Bluff Neighborhood Construction Report—Special Gate House Edition

Most residents of Fairhope are aware of the “castles” at the east end of Oak Avenue. The Sheldon Castle, built by legendary Fairhope sculptor and “character” Craig Sheldon, was the childhood home of Dr. Craig Sheldon, Jr. (“Mac”), Megrez Sheldon Rudolf, and Pagan Sheldon Mosher. Megrez and her husband, John, now live there, and Pagan lives across the street in the Mosher Castle, a work in progress that is gradually replacing a nondescript frame cottage. Designed and (being) built by well-known artist and historian Dean Mosher, this castle, complete with moat and drawbridge, is not only a Fairhope landmark but also a popular stop for the Walking School Bus on Fridays.

Recently passersby have been intrigued by the construction of an addition to the cul-de-sac, at the corner of Oak Avenue and Bancroft Street. Megrez Rudolf, who works at the Fairhope Public Library, says she has more Circulation Desk inquiries about the house than about library matters! The Gate House, being built for Glenn and Sally Boom, was designed by Dean Mosher and engineered by Cowles, Murphy, Glover & Associates. SCC Group, LLC, are the construction consultants, but many independent contractors have been involved in the project from the outset. Dean is also doing the stonework, trim, and hundreds of creative details.

On Thursday I was privileged to get a sneak peek. Pagan, co-owner of Creative Outlet Dance Center, invited my adult ballet class to tour the construction site. The first thing I should say is that this is a house that is built to stay. One of the reasons passersby were initially intrigued was that the exterior walls were being built with insulated concrete forms from Force5Walls, Inc. Together with the metal roof, they make for a structure that can take pretty much anything Mother Nature can dish out.

The west side of the house, facing Bancroft, is the most complete so far, displaying Dean’s handiwork in the stone window and garage door frames.

In the front, work is under way on the stone-faced posts that support the porch.

Dean was at work when we visited. Here he is shown throwing mortar on a post and then setting a stone in the mortar.

All the stone used comes from Mobile Bay. Pagan described the process of salvaging it:

We don′t dredge the stone up. We just pick it up from the beach at the edge of or in the water and put in in the boat. Just good wet and dirty labor. The hard part is to stop gathering. I always want to get one more, but I have been reminded that few things sink faster than a boat full of rocks. So far over the years Dean has done 53 Rock Runs at one ton each. My mom and dad did the ones for their castle. I remember helping with one when I was very young. I don’t know how many they did.

After getting them to shore we unload them from the boat and onto a trailer. Once home the rocks are unloaded and power washed. Putting the stones up takes skill and strength, along with understanding weight placement and the elements of mortar types. Once you start you can′t stop. After the mortar has set the rocks have to be hand scrubbed with wire brushes before the mortar on the front and sides is too dry. Later the stone is cleaned with muriatic acid. Both the acid and mortar will eat away your skin and damage the eyes so great care has to be taken. The acid gives it the polished, clean, finished look.

You can see why no one else has used bay stone on their homes.

Following the tradition of the two castles, many found objects are embedded in the stonework. Here Pagan points out a car-shaped glass bottle that once contained Avon men’s cologne.

The other side of the façade has an iron B for Boom.

This is a sample of the panels that will fill the space between the posts.

Approaching the house from the Mosher Castle, I was struck by the Fire Department Connection on the outside. More on that later.

Behind the expansive north-facing windows is a two-story great room. I’m afraid I didn’t actually get a photo of it at all except this one and another from above (shown below).

The kitchen is to the right behind the great room.

Here Dean displays the carved boom that will extend from the west wall for track lighting.

To the left of the living area is a small room containing this impressive equipment. Pagan explained that, because the house is within the downtown fire district, it is required to have sprinklers and a built-in fire department connection. The water for showers, sinks, toilets, laundry, etc., comes from the regular City water lines, but the sprinklers have to be connected to the water line that supplies fire hydrants. A new hydrant will be installed across the street from the Mosher Castle, and the new house will be tied into that.

Proceeding to the rear, we come to the master suite. Here we look from the bedroom through the walk-in (actually walk-through) closet to the laundry room.

In the laundry room, washer and dryer will be separated by a work area.

The downstairs bathroom (with tile shower shown below) is off a short hall connecting the master suite to another room, opening from the garage, that can serve as an office or den or even another bedroom.

A view of the stairs from the top. Just visible above the railing in the background is the frame of the door to the room with the fire protection equipment.

The kitchen and great room as seen from the landing at the top of the stairs.

The loft room, which can be another bedroom, offers ample built-in storage. The third photo shows the interior of the cupboard shown in the second photo.

The upstairs bath has a tub/shower.

Past the bathroom is a climate-controlled storage room that provides access to two unfinished attic spaces.

When the house is completed, it will initially be rented out. If you are interested in renting, contact Mannich Real Estate. If you do, you may eventually have a front-row seat for the next phase: at some point after this house is completed and rented, the older cottage on the other half of the double lot will be razed, and another house, similar to this one, will be built.

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