Gardens to Gables

Wrecking Ball Watch: 203 East Fifth Street, Lexington, Kentucky

This not a post about Miley Cyrus and her 2013 hit – although there are some similarities between the breaking of a relationship and the fracturing of a neighborhood. Demolitions, neglect, absentee landlords – each element chips away at the structure and fabric of a community, and as buildings fall, a piece of that community fabric frays and withers. While I wish I collect collect the stories of each and every historic building whose owners have filed for a demolition permit with the city of Lexington, it’s simply not possible (unless a wealthy patron wants to sponsor my blog?), but this and future posts will attempt to share even just cursory information about buildings waiting for the wrecking ball.

Circa 1980 photograph of the E.F. Pentz/John W. Bain House at 203 East 5th Street in Lexington, Kentucky.

The East End and Northside neighborhoods are home to a disproportionate amount of demolition requests. The two-story, brick Italianate-style house at 203 East Fifth Street is just one of many seeking demolition permits.

The dwelling has been sadly altered over the years, and almost all of its delicate stylistic elements removed. The incised lintels over the windows are long gone, the windows themselves bricked up and made smaller; the brackets that once dotted the cornice and accented the low hipped roof of the house were likewise removed.

Only the porch over the recessed entry door (and the door surround itself) remains.

Here you can see where the window openings were resized.

The side-passage plan, three bay wide dwelling was built in the last quarter of the 19th century. In 1887 and 1888, it was the home of Ellen Pentz, the widow of a Methodist Episcopal minister. In the 1890s it was the home of Lexington auctioneer John W. Bain – his father, Colonel George Bain, was a famous temperance advocate.

A section of the 1907 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Lexington showing the house.

There are several  buildings near the Pentz/Bain House that appear to be undergoing restoration (or at least being worked on). I wish this dwelling was among their numbers.

An aerial vie of East 5th Street – note the ghostlines of building footprints in the upper left corner of the map. (Image from Google maps)

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7 Thoughts on “Wrecking Ball Watch: 203 East Fifth Street, Lexington, Kentucky

  1. Graham Pohl on January 3, 2018 at 1:58 pm said:

    What a shame. It seems that the Italianate Revival houses are most apt to be under appreciated and ruined as a result. There was a wonderful and rare example at the corner of DeSha and Ghent… now gone. It had been bastardized, like this one, so was difficult for people to understand its potential.

  2. Janie-Rice, I was just forwarded your August 2017 blog post Demolition Files: Hedgeland, Madison County, Kentucky (1815-2017). When you visited the house on your way to Paint Lick I am sure you were coming to help me get the Village of Paint Lick on the National Register. I found your blog very interesting and wanted to add that I recently purchased the 1840-1850 Greek Revival House in downtown Paint Lick and have turned it into a B&B, called the Denny House. The house was built by George Denny, Jr. He was the grandson of Colonel William Miller. I believe that the Hedgeland house was build by Col Miller’s son, George Denny’s uncle. I was approached in December 2016 by the folks that purchased the land and the Hedgeland house, for they were going to bulldoze the house down and burn it. As you may be aware I have strong interests in the community of Paint Lick and its history. I thought it would be a great loss both to Kentucky and to Paint Lick to have the house removed in such a way. I worked with the landowners trying to preserve the house and contacted the Kentucky Heritage Council several times with regards to the plans for the house. Eventually, I bought the house (but not the land) and paid to have it taken down, brick by brick, packaged up, and I currently have it all in storage. I hope to be able to rebuild the older original part of the house on the grounds near the Denny House. I also had the original part of the house drafted so that I have the original layout . In addition, I have photos of the inside of the house and for the most part it was nearly identical to the Denny House in Paint Lick. You are welcome to come and visit the house and chat with me about my plan for the Hedgeland Cottage, the Denny House, and Paint Lick anytime.


    • Janie-Rice Brother on January 4, 2018 at 12:03 pm said:

      Mark, That is great news! I am so glad the house plan was measured and the materials saved. I would love to hear about all of your work sometime. Thanks again for reading!

  3. I think it would be great if you wanted to come and look at the Denny House and do a post about the house, Paint Lick and what is happening here. In 2016 I also received the Ann Early Sutherlend (Excellence in Environmental Preservation) award from Preserve Kentucky. There is a lot of good preservation and restoration that is going on in this area that i am sure would be good news for your followers to hear about as well.

    Just let me know when you want to come down.

  4. It is a shame this house is being demolished since it appears structurally sound and will very likely not be infilled with anything of similar scale or quality. But the house is a difficult one to preserve because so much of it has been lost in past remuddlings. Unless the interior was miraculously spared from the exterior’s messing-up, the house’s only historic features would basically be the brick walls and the porch. Not that I am arguing for its demolition, even though it is so historically degraded. But, houses like this show why historic districts with stringent historic preservation guidelines are so necessary; the more a house is remuddled and the fewer historic architectural features it possesses, the harder it is to argue that it should be preserved. It is hard enough as it is with houses that retain their architectural integrity.

    • Janie-Rice Brother on January 5, 2018 at 12:40 pm said:

      I know. But historic overlays face a great deal of opposition in Lexington, especially in neighborhoods with diverse populations and economic backgrounds. I imagine no interior features remain, and the floor plan has probably been bastardized as well. But even preserving the building envelope (and restoring the window openings) would make such a difference – and as you say, so much better than the poorly built, vinyl clad infill that is likely to go in its place.

  5. Russandra Brown on January 12, 2018 at 7:02 am said:

    I hold my head in shame as I read the article. I had just commented a few weeks ago on another building scheduled for demolition that Lexington needed to do a better job of preserving our old historic buildings, while forgetting the fate of this one. Yes, the inside has been “bastardized” if that’s what it’s called. The inside was converted to 3 or 4 apartments over the years and it holds none of the original features. Our original plan was to restore the building but after it was inspected and found not structurally sound, we had no choice. You could swipe your hand across the walls on the inside of the house and the brick and mortar would crumble and fall away. We were told it was cheaply built and not the same quality as some of the other older buildings in the area. Believe me, this was a tough decision to make. We’ve had many offers to buy the building over the years, and one most recent was to buy to make room for a parking lot for the building next door while other offers have been from money hungry builders that have made low ball offers in order to make a profit for themselves. The property has sentimental value and we’ve regretted selling the property next to it that we grew up in. The building will be replaced with a similar style building to fit in with the other homes in the area.

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