03/28/2015 01:42 EDT | Updated 05/28/2015 05:59 EDT

Historic St. John's mansion gets makeover, listed for $1.4M

A St. John's man is investing millions of dollars to restore a historic home in the centre of the city — a home that isn't protected by heritage status.

Bruce Blackwood and his partner are revamping the 12,000 square foot mansion at 55 Rennie's Mill Road.

The home was constructed in 1889 by Lord Edward Patrick Morriss, the 12th Prime Minister of Newfoundland, and was completed in 1909.

It was a family home until the 1920s, and was later turned into an Anglican hostel for hundreds of outport girls who came to St. John's to study.

Blackwood and his partner purchased the home from its previous owner Thaddeus Dreher, a prominent member of the St. John's Polish community.

"I've known [about] the house for many, many years and admired it," said Blackwood. "And when it came on the market … we immediately had a look at it and ended up buying it."

Blackwood said because the home didn't have heritage status, he could have applied for a demolition permit to tear down the building and subdivide the lot, but he didn't want to do that.

"It's a gorgeous old house and it should be preserved," he said. "We both thought it was a good investment. It's built like no house built today so it's worth restoring."

The Queen Anne style mansion sits on a private half-acre lot across the street from Bannerman Park. 

On the market 

The home boasts spacious dining and living rooms with 13-foot ceilings, original windows and ornate plaster work, as well as a grand front entryway.

"The highlight of the whole house is the entrance," said Blackwood. 

"It's all English oak and would have been manufactured in London or in England somewhere and then shipped over here and installed for Lord Morris."

According to Blackwood, Enligsh oak is now considered an endangered species of tree. He estimates the staircase would cost roughly $750,000 if it were replicated today. 

To ensure the home will meet heritage standards, Blackwood and his partner consulted with the city.

Still, he thinks more can be done to motivate potential buyers.

"We've been trying to talk [the city] into some sort of incentives for people, either tax incentives or some sort of breaks for people, and that's something they're looking at, it's something they are trying to do," he said.

As is, the asking price for 55 Rennie's Mill Road is $1.45 million.

Blackwood estimates that price will likely balloon to $3-million as the renovations continue.

Built to last

Ken Casey, the property's listing agent, said Blackwood and his partner just need to find the right buyer for the mansion.

In three weeks, Casey's already arranged five viewings for interested parties.

"The house is not going to move, it's not going to settle — it's been here 100 years," said Casey.

"Those things you can't buy nowadays. It's well worth preserving."

Casey said the market largely dictates whether a buyer will work to preserve a heritage home, like Blackwood has, or demolish the home altogether — as was the case of 25 Winter Ave.

"Nobody wants to see these houses destroyed because they're not making any more of these," said Casey. 

"There was a little bit of a shock when I saw the roof coming off of [the Winter Avenue home], but again, it depends on the circumstance and the individual who's buying it."