When JJ Graham and Petra Iston were faced with having to vacate the huge, handsome brick building their Salvo Art project had occupied on the grounds of Nature Scapes in Bunnell just after New Year’s, they might have been downcast and uncertain about the future of what had been the county’s most unpredictably vibrant art gallery and studio since its creation eight years earlier. But they weren’t, really. There was a glimmer in their eyes even as they were sweeping the place clean and stocking vehicles for the move.
They knew about the big yellow house not far down the road at 802 East Moody Boulevard, what’s been known as Maxwell House, the 5,000 square foot halfway house that had gone up for sale months earlier. They were pursuing it. They had to find a way to secure enough of a down payment to afford its $275,000 price.
Today, they announced they’d done just that: the bank loan through Palm Coast’s Intracoastal Bank was approved. Closing may be a few weeks off yet, but “absence some really weird thing,” Jan Reeger, the real estate broker in the transaction, “I’d say theoretically this could close within two to three weeks.” Reeger added: “To the best of my knowledge at this point there aren’t any glitches, not expecting any.”
It was no small achievement for Graham and Iston, who spent the past three months raising funds. At first Graham thought he had to raise 10 percent for the down-payment, then discovered that 20 percent was the required amount for a commercial loan, or $55,000. He succeeded, with donations and an uncle, who happens to be an arts patron, also stepping up in a big way to help. And already, six of the 10 rooms in the house have been let to artists as studios, with others lined up.
“I’ve still got butterflies until the papers are signed and everything is going through,” Graham said, leery of saying too much even though he’d made the announcement through Facebook posts and emails earlier this afternoon. “I’m definitely feeling better now, that whole waiting game to see if we were going to get approved for the loan was nerve-wracking.”
His art gallery was born at City Market Place in January 2009 as Hollingsworth Gallery. It grew there, sprawling to additional storefronts, attracting the Flagler County Art League as a neighbor, then becoming the home to City Repertory Theatre, before rent became an issue and Graham had to look elsewhere. He made an arrangement with the late Marylou Baiata, who’d owned Nature Scapes, shortly before her death from cancer. She’d always imagined having an artist colony on her grounds. A vision like that emerged in the 6,000 square-foot hangar-like building Salvo occupied from the end of 2014 to the end of 2016. But matters soured between Graham and Baiata’s sons, with whom relations were on a more discordant key. Relations kept deteriorating until Graham was faced with an eviction notice and a brief court case, which ended with a settlement that required that Salvo vacate the building by the first week of January.
Graham sold one of his paintings so he and Iston could have a place to stay for a while, and they took up working in a small storefront at Marvin’s Garden while working through the paperwork of the Maxwell House transaction.
The tenants at Maxwell House, many of them readjusting to society after jail or prison by renting rooms for $125 a week, will have to leave the building, though they’ve been aware of it for months.
“When I drove by and I saw the house for sale, I didn’t know the situation when I called Jan Reeger,” Graham said. “I have mixed emotions about that but the bottom line is there were other people interested in the house and had their designs on it. So when I talked to Bill about it he said they’ve all been told for months that the house was for sale, and they were on a month to month basis.” Bill Stoughton, the Flagler Beach homebuilder, has owned Maxwell House since 2006 (when the building has an appraised value of $690,000).
Graham described the building’s interiors as “comforting.” It was built in 1936, with two fireplaces, and renovated extensively several years ago. The property has an added advantage in a 600 square-foot cottage, where Graham and Iston intend to live. The end result will be a mortgage of less than $1,500, a shade less than what the cost had been at Nature Scapes, with the signal difference that in this case, Graham and Iston finally own their walls and roofs. And the place is up to code, with its central air conditioning and sprinkler system (coding had been an issue at the previous location).
There’s no set date for an opening. “We’re getting calls, emails every day from people wanting to know when we’re going to open,” Graham said. But he ventured a move-in date of April 1, and several weeks of wall-to-wall work after that, even though he doesn’t see the property as needing much work. “My hope is that we can get up in a month,” he said.