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Originally identical, Arlington Court interiors vary today

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Every resident leaves a unique mark on Arlington Court's living spaces, although many have made similar updates. They've all replaced the gas lights and added furnaces to replace the heating systems originally provided by gas fireplaces, four in each unit, that were the only heat source when Arlington Court was built.

Many have removed the walls separating the small galley kitchens and 12- by 16-foot dining rooms, a move that opens and brightens the space. Quite a few residents have undertaken the tedious process of stripping the plaster from walls to expose the brick beneath. Some leave the brickwork rough, while others like Gary Rider repair and smooth all the mortar, as he did in the bathroom.

Quite a few owners have converted the small back porches that grace each unit into bathrooms or powder rooms. The units were constructed with only one bathroom, on the second floor.

Several couples found they were better served to transform the smallest of the three bedrooms into a walk-in closet. The architect was stingy with closets at Arlington Court, as were most builders 100 years ago.

The walk-up third floors are unfinished storage spaces in some of the 22 townhouses, while others are elaborately furnished dens, family rooms, studios or offices. The light that pours in through the dormer winders is ideal for the artists who live there.

Nearly everyone has replaced the original wood double-hung windows with more modern, energy-efficient varieties.

Kay Michael and Jim Reader made most of those improvements to the townhouse they purchased when the former owner moved before completing the renovations he'd just started.

They opened the wall between the kitchen and dining room, converted the back porch to a powder room, converted a small bedroom to a walk-in closet and still have two good-sized bedrooms and a walk-up, finished third-floor room that stretches the length of the house.

Three years ago, Gary Rider and Claudette Hudson-Rider purchased one of the end units, which are about 500 square feet larger than the interior condos. They walked into an enviable situation. Their unit had undergone major renovations, including a new kitchen and bathroom and installation of larger windows. It also contains the only garage in Arlington Court.

Energy-efficiency-minded Rider, who works for American Electric Power, capped the chimneys and sealed the covered fireplaces except for the one in the dining room. They installed tubular terra wine tiles, which stack for handy storage, in that fireplace.

Hudson-Rider grew up in Charleston, but hadn't lived downtown before they purchased their Arlington Court home. "I like to walk and be in the mix of things," she said. She owns Tgraphics, on the West Side, and often walks to work as well as to restaurants and concerts nearby.

Their minimalist decorating style contrasts with that of Amy McLaughlin. Her husband, Shawn Means, lives there, but credits her entirely with the décor. As the director of Habitat for Humanity ReStore, McLaughlin's passion for recycled and repurposed materials and local art shows in their home.

Victorian heating grates salvaged from old homes hang as art on the walls, a Barbie dollhouse serves as a record album holder and a healthy houseplant grows in old slow cooker.

Their condominium also has a powder room in what used to be a back porch and a kitchen in which a counter and open glass cabinetry divide it from the adjoining room, which they use as a living room.

An original built-in hutch remains in the hall between the kitchen and hall. McLaughlin displays her collection of vintage lunchboxes in it.

The décor may be McLaughlin's, but the character of Arlington Court is what captures Means' interest and passion. He created a Facebook page, Arlington Court Community, on which he posts historic accounts and current photos and events.

He hears from former residents who visit the page and comment about how much they miss living there. Some send photographs, which appear on the timeline. Means wishes he could find more historic photos of the court. The earliest photos he's found are from the 1940s.

Although the condominiums do not frequently change hands, one soon will be available through auction. Means will post details on the Facebook page.

Means credits a memory for part of the attachment he feels for Arlington Court. Like most people who are old enough to know where they were when President John F. Kennedy died, Means remembers that he was visiting his aunt and uncle in Arlington Court.

"I had that connection. Also, I like history and architecture and the court's 100th anniversary made this a unique time," he said of his reasons to research and to document Arlington Court. "There's nowhere else like it in Charleston that has survived."

Reach Julie Robinson at julier@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.


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