Timeless elegance and modern luxury seamlessly intersect at Factory Point Place in downtown Manchester
STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY STEPHEN & BILL DRUNSIC
In the heart of downtown Manchester, a striking and stately structure stands at the center of the Main Street Historic District. Its blue clapboard façade is crowned by a majestic cornice with ornate dentil molding, creating a sense of dignified Victorian grandeur. Thanks to years of hard work and meticulous restoration, Manchester’s beloved “Factory Point Bank Building” has been comprehensively renovated and redesigned from the ground up. The project was overseen by established Southern Vermont-based developers Bill and Stephen Drunsic, who are deeply invested in Manchester’s continual growth and prosperity. Working with a talented team of contractors and craftspeople, the Drunsics were able to carefully preserve many of the building’s most remarkable structural features. Their years of painstaking effort have resulted in a spectacular multi-purpose structure that beautifully integrates historic architectural elements with modern aesthetic sensibilities.
Reborn as Factory Point Place, the building now houses four gorgeous private residences, a stylish clothing store (Spring & Harbor Boutique) and two successful restaurants (Union Underground and Mystic Café & Wine Bar). Past the doors of the Main Street entrance, the back wall of the main lobby is lined with graphic prints of black and white photographs provided by the Manchester Historical Society. The pictures bring the building’s compelling history to life in vivid detail, providing valuable insight into the chain of events that led the storied structure to its current state.
A Celebrated History
The first structure that stood in the same place as the Factory Point Bank Building was originally constructed in 1815. In its earliest years, the building housed a lively tavern. In the late 19th century, Emerson Estabrook converted the third floor into an opera house. He then opened Estabrook’s Opera House in 1884. After a tragic fire burnt the entire structure down to the ground in 1893, it was rebuilt and reopened to the public in 1896. The Union Opera House then opened on the second floor of the building, which was used by the local community as a public performance space and gathering hall for nearly half a century. The Union Opera House hosted both local musical productions and high-profile artistic events, such as a performance of Southern Vermont-based author and educator Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s comedic play Tourists Accommodated in August 1932. The Union Opera House also served as a meeting place for esteemed social clubs, such as the Ondawa Club (whose members included Orvis Fly Fishing & Tackle Company founder Charles Orvis and acclaimed Vermont poet and author Walter R. Hard), the Masonic Hall for Adoniram Lodge #42, and the Order of Eastern Star. In 1896, the Factory Point Bank opened in the basement and first floor of the same building as the Union Opera House. Over the next several decades, the Factory Point Bank continued to grow. In 1972, the bank purchased the entire building in order to expand its operations.
The Main Street branch in downtown Manchester served as Factory Point Bank’s main corporate headquarters until 2007, when the company was acquired by Berkshire Bank. In 2012, Berkshire Bank vacated the building and moved down to a new location half a block east on Main Street. After remaining unoccupied for two years, the Factory Point Bank Building was purchased by Stephen and Bill Drunsic in 2014, who envisioned a flourishing future for downtown Manchester’s historic Factory Point district. “The Drunsics’ efforts to repurpose the building with a nod towards its history are a testament to their commitment to Manchester and its Main Street historic district,” says Manchester Historical Society’s Curator Shawn Harrington. “It’s a beautiful building with a compelling story behind it.”
Factory Point Place Takes Shape
When Stephen Drunsic and his father, Bill Drunsic, noticed that the Factory Point Bank Building was falling into a state of disrepair, they decided to seize the opportunity to bring an exciting new development to Manchester’s downtown area. “We saw that there was a wonderful historic building on Main Street that was gradually beginning to fall down. We bought the building, because we wanted to improve the vibrancy of the downtown district. We had a vested interest in converting the structure into something that would become an asset for Manchester, so we started brainstorming about potential ideas for the building.”
After spending several months weighing their options, the Drunsics decided to create a mixed-use property that would take full advantage of the building’s architectural features. They then drafted initial plans to rebuild the structure in a way that would accommodate commercial properties on the bottom floor and private residences on the upper floors. Stephen Drunsic elaborates: “At the time, there was an ongoing movement of developers who were re-gentrifying local downtown districts by repurposing old buildings and updating them in tasteful and modern ways. Factory Point Bank actually drew the inspiration for its name from Manchester’s industrial heyday in the mid-19th century. Back then, there were a number of commercial enterprises that were built around the river that runs through downtown Manchester, such as a tannery and a marble mill. As the new stewards of the property, we knew that we wanted to similarly honor the legacy of the Factory Point district. We named the building ‘Factory Point Place,’ and we went to great lengths to preserve its original architecture.”
According to Drunsic, the renovation process began the same year that they acquired the building in 2014. “We knew from the beginning that a building of this size and age was going to require a comprehensive ‘gut-renovation’ in order to convert it in the way that we desired. First, we demolished the interior space down to the studs so that we could better assess the integrity and location of the load-bearing walls. We then brought in an architect and structural engineer to develop a better understanding of how we could re-program the interior space to align with our objectives.”
The project owners understood that in order to accommodate the commercial properties on the lower floors and the residential units on the higher floors, they had to remove many of the interior partition walls and intermediate floor structures in order to open up the space. “We went above and beyond to save a lot of the original studs and other structural features. Much of the original timber was in great shape, so we repurposed it into custom doors and other decorative elements throughout the building. We left the original truss systems exposed, many of which are visible in the residential units.”
During the renovation process, the project manager, Dan Scarlotta (who played an instrumental role in developing the overall vision for the project) unearthed stamping on the truss beams that indicated that all of the locally-sourced spruce wood came from the historic Silas Griffith Mill in Danby, Vermont. The mill was founded by lumber and charcoal magnate Silas Griffith, who oversaw a vast empire of massive land tracts and sawmills in the 19th century.
Stephen Drunsic explains that on the lower floors, the demolition work took on a different dimension. “Due to the building being the home of the Factory Point Bank, there were a total of seven different vaults that needed to be removed or re-purposed. In the case of the main vault on the street-level floor, we made the decision to partially disassemble it, due to the sheer weight of the vault doors. All of the vault doors below street level were fully removed, and we encountered an interesting situation when we attempted to open one of the vaults in the basement area.” When the Drunsics first acquired the building from Berkshire Bank, they were handed the keys to every vault in the building. They then discovered that one of the vaults had remained locked for several decades, and they were unable to find the key and combination that opened it. “As a result, we had to torch-cut the door,” says Drunsic. “We were hoping that we might find untold riches inside, but it was mostly empty, save for a few beautiful paintings.”
After the vaults were removed, the basement was excavated in order to construct an elevator pit and achieve the necessary ceiling height for the Rathskeller-style bar area, which now houses Union Underground. Once the demolition and removal stage reached its conclusion, new interior partition walls were rebuilt, the floor structure was solidified, and a masonry elevator shaft was constructed. Brick walls were then built in the basement, the majority of which were made from repurposed bricks from the original building. The old exterior siding was removed and replaced, and new windows and doors were added, as well. Extensive amounts of work went into soundproofing the walls between the residential units, and custom double-paned windows were installed on the north and west façades of the building for efficiency and sound dampening purposes. The renovation project took a total of four years to finish, and was completed in 2018. Today, the exterior of the building closely resembles its original form, with the exception of the western and southern elevations, where new windows, balconies, egress doors, ramps, and cladding have been added. The interior has been almost entirely reconfigured, with high ceilings that range in height from 12’ at street level to between 9’ and 21’ in the residential units. “The exceptional ceiling heights in the residential units create a loft-like feel, somewhat reminiscent of apartments in Tribeca or Soho in