Grace United Methodist Church is willing to give away its parish house - if you're willing to pay a licensed contractor to move or demolish the house and fill up the partial basement beneath.
The church at Fourth and Grace streets announced its plans for the circa 1923 home with a large sign that says "Free House" in bold red letters. Its parish house at 313 N. Fifth Ave. is on the back side of the property facing Fifth Avenue.
Grace's Board of Trustees began planning for the move last fall, a year after the completion of its new activity center, which absorbed much of its parking lot and playground.
Board member Dick Hutter had the idea from his former church in Pinch, WV.
"We needed to build a new parsonage and someone said let's just give it away. So a person came and moved it, and we built a new brick parsonage right on that spot," Hutter said. Grace would like to use the space where the current house is located as a new children's playground.
The old house, which had housed Mother Hubbard's Cupboard for about a decade, has been vacant since the emergency food assistance charity moved to a larger space on Second Street two years ago. The church purchased the house about 15 years ago.
During its 10 years in the house, Mother Hubbard's Cupboard fed more than 100,000 people, said board member Jane Spicer.
"It was so wonderful to have a space with light, windows, more accessibility, a bathroom. We had been in the basement chapel at Grace UMC (1997-2004), and it was dark and we really were outgrowing it, so the move came at a good time. A Boy Scout coordinated the move (shelves, food and a bit of furniture) for his Eagle Scout project," she wrote in an email. "It was not fancy, but we fed a lot of people from that house."
But the house was falling into disrepair, and the board was struggling with a productive use for it.
So when Hutter presented the idea to Grace's board, after much discussion they said: "Nothing ventured; nothing gained. We said we'd try it and see what happened," said Michelle Ann Ginocchio, another board member. The board also lost its sign, initially. Homeless people who sometimes sleep on the porch had moved it behind the house, Hutter said.
Since January, when Hutter put up the sign, the church has received more than 100 calls of interest about the house. And with 340 homes in New Hanover County in foreclosure and a 9.5 percent unemployment rate, a free house might seem attractive to some.
"We've had some people who just thought they were going to just move in," said Grace's operation manager Debbie Ashe.
But the four bedroom and two bath house comes as is.
"The house has some problems. It was originally a wood frame house, and someone added a brick facade to the outside without any flashing or much to anchor it to the building so the brick is essentially ready to fall down," said Ginocchio, an architect. She shook her head, "But my favorite odd addition to the house was they enlarged the toilet room upstairs, and they expanded it over the stairs," so you have to duck your head as you climb the stairs.
The first serious investors came to look at the house this week. One man and his wife walked through the house in about 20 minutes on Wednesday, talking about moving it to a lot they own. The couple also remarked on the trees along Fifth Avenue that would complicate moving the 2,000-square foot house. Officials with Preservation North Carolina had also expressed an interest, Hutter said.
And there's another catch - Wilmington's Historic Preservation Commission has placed a year's stay on either moving or demolishing the property so the move can't happen until October, Ginocchio said.
Another board member David Cooper believes the house can be moved if the brick is removed first. He pointed out the crown moldings, wood working details on the stairs and the push button light switches.
"They just don't make houses like this anymore," he said.
But if it can't be moved, "the details of the building are useful in repairing any house on this street," Ginocchio added.
Interested in the house? Call 910-763-5197.