CHATTANOOGA. A unique home restoration project is underway in the city’s oldest suburb at the foot of Lookout Mountain. The St. Elmo neighborhood was established in 1885, and this date is celebrated in the residential mixed-use village by its non-franchise eatery 1885 Grill owned by residents Miquel and Leslie Morales and Dustin Choate. St. Elmo is also the home of the Incline Railway that totes tourists along “America’s Most Amazing Mile” up and down the side of the steep mountain for a tour of Point Park and scenic overlooks.
St. Elmo will soon be connected to the Tennessee Riverpark greenway system and serves as a trailhead for access to some wonderful woodland walks. My personal favorite is Guild Trail, maybe because along with the wildflowers, you get to meet everyone in the neighborhood who has a happy dog or two.
In other words, St. Elmo is a neighborhood that has soul, offering such gatherings as an annual Corgi Parade, monthly theological discussions at the local deli hosted by the Methodists AND the Episcopalians at the same time, and all with a dollop of nostalgia added by a giant Mid-Century ice cream cone sign. The three-scoop, 3-D fiberglass cone invites everyone to indulge at Mr. T’s pizza and ice cream parlor along St. Elmo Avenue. I’ve found St. Elmo to be the kind of Tennessee place where anything might happen, even the restoration of a white elephant house that was slouching toward demolition.
A St. Elmo 1900 clapboard, two-story house is currently going through a complete restoration that began with a series of conversations between Andy Mendonsa and Wells Fargo Bank. Mendonsa’s organization, Widows Harvest Ministry, was looking for a new fundraising project and approach, and the solution was hidden in plain sight on St. Elmo Avenue. Wells Fargo Bank worked with Mendonsa and donated the foreclosed property to Widows Harvest to not only ensure the structure’s revitalization, but also to benefit the entire neighborhood and broader community. The bank also added a monetary donation to the project of $26,000. Thank you, Wells Fargo.
The project is the most ambitious for the non-profit Widow’s Harvest to date. The steering committee includes Mendonsa, Stuart Bickley with Rain Dance Property Solutions, and Arch Willingham, President of T.U. Parks Construction. Bickley, who is also a St. Elmo resident, serves as the licensed general contractor on the project. The committee member overseeing the interior fixtures and finishes is Laney Carter with Laney Carter Interior Design of Chattanooga. We can’t wait to take you inside when the project nears completion!
The house was in need of a new roof. That’s an understatement. The house was sagging beneath overgrown trees, behind rusted chain link fencing, and sat a rain cloud of old-fashioned neglect. Mendonsa is a long-time St. Elmo resident and his construction skills have often been put to use repairing nearby historic homes of the elderly. He knew what he was getting into. Like all cool fragile places, too much change too fast can be a take-away, not progress. Mendonsa had seen demolitions before and wanted to be part of the solution to keep the urban fabric intact, both the physical and social fabric.
Since Wells Fargo donated the property last summer, the overgrowth of dead and scrub trees have been removed, an intense interior demolition was completed, and Widows Harvest continues to crowd source historic building materials and money keeping the project on track. The result has been remarkable, and you can follow the progress of Home Harvest HERE. You can see the ‘before’ pictures and the lovely home that is emerging, and donate. There’s also a Home Harvest Facebook page.
The house, built in 1900, includes a distinct two-story bay frontal architectural feature, and this had been changed significantly through the decades. From a neighbor’s 1940 photo showing the original design of the house, Mendonsa was able to accurately recreate the signature element. One original mantel and one set of pocket doors have also survived the home’s many transitions.
When the extensive restoration of ‘Home Harvest’ is complete, the revised landmark will be sold to the highest bidder and all profits from the future sale will go to help widows in urban areas with their home repairs. The price has not yet been established, of course, but we will keep you updated. Jim and Monique Lea of “The Lea Team” are the realtors of record. This residential restoration project is a win-win—for the most-able-to-purchase-a-showcase-home—AND the fragile fabric of the widow’s homes —thanks to one non-profit’s long-term commitment.
The work of repairing roofs, porch steps, windows and interiors of widows’ homes has been the heart of Mendonsa’s Widows Harvest Ministry since 1987, the year he founded the organization in Chattanooga. Perhaps this work is the antidote to offset that word we don’t like to say or hear or completely understand, gentrification. Mendonsa’s work has received a Jefferson Award and other recognition over the years.
HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP
Heart pine flooring needed. Approximately 600 to 900 square feet of heart pine flooring will be needed to complete the interior restoration. Not a mere remodel, Mendonsa’s commitment is to bring the historic structure back to its original sensibilities. If you have a source, let them know.
Donate. You can contribute to the ongoing Home Harvest restoration project HERE.
Or, mail your payment to Widows Harvest Ministries, P.O. Box 2307, Chattanooga, TN 37409.
Your donation helps restore an architectural gem, elevates an urban neighborhood, provides meaningful community collaboration, and goes towards helping elderly widows remain in their family homes and remain valued within their communities. Yes, this project reflects the spirit of St. Elmo well, underlining the word ‘community.’
If you want to get involved, please contact Andy Mendonsa directly at (423) 266-0260 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.