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Top-O-Rock could be demolished

By Rachel Molenda, Staff writer

A Charleston-area contractor has been approached to tear down the famed Top-O-Rock.

Rodney Loftis Jr. of Rodney Loftis & Son Contractor said Dr. Mitchell Rashid, who owns the house, told him via email, “We’ll be in touch very soon,” regarding the job.

No contract has been signed yet, Loftis said Tuesday.

“It’s a shame that children have done that to that house,” Loftis said of the recently vandalized property. “For them to have that much disrespect for someone’s property, that’s really sad.”

Loftis has done work for Dr. Mitchell Rashid in the past.

The property’s vast damages aren’t for a lack of trying on Rashid’s part, Loftis said.

“[Vandals] tore down his gates that he put up. They tore down his barricades [at the residence’s entrance],” Loftis said.

The city’s Building Commission received reports Monday that the 10,000-square-foot house and studio had been vandalized. Many of its windows were broken and graffiti now covers much of the structure’s interior.

The Rashids have 21 days to present a plan for the building to the city of Charleston, Building Commissioner Tony Harmon said.

The commission issued a letter Tuesday to Rashid and Kamilla L. Rashid, who purchased the iconic Charleston house in 2011 for $400,000.

“They will have 21 days to get everything corrected, but we would like the building secured immediately,” Harmon said.

Harmon said his department hasn’t yet heard from the Rashids but that he feels “pretty confident that they will do what we need them to do.

“It’s just a matter making them informed as to what’s going on, the condition of it and so forth,” Harmon said of the house.

The Rashids need to clean up the broken glass that covers the property, put plywood in the broken windows and submit a plan of action to the city for the house, Harmon told the Gazette on Monday.

The Rashids could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.

The celebrated house and studio on Goddard Road was built by architect Henry Elden in 1968. Its curved floor-to-ceiling glass walls overlook the Kanawha River and provide an expansive view of the capital cityscape.

Chris Ojeda, owner of contracting company The Renovators, said he did electrical work in the building in 2012. The Rashids were hoping to convert Top-O-Rock into a bed-and-breakfast, Ojeda said. He and his crew ran into logistical issues when trying to bring the building up to code.

“It was such a massive undertaking,” Ojeda said. “You’re talking a quarter of a million dollars to renovate that place, to get it to where it needed to be.”

It cost the Rashids thousands for his work, Ojeda said, which was done and re-done several times because of power company requirements.

“I’ve never run into so much red tape when it comes to getting homes their power,” Ojeda said. “We would take two steps forward and then someone would knock us one step back.”

Renovating an older building can be costly. Loftis and Ojeda noted that rehabbing Top-O-Rock could come at a hefty price.

“I didn’t look at the structure that close, or the foundation of it,” Loftis said when asked about its structural integrity. “I just know it would take a lot of money to rehabilitate it to where you could live in it again.”

“Even though he’s a doctor, money doesn’t grow on trees,” Ojeda said Rashid.

Erin Riebe, West Virginia’s coordinator for the National Register of Historic Places, said she contacted the Rashids about potential historic-preservation financial incentives in August 2011, shortly after they completed the purchase of the house.

“We sent a letter to the property owner in 2011, saying we thought it was potentially eligible,” Riebe said of the honorary listing.

Property owners of registered historic structures or sites are eligible for federal and state preservation tax credits, depending on the place’s use. “Income-producing properties” can receive a 20 percent federal tax credit, as well as a 10 percent state tax credit, for rehabilitation or restoration costs, Riebe said. Properties that don’t generate income, such as a private residence, would be eligible for a 20 percent state tax credit.

Riebe and a tax credit coordinator, who is no longer with the State Historic Preservation Office, met with Rashid for a tour of the house and property that same month, she said. The two also gave him information about the program and its financial incentives.

They never heard from him again, Riebe said.

“It’s up to the property owners,” Riebe said, of the voluntary register.

While structures less than 50 years old (the house is 46 this year) aren’t typically eligible for the register, there are exceptions. Riebe said Top-O-Rock’s architecture is “exceptionally significant.”

“We have, I think, probably a few other resources that exemplify modern architecture,” Riebe said. “This one’s pretty important. It’s a landmark that people know about and are interested in, because they can see it from the roadway.”

The office’s grants typically go to projects intended to keep a building standing or construct a “weatherproof envelope,” which Riebe said Top-O-Rock could have used. It has been vacant since its purchase.

The building could end up on the city’s vacant-structure register if it continues to be empty much longer, Harmon said Monday.

The City Council passed a law in March that charges annual fees to owners of vacant structures. Those fees increase each year a building remains on the list. Top-O-Rock would be registered if it is still empty and “unless they’re working on it or whatever to get it refurbished” by September, six months after the ordinance passed, Harmon said.

Being listed on the National Register of Historic Places wouldn’t save Top-O-Rock, should Loftis and the Rashids enter into a demolition agreement. Riebe said it’s an honorary listing that also provides financial incentives to keep up those designated places.

“A national listing doesn’t place restrictions on property owners,” Riebe said. “They can abandon it, tear it down.” The state preservation office wants to see Top-O-Rock restored, Riebe said.

“It would be quite a loss, because there’s nothing else like it,” Riebe said. “It’s a landmark that people know and love and refer to.”

Ojeda, impressed with its design and ingenuity, described Top-O-Rock as “astounding.” He said he doesn’t think the Rashids intended for the property to fall into such disrepair or succumb to vandalism but that rehabilitation can be a challenge.

“I feel sorry for Kamilla and Mitch, because they had their best interests in it. But all the pitfalls that they and I ran into firsthand, it knocks you down a couple pegs,” Ojeda said. “I was hoping that it would become something, but I left there with a bad feeling, thinking that the Rashids were up against a wall.”

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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