Thursday, September 13, 2007

Land for Vinegar Hill condo tower once owned by John West and Madam Marguiretta

1960 Vinegar Hill, Mooney Oldsmobile(A)

Charlottesville, Va.—On Sep. 4 City Council indicated they will approve at their Sep. 17 meeting a rezoning of Mooney Oldsmobile / RSC construction rental for a second condo tower on top of Vinegar Hill. The property is at the intersection of four zones. The rezoning will extend the Downtown corridor and replace the north West Main corridor zoning. The Mooney dealership was built 1957 and converted to offices 1963.

The developer agreed to donate $300,000 for redevelopment of properties owned by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Rumors are that it’s for redevelopment of Westhaven public housing built 1964 in conjunction with Vinegar Hill clearance. But the funds could go to build on consolidated parcels vacant since they were seized decades ago, such as the Levy Avenue city employee parking lot the authority rents to the city for $1 a year.

The property at 301 West Main has been in the Mooney family since 1951, only three months after the death of Marguiretta de Crescioli, the most infamous businesswoman in local history. Deeds from 1951 and earlier refer to this site as 307 West Main, and also known as 313-317 West Main.

The madam’s sole heir Clarence William Andrew sold it for $15,500 to Frank L. Herndon on Apr. 2, 1951 (Deed Book 156 Page 470). This deed declares John West as a previous owner of the lot. Andrew must have thought that piece of history was important enough to preserve.

Herndon flipped the property the same day at the same price to "Russell D. Mooney and Marvin S. Mooney, husband and wife" (Deed Book 156 Page 471).

The property was one of the first recorded when the town became an independent city. It was "devised" to Robert Scott Jr. by will dated 31 July 1888, Will Book 1 Page 12.

His widow, Alice, sold the lot "with brick residence thereon" to George R. Ferguson for $6,000 Jul. 21, 1915 (Deed Book 27 Page 382).

Ferguson sold it to Charles E. Coles for $10,500 Jun. 1, 1924 (Deed Book 47 Page 400).

When Coles passed away, the property went to court in an apparent inheritance dispute. Court order dated Jun 3, 1946, "in a certain chancery [equity] cause then pending in said court under the style of Alberta Coles Johnson v. Beulah Coles Hayes et. al." (Deed Book 127 Page 155 Jul 22, 1946). The commissioners appointed by the court to handle the deed were C. Venable Minor and C. Armonde Paxson.

Hayes sold the property to Marguiretta less than a year later for $10,000 (Deed Book 155 Page 233, Feb. 27, 1947). Marguiretta died testate Jan. 7, 1951, her will dated Oct 16, 1946, probated Mar. 1, 1951 and spread in Will Book 6 Page 474.

John West must have owned this property before 1888. Those deeds are recorded in the county’s records. This report traces the deeds at the city’s courthouse.

The city’s first public housing project Westhaven is named after John West, a black real estate speculator/developer who owned much of Vinegar Hill following the Civil War.

Photo taken Aug. 25, 2003. Charlottesville Warehouse Corporation/Norcross spanning the 400 and 500 blocks of South Street East was built in 1924. This view of site of brothel now obscured by condos built 2004 on land seized and non-blighted properties demolished 1972. Virginia’s eminent domain reforms of 2007 seek to prevent similar injustices in the future.

Marguerita Ville

Marguiretta de Crescioli. The Madam of Fifth Street.

"Businesswoman of unprecedented proportions. Operated her illicit but well-respected brothel for nearly 27 years before the raid of 1949 caused her to restrict her transactions.

"’Down across the railroad tracks was Marguiretta’s brothel,’ says Cliva Harris, now in his 70s. As a young man, Harris delivered furniture to Marguiretta for M.C. Thomas, and vividly remembers the opulence of the Fifth Street residence.

"Marguiretta was extremely well schooled. Rich and diverse education: music, languages, etiquette and generosity.

"Most exclusive of clientele: the wealthy, a former state governor, judges and, of course, students. One person says that so many students were known to frequent the place that it became known as ‘University Union.’

"Marguiretta died at the University of Virginia Hospital barely a year after the raid, on January 7, 1951. She left her estate—estimated value $200,000—to Clarence Andrews. He put the house (8-room with porches and balcony) on the market for $40,000 and eventually sold it for $11,000.

"Marguiretta’s exquisite furnishings [fell] to the auctioneer’s gavel, bringing a mere $6,000, a fraction of their appraised value of more than $100,000. And most of these pieces stayed right here in the community, furnishing some of the most elite homes in the area.

"It wasn’t until the wrecker’s ball hit the red-brick Jeffersonian structure in 1972 that Marguiretta’s substantial stash of money was found buried in the walls.
"Harris and his wife carted away 1,900 bricks and built a fireplace in their Rio Road home, capturing a small part of history."

—Excerpts from "Marguiretta’s: Charlottesville’s Legendary House of Ill Repute." Kathleen Phalen. Albemarle Archives: Famous, Infamous and Unforgettable People and Events that Shaped Central Virginia. Carden Jennings Publishing, 1997.


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