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The following article about Classmate Carlos Neiderhauser's home appeared in The Observer, the local paper of Shepherdstown, West Virginia. It is reprinted here. The editors thank The Observer and its editor, David Lilliard for permission to post this article on our Class website.

To some old-timers, the block building on Princess Street in Shepherdstown is the bus garage. Indeed, from a distance, that’s what the squat building looks like. But close up, glimpses of Christmas lights strung along the ceiling inside and cherub sculptures by the front door reveal the vision of one man who saw the real potential of the building—who saw beauty in debris. Carlos Niederhauser definitely has “the vision thing.”

How else can one explain his 1998 purchase of a 1920s tractor repair garage in downtown Shepherdstown—with no heat, no plumbing, minimal electricity, and a crumbling cement floor—and its transformation into an eclectic home and avant garde collector’s mecca with a purple roof?

Carlos bought the garage and the house next door in 1998 with the intent to turn the garage into his home. It had been a school bus garage in the 1950s and 60s but had been vacant for many years. The furnace for the home next door was housed in the corner of the garage. A pipe carried the furnace’s heat from the garage to the home. Some potential buyers had wanted to raze the garage for a parking lot or turn it into a commercial property, but Shepherdstown residents resisted.

Carlos saw the potential in the building. Renovations that included radiant heat flooring, preservation of the original pressed tin ceiling, and installation of dormers to create a second living story, began in 2000. They were sufficiently complete in fall 2000 to allow him to host his first Halloween bash in October.

But Carlos’ vision didn’t materialize without some glitches. The purple roof is one of the most famous. After a second floor was built in the garage’s attic area, and dormers were installed to bring natural light into the upstairs bedrooms and baths, it was clear that the metal roof needed painting. Metal-roof paint was expensive, but Carlos found a great deal on roof paint at Wal-Mart, where three containers of direct-to-metal blue paint and one of red had been returned to the store and drastically marked down. Carlos snatched up the bargain paints, brought them home, and mixed them all together.

Any kindergarten art student can tell you that blue and red make purple, and, boy, did Carlos have purple. He called it “Colonial plum.” A Shepherdstown resident challenged the color before the Shepherdstown planning commission. Research on historic colors after the fact, however, proved to support Carlos’s position. Indeed, a purple hue called “concord grape” was historically accurate. The town approved a second coat of concord grape, which turned out to be even brighter than Carlos’ Wal-Mart-special Colonial plum. The purple roof remains.

His partner, Liz Wheeler, moved in around Christmas 2005. Liz was the first chef at the Yellow Brick Bank 30 years ago. She had been friends with Carlos in the 1970s, but left Shepherdstown for Connecticut in 1979. They reconnected in 2003. An accomplished chef, Liz sailed around the world as a private chef on yachts for the rich and famous, including writer and publisher William F. Buckley.

In those years, constrained by the living spaces afforded by yachts, Liz developed a minimalist’s approach to living. She learned the art of appreciating something without having the desire to acquire it. That minimalist’s approach has been sorely tested by Carlos, the ultimate acquirer. Not an inch of blank wall space remains in the garage. It is filled with the art of friends and family—his son’s photographs from China, his daughter’s paintings, and sculptures and paintings from local artist friends. The same can be said for table and shelf space. Glassware, pottery, books, candelabras, and assorted tchotchkes fill the cabinets and cover the tables. Some acquisitions were left by tenants when they moved out of one of his rental properties. Other things were acquired from friends or acquaintances who were gutting houses. All are unique and, according to Carlos, worthy of acquisition. One of his latest acquisitions was a number of nine-foot-high doors imported from China, which he is working to install upstairs to replace the curtains that functioned as bedroom doors for years.

So it is an ever-changing vision that drives Carlos to acquire things he finds interesting and to move them about his purple-roofed garage. Liz wants to have an invitation-only yard sale so that objects can depart from the garage-home like so many buses. We can only wish her luck wresting anything from Carlos’ clutches.


© The Shepherdstown (WV) Chronicle. Reprinted with permission