Kildare Mansion owner lops off fence posts in hopes of final compromise with city

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Thursday morning Kildare Mansion owner Delila VanLandingham and a supportive neighbor began cutting fence posts along the front of the property down to 8 feet in hopes it may persuade city counselors to allow the structure to stay.

The owners of one of Huntsville’s most iconic historic buildings continue to plead with city council members to restart negotiations over their fence that must be moved by September 8th.

“We brought it down so it fits the criteria of being a standard decorative fence by anybody’s definition,” explains VanLandingham.  “And we’ve also got the insurance policy so that the city is named as the beneficiary so that there’s no liability.”

That policy is for half-a-million dollars — 5 times the city’s typical liability policy rate, VanLandingham claims.
Co-owner Dwight Wright says he requested a 10 year agreement with the city – 3 years with a non-revocable clause, with the license termed revocable for the remaining 7 years if the city deemed necessary – or ‘at will.’ Wright says the city said no to that proposal, saying those terms were non-negotiable.
“Which meant to me they could immediately request that it be taken down – and yet again it would only take 3 votes from the council to do that,” Wright explains.

VanLandingham calls the latest effort to appease city council a ‘compromise.’

“All we ask in return is that they add those 3 words, ‘for good cause’ so that if they need to move the fence or ned us to move it, they can do it for a good reason but not because somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed. That sets people up for failure and who does business that way anyhow,” asks VanLandingham.

Neighbor Troy Layne says he has been in support of the structure since the effort to  build the fence began.
“I personally hope the city council will let her finish the fence. It will deter all the chaos that comes through here – midnight, 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning; wakes me up, I’ve called the cops,” Layne says.

Property owners VanLandingham and Wright plan to speak up during the public comments section of Thursday night’s council meeting to see if members will budge on their stance.

“We’re just going to ask them tonight if they’ll commit to doing this on the record with the cameras rolling so everybody can see,” says VanLandingham. “That way there’s no room for any miscommunications, no innuendoes, no hidden agendas – it’s all out there in the open.”

If you support the survival of Kildare, let your elected official know your thoughts.  Encourage them to continue discussions with the owner and to add those important words “for good cause” to the agreement. More information at http://kildaremansion.com (PHOTO: David Wood, WHNT)

If you support the survival of Kildare, let your elected official know your thoughts. Encourage them to continue discussions with the owner and to add those important words “for good cause” to the agreement. More information at kildaremansion.com (PHOTO: David Wood, WHNT)

The owners of the property now say if the fence comes down they may have to demolish the entire home. They have created a website to visit if you would like to know more about their fight to save the fence and the home. CLICK HERE for a link.

Background

In October 2013, the owner of the 17,000 square foot 40-room mansion finished in 1889 — in an effort to preserve privacy – began building a massive fence around the property.

In July 2013, the city of Huntsville entered into a license agreement with McCormick Estate property owner Dwight Wright. The property is subject to city right-of-way down the east boundary of the property along Kildare Street. The agreement indicates Wright submitted a formal request to the city council which granted him the ability to construct a fence along the city right-of-way in order to ‘secure the property and prevent trespassing.’

Wright had the city’s blessing to construct the fence as stipulated in the survey map along the boundary of the 1.14 acre lot.

The agreement in no way stipulated a specific or acceptable height of the fence. In fact, owners say they went to great lengths to contact every city entity imaginable to ensure – before embarking on the investment for construction – that the fence was in accordance with every city building ordinance.

“Before I built the fence I went through every city department that I could think of that would have jurisdiction over fences and checked all the ordinances to make sure that what I had planned and what had been designed was indeed in compliance with city fence ordinances,” Wright reminds.

However, City Engineer Shane Davis says when the city entered into a use agreement with the Mr. Wright, they assumed the structure would be more like a four-foot decorative picket fence – not a towering battlement parapet, as some have characterized the fence.

Davis said last October the city entered into a stop motion order on the project and that work would be stopped. “It will come down,” Davis said at the time.

The fence did not come down. In fact, construction continued to include a massive gate which encloses the property’s entrance/driveway.

