A straight roofline? Check. A dry interior, with no noticeable signs of sagging in the walls? Check. An original front door with a mechanical doorbell that still works? Check.
“That alone makes this house worth saving,” said Tom Kelly, smiling and turning the doorbell, while standing in the entryway of the 100-year-old beach cottage at 413 Rehoboth Ave. in downtown Rehoboth Beach. “I’m so excited.”
The cottage sits on one of three adjoining lots – 413, 415 and 417 Rehoboth Ave. – owned by Clear Space Theatre Company, which at this point has been engaged with the city for multiple years trying to get a new theater approved on those lots.
To help finance the project, Clear Space applied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a multimillion-dollar community facilities loan. As part of the application process, an environmental assessment was conducted, and the house at 413 Rehoboth Ave. was designated as a rare surviving example of a beach bungalow. The designation meant Clear Space was required to try to preserve the structure. A house at 415 Rehoboth Ave. did not receive the same designation, and it was demolished in May.
During a meeting in March, held to gather public opinion on how best to preserve the bungalow’s history, Terry Fearins, USDA community program director for Delaware and Maryland, said the only reason a mitigation plan was considered is because Clear Space applied for the federal loan. If the project was privately funded, there wouldn’t be this process, said Fearins at the meeting.
Shortly after the meeting, Clear Space announced it was giving the house away for free to anyone who could move it.
Kelly moved to Rehoboth roughly 18 months ago from the Washington, D.C. area. He’s living with family right now. He said those family members were the ones who informed him that Clear Space was giving the house away. Upon inspection, he said he knew almost immediately he wanted to be the person who saved the house.
“The roofline tells a person everything they need to know about how the house is doing structurally,” said Kelly, a contractor by trade. “This house is in great shape.”
Kelly said he is aware of the ongoing issues surrounding Clear Space’s approval to build on Rehoboth Avenue, but he didn’t have much to say on the subject. However, now that the house is going to be saved, he said it would be great to have its historical marker returned. A Rehoboth Beach Main Street 2005 Cottage and Town Award medallion was taken off the cottage in April.
Kelly said there were others who showed interest in the house, but ultimately he was the one who could make it work logistically. He said one of the biggest challenges was finding a lot close enough to the house to make the move feasible – he’s moving the cottage to an empty lot at the end of Lincoln Street, across the street from the city’s public works office.
Kelly has hired East Coast Structural Movers to transport the house. He said it’s a two-week process to jack up and get wheels underneath the house.
Kelly said the only thing not making the move is the chimney, because it would simply fall apart. There’s a mudroom area along the back of the house that’s not original, but old nonetheless. Kelly said the plan is to detach that area from the house for the move, salvage as much of it as possible and then rebuild it at the new location.
To move the house from Rehoboth Avenue to Lincoln Street, Kelly said he is going to cut the roof off; standing in the second-floor space, he draws an imaginary line about waist-high along the wall. The walls are secured with stringers running across and the roof is in good shape, he said. After the move, the roof will be reattached and it will be just as strong, he said, pulling out his cellphone to show off a picture of a similar project on another house he helped move not too long ago.
Kelly said there’s a lot of interior work to be done after the move – new master bedroom and bathroom, a new kitchen, and possible realignment of the interior staircase. He said he’s thinking about doing the plumbing for a second master bathroom for more renovation work in the future.
“Give me eight months,” said Kelly, on how long it will take to make it livable again. “I’m super pumped.”