A merger of new and old in historic district apartments

Published 8:02 pm Thursday, August 25, 2016

It was a fluke that brought Calvin McLean and Mona Penner to Washington, but a little over a year later the couple has made a lasting impact in the heart of the historic district.

McLean and Penner own Washington’s newest luxury apartments that, from the outside, don’t so much resemble apartments as another historic East Second Street home. While a deep, sweeping wrap-around porch and leaded glass transom windows above the front door greet visitors to 121 E. Second St. outside, inside the building is carved into 11 apartments, ranging from efficiency to two bedrooms. Each apartment is different, following the lines and structure of what was once a single-family dwelling, then a transition made about a decade ago to a hospice facility that never came fruition.

In Dot Moate’s first-floor, one-bedroom apartment, an original fireplace with brick enclosure and tiled surround in the living room vies with a neo-classical chandelier with hanging bulbs on black wire in the dining/kitchen area. An upstairs two-bedroom apartment merges modern kitchen with a spacious living/dining room. A large studio apartment is tucked into what was once attic space, and is now a hideaway that flows beneath the eaves to a dormer window.

Each is unique and filled with little touches that put these apartments above the standard fare: sanded and stained, original hardwood floors interspersed with wide, interlocked wood flooring; solid interior doors made in Italy hung on ball-bearing hinges; a fob key entry and intercom system that calls a tenant’s cellphone and even allows tenants to open the front door with a push of a digit; walk-in showers with river-rock tile accents; interior doors with magnetic locks; an abundance of light fixtures, the designs of which could double as art.

“We just wanted to do something that was really nice for people. Some people just prefer normal. Normal is good, but we wanted to do something a little more upper scale,” McLean said.

McLean and Penner have been at this business for several decades. Based out of Arizona, McLean has made a career of buying properties, renovating and repurposing buildings across the country.

“I started doing this when I was 25, and I turned 63 last week,” McLean said. “We’ve tried to quit a couple of times, but when opportunity knocks, sometimes you have to go with it.”

That opportunity came last year when McLean and Penner visited North Carolina to view a 36-house subdivision they considered purchasing. McLean said that deal didn’t feel right, so with time to kill, he asked Penner to pick out a town somewhere relatively close, on a river, where they could go out to a nice dinner.

Penner chose Washington, and they were not disappointed by what they found.

“My gosh, we found a downtown city that looked like a couple of other downtown cities that we have made flourish,” McLean said. “It was just a fluke, God’s fate, that we ended up there.”

The couple immediately began looking for properties, and when they were shown the property on East Second Street, knew they’d found they’re next investment.

“We walked in, looked at it and bought it on the spot,” McLean said.

McLean said in their partnership, Penner is the designer; he’s the builder — the combination of which leads to sleek spaces with modernized systems: new plumbing and electric, fire-rated doors, thermal windows, a sprinkler system and more.

“This building has got everything 100-percent up to date that’s required for safety,” McLean said.

As a new tenant, Moate said she’s downsizing for the fourth time, and loves her new one-bedroom apartment with its high-ceilinged living room, cozy bedroom and small, but serviceable kitchen.

“One of the reasons I moved here is that it was close to downtown, and I didn’t have to walk up too many stairs,” Moate said. “It’s very convenient.”

Moate is currently showing apartments to prospective tenants for McLean and Penner, who have returned to Arizona, though their business building in Washington may not be done: this week, McLean made an offer on a West Main Street building that previously housed the Inner Banks Artisans’ Center. Should the offer be accepted, McLean said he’s envisioning banquet space, apartments upstairs and retail businesses downstairs.

The East Second Street apartments’ rents range from $650 to $1,200 a month, with utilities and trash fees included. For more information, call Calvin McLean at 909-533-8617.