One look at the facade of the grand structure situated amid modest homes on Kildare Street in north Huntsville and it’s easy to understand.

Kildare, as it was first called, rewards modern visitors with an exuberant visual display of towers, turrets, tall chimneys, projecting pavilions, porches, bays and encircling verandas.

But most of those visitors certainly do not exhibit or reciprocate the gentility and poise typical of the Victorian Era.

Owner Dwight Wright says almost as well documented as the mansion’s illustrious and storied past, are the incidents of disrespect aimed toward the home and its current occupants.

“We’ve had people show up and throw rocks at the house, we’ve had people show up and throw rocks at us – they’ve threatened our lives,” Wright laments.

Some of those rocks damage the roof’s slate tile.

“Two weekends ago when it rained, we had a new leak.”

Wright says he understand some want to stop just to admire the architecture. But due to the continued problems, and the serious nature of those problems, Kildare’s residents say they remain on constant guard in their own home.

“We can’t tell if those people are just coming by to admire it or if they’re the next person to throw rocks or make a threat against us.”

Hence – the fence.

After the city council unanimously approved the license agreement in 2013 granting Wright the go-ahead for construction – and following the city’s subsequent qualms regarding the fence’s height – council members then brought up the issue of liability.

“Peter Joffrion, the city attorney, had stated many times publicly that they were concerned about the city liability.  He expressed that they were worried if a car hit it, it was so strongly constructed that it wouldn’t break away and also worried that it wasn’t strong enough that if we had a storm that it could blow over and injure someone on the street.”

Wright then learned that he could add the city on a $500,000 liability policy – more liability insurance that the city would have actually carried – thinking that would address the issue and become part of the mutual agreement.

Wright says aside from constant harassment from passersby and spectators, there is much more history behind his struggle to construct a privacy fence – going all the way back to when Kildare Street itself was established in 1932.

Original city right-of-way was designed around a traffic triangle that was proposed for Kildare Street at the intersection of Swanson Drive. Though Kildare Street never saw that triangle, the right-of-way intended to allot for the feature was never amended.

Wright, who bought Kildare in 2007, has actually been attempting to build a fence in front of the property along the paved road for several years.

“Actually it started in 2009 when I learned the right-of-way was so unusual in front of this house,” Wright explains. “It actually cuts a diagonal across the front yard and at the northern end of the property – the end away form the major intersection – it’s actually more than 30 feet from the paved road.”

Wright says the issue actually affects dozens of Kildare Street residents who technically own little to none of their own front yards per original plot lines.

“As you continue north down Kildare, people actually own less and less of most would consider to be their front yard.”

History of the Kildare Mansion

(Compiled by WHNT News 19’s David Wood)

History by Diane Ellis and Maureen Drost of ‘The History Huntsville Quarterly’

Artists rendering of completed Kildare House

Just off Oakwood Avenue, about a block northwest of that busy thoroughfare’s intersection with Meridian Street, stands a grand 19th-century mansion considered to be one of the finest Queen Anne-style residences in Alabama. This extraordinary three-story house was built in the 1880s for northern businessman Michael O’Shaughnessy, who was moving, with his wife and five children, from Mrs. O’Shaughnessy’s family home in Nashville to pursue busi­ness ventures in Huntsville.  O’Shaughnessy named his new house and the property’s 71 acres Kildare, in honor of the Irish county where he was born in 1833.

From the beginning, Kildare drew widespread interest from local newspapers and the public. In October 1886 the Huntsville Democrat reported on the building’s construction, observing that “Major O’Shaughnessy’s residence on the Meridianville Pike is progressing finely, already its proportions are beginning to show up handsomely, the walls of one story being nearly completed.” A few months later the rival Huntsville Mercury declared that “In every detail, no residence in the county will surpass [the house].”

And when the mansion was completed in 1887, a reporter for the Huntsville Independent toured O’Shaughnessy’s new house and described what he saw: “A week ago we had the pleasure of going through the summer residence built here by Mr. O’Shaughnessy, and we could not but admire the taste displayed in the furnishings. … The parlors, dining room and bedrooms are nicely but richly furnished, and the modern conveniences prove that wealth has been scattered with a lavish hand. For miles in every direction, broad drives are being laid off.”

