Richmond, VA

An Article by Lisa O. Monroe, dated April 28th

Historic Mankin Mansion is being restored to former state of grandeur

By: LISA O. MONROE 04/28/2006

The Grand Rockefeller Room of Mankin Mansion features unusual red brick walls, beautiful hardwood floors, and many windows to let in sunlight. (LISA O. MONROE/STAFF PHOTO)
Following just a little more than a year of restoration work, the historic Mankin Mansion in eastern Henrico County is once again a fine showplace.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 30-room mansion was built circa 1903 as a home to Edward Thurston Mankin, the founder and owner of one of the South's most highly regarded brick foundries.

The Mankin Mansion and its dependencies, including a carriage house, summer house, farmer's cottage, and gardener's cottage, are connected by intricate brick walks and walls constructed of Mankin bricks.

These bricks were also used to recreate Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown Church, and many other buildings and fine homes in Virginia.

Mankin once entertained famous and wealthy persons such as John D. Rockefeller at his home, a showplace inside and out for his bricks.

The home was in a much less dignified state when Paula Ramirez first saw it in the spring of 2004.

"It had so much potential," said Ramirez, who on a tip from a friend, and after having only viewed the mansion for ten minutes, phoned her husband Martin and told him she had found the place for which they had gone to great lengths to find.

The couple, who then lived in California, had been on an extensive search throughout the country for a home where they could also establish a wedding resort, as Mr. Ramirez is a disc jockey with 20 years of experience in the wedding industry and Mrs. Ramirez, previously a physical therapist, is a certified wedding coordinator.

"We knew we didn't want to raise our children in southern California," said Mrs. Ramirez. She and her husband initially narrowed their broad search to five of their favorite areas, which included the area surrounding Williamsburg in Virginia. They then took two months off work to travel and research these areas in person.

After her brief tour of the mansion, Mrs. Ramirez, with phone consent from her husband, placed a bid on the mansion, despite its dilapidated condition.

Many of the windows in the 7,000-square foot home were broken. There was extensive water damage where a new roof was long overdue. And there was also damage to the exterior, where bricks and mortar were missing and repairs were needed.

Also on the grounds, vines had overgrown and covered the wonderful garden beds around the home.

The Ramirezes said they were pleasantly surprised when they learned they had placed the winning bid on the property, as they had only half-heartedly expected to win.

But when Mr. Ramirez first visited the site to see the home he and his wife had purchased, he was initially discouraged. It was close to evening and cloudy outside, and the house seemed gloomy and depressing, he said.

On the following day, in the light of the day, however, with it's hundreds of windows, exterior brick design, interior brick walls, and solid hardwood floors, Ramirez was able to see some of the potential that his wife had first gleaned in the home.

They moved into the home with their two children, Aaron, now 17, and Hailey, now 8, two months after purchasing it in June of 2004.

The first thing the home needed, and desperately, was a new slate roof, which turned out to be much more expensive than the Ramirezes were first told. A kiddie pool was in the floor collecting water from the leaky roof when they first moved in, as tenants still lived in several apartments in the east wing of the home.

The Ramirezes established their residence in the west wing of the mansion, and allowed the tenants to remain until recently as an extra source of income.

Each window in the home had to be stripped, sealed and repainted, while many needed new glass. The hardwood floors were sanded and stained. The landscaping also had to be totally redone, with old beds discovered as the vines and overgrowth were slowly removed.

One pleasant surprise, discovered while gutting rooms, was that the fine red bricks on the interior walls of many of the rooms in the home only needed a little cleaning to restore their color and beauty.

One setback which occurred for the Ramirezes early on was the flooding of the home's 1,000-square foot basement, and the destruction of two brick walls on the grounds during tropical storm Gaston in August of 2004. The exterior damage, which at first appeared devastating to the couple, turned out to be somewhat of a blessing in disguise, as the bricks from the walls were enough to make the necessary repairs to the exterior of the mansion.

"Week by week and day by day, it's gotten prettier," said Mrs. Ramirez of the transformation of the home back to its original grandeur. She has tastefully decorated the home throughout with a variety of antique furniture and artwork.

The couple recently acquired an additional two acres of adjacent land with a brick structure, which used to be part of the Mankin estate. Their plans are to eventually restore that for use as an indoor reception area. An outdoor pavilion, soon to be completed, is currently being constructed on the grounds behind the mansion.

The couple has received a lot of interest, encouragement and gratitude from residents in the community and members of the Mankin family as the home began to show improvement.

Mankin family members seemed delighted to see the home being restored, and after visiting, brought the couple old photographs showing the home's interior in the 1930s, and the Ramirezes were able to use these as a guide during the restoration process.

From the photographs, the Ramirezes learned that there were once columns in the main living room of the mansion, which is known as the Rockefeller Room. No columns existed in the home when the couple purchased it, but they thought that something was missing from the woodwork. They were able to use the photographs to have eight columns constructed in the likeness of the originals.

Members of the Mankin family are among those invited to a special dedication ceremony at the Mankin Mansion from 12 noon-1:30 p.m. Sunday, April 30. Governor Tim Kaine, county officials, and friends and family of the Ramirezes have also been invited.

Later the same afternoon from 2:30 to 5 p.m., the couple will hold an open house for future brides interested in holding their weddings at the resort. The resort provides complete in-house coordination of wedding events with a full-time events planning director, Laura Ricker, on staff.

The resort is designed to provide an exclusive weekend retreat for the bride and groom, as well as their family, said the Ramirezes, explaining that on a weekend when a wedding is booked, no other guests will stay at the resort.

At times when there are no wedding parties staying, the Ramirezes will operate a bed and breakfast at the mansion.

For more information, visit online: ©Henrico County Leader 2006