of planning in a home of this significance,” Michael Fuko-Rizzo said. “But we are working with a very talented team of people who all have an interest in Hillside.”