Three years later, The Huntsville Independent was still singing the praises of the O’Shaughnessy mansion when one of its reporters compared Kildare to an ancient castle because of its massiveness.

Perhaps as fine a home as a gentleman of culture and artistic taste could desire is the home of Major M.J. O’Shaughnessy in the suburbs of Huntsville. The floors, casements, stairways, molding, and wood finishings of the house are of native wood that the Major has picked during the past eight years, and the sawings, dressings, and molding are of his own design and under his personal supervision. In the forty rooms, each is furnished in exquisite taste in the native Alabama timber of different kind and grain.

In the basement are the breakfast rooms, pantry, kitchen boiler room, and smoking [room]. On the first floor are parlors furnished in ebony and gold; another room is a symphony in brown. The ceiling decorations of hand painting and the stained glass of special shades all unite to add pleasure to the senses. The upper floor is conveniently arranged in bedrooms, billiard rooms, and observatories.

If the newspapers of the day engaged in unabashed boosterism and were inclined to worship at the altar of wealth and power, Kildare nevertheless merited their enthusiastic approval. O’Shaughnessy’s decision to build his dream house in the Queen Anne style was a highly unusual choice for his time and place. The mansion that resulted from that decision was a unique design marvel, hardly the sort of Victorian-era residence one would have expected to see in the rural Deep South of the late 1880s,” as architecture historian Robert Gamble has observed. One can understand how interest in Kildare— and in the man who could envision and afford such a showplace—kept pace with the construction of the mansion as it took shape in late19th-century Huntsville.

“Queen Anne” as a term applied to building design in our country is something of a misnomer. Architecture historian John J. G. Blumenson, who gives the years between 1880 and 1900 as the style’s heyday, explains that the style “.. .as manifested in America has little if anything to do with the architecture of the English Queen’s time. It is the first thing that comes to many peoples’ minds when a ‘Victorian mansion’ is mentioned.”

For many people, Queen Anne architecture continues to hold a special fascination. Part of this attraction lies in the nostalgic familiarity of large Queen Anne houses that recall the settings of favorite children’s stories, especially ones set in English mansions with nannies, secret passage­ ways, and things that go bump in the night. At an adult level, it is the Queen Anne style’s complex harmony of varied designs and materials that engages the imagination. Intriguingly busy buildings, they neverthe­less project a serious wholeness that commands respect. Reactions to Queen Anne houses may be as varied as the designs and materials of the houses themselves: amusement, astonishment, bewilderment, delight— but never indifference.

Blumenson calls the Queen Anne “…a most varied and decoratively rich style. The asymmetrical composition consists of a variety of forms, textures, materials and colors. Architectural parts include towers, turrets, tall chimneys, projecting pavilions, porches, bays and encircling verandahs. The textured wall surfaces occasionally are complemented by colored glass panels in the windows. Elements and forms from many styles are manipulated into an exuberant visual display.”

Modern visitors to Kildare are indeed rewarded with an exuberant visual display, the product of a happy marriage between stately yet spirited design and superb application of diverse building materials. Queen Anne houses, hardly the shrinking violets of the architectural styles garden, have staying power, and Kildare, a superb representative of the style’s qualities, can still inspire the kind of respect and admiration it received more than a hundred years ago.

 

10 comments

  • Jim

    There was no way the 16 foot fence was going to be able to be kept, that was a little extreme in height. The 8 foot fence looks attractive. I hope the city approves the modification. I can understand the owners issues with people harrassing them over the years which could drive anyone batty. I ran into an issue in Charlotte when I lived in a historical district about building a fence on my property. I was given a verbal approval by one of the historical commission members since my fence was of the same design of several existing fences in the area. Once I was set to construct the fence and began it, I got a stop construction order from the historical commission. I then had to go back and forth with them and we compromised and built my fence with some addittional details which they accepted. Its frustrating when you run into issues like the owners of Kiladare Mansion have but sometimes owners can get a little extreme in what they want and the 16 foot fence was a little much. I think the 8 foot fence should work well now. I just wnat the owners of Kilare Mansion to know that there are citizens in Huntsville that appreciate the beauty of their historically significant home here in Huntsville..

  • welcometotheforge1983

    I think he should add a little electricity to that fence to liven things up a bit. That’ll keep the local riff raff out. Remember, it’s his house, not ours. He should be able to do as he pleases. However, if you feel so compelled to pay for extra security, his home repairs or just help him out with his taxes – please, complain all you want. It’s still not your property but it might make him feel better if your were putting your money where your mouth is.

  • Ron

    I agree the 16 ft. fence was a bit extreme but I understand the owner’s frustration especially after having filed 170 police reports of vandalism and harassment. I applaud the owners for trying to save an important historical landmark of the City. If the mansion were located in the downtown historical district, I bet significant action would have been taken to stop the harassment and help the owners protect their property. To the City leaders, please do what is ethical and right to save this property – allow the 8ft. fence with the contingency clause the owner’s are requesting.

  • Harry.R.

    I just love how dwight and delilah are ttying to make themselves out to be the victims here.
    I have had the unfortunate experience of being acquainted with them at various timesover the years and they are both nuts.
    The so called harassment didnt begin until they started abusing people for simply looking at their house from the street.
    I am an amateur photographer who loves huntsville and its history and i myself have been threatened, and had rocks thrown at me for simply standing across the street and taking pictures of their house. And before all of the “its their house they can do what they want” types chime in, let me say that MANY others have had the same treatment or worse just for simply having the nerve to drive down their street. The harassing actions came from them first, you better believe it!

    People need to realize that you are not an island, especially when you purchase on of the most visible and well known homes in the city. Maintaining your property to the standard required by the city and acting like decent and civilized human beings is the price we pay for being part of what we call society. Most of the people that they claim are “harassing” them are merely taking pictures or looking at a beautiful mansion. All of which is perfectly legal at this time.Deal with it.

    Bottom line is that both of these nuts need to move out to the sticks and live in solitude. They are crazy and I for one hope they leave our fair town for good.
    All i can say is that they had better be glad they havent thrown rocks at the wrong person so far. One day they are going to piss off someone with a gun who wont put up with threats like that.

  • Nuclear Mike

    A good compromise…now let’s see if the City remains the Bully in all this! Election time is near and time to vote ALL the incumbents out of office regardless.

  • onlooker

    Harry, your reply rings insincere, or untrue. “Maintaining your property to the standard required by the city and acting like decent and civilized human beings is the price we pay for being part of what we call society.” You mean, they cant build a 16 foot tall fence because its uncivilized? And because you want to “look at their house”? Good grief. Let them build a fence, if they want to build a fence. Get over it.

    • John F.

      Um, I think the “uncivilized” part he spoke of was in reference to the owners’ behavior, not the fence! It’s important to look at all the facts. Ms. Delila was arrested for throwing a rock into a (moving?) vehicle, and last year she was arrested for theft of property 1st degree. While I understand she’s not guilty until proven so, people who get charged with these kinds of things usually are too “civilized,” so I don’t see how you believe his post did not ring true.

  • Harry.R.

    no. they cannot build a 16′ tall fence on city easements because the city says that they cannot
    they have become uncivilized in their actions towards others. do some research and ask around….they have been abusive, confrontational and downright criminal in their actions towards people for doing absolutely nothing wrong.
    also, if i want to look at their house, there isnt a thing that they can do about it if i am on a public road and not doing anything illegal…..sorry, they need to get over it or move.

  • Ray

    I had a run in with the individuals also the first time I heard about the house. I stopped and parked across the street and was taking a picture of the house. All the sudden I hear this weird voice booming from somewhere that I couldnt see them saying “Its against the law to take a picture of the house”, “the police have been called etc” The person rambled on some other things. I was not being confrontational with the people but they assaulted me verbally. I went away thinking, what a wonderful looking old home but whoever was saying those things must be some nutjob. So I guess of the 170 police calls they had I wonder if the majority of them was for the same reason.

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 709 other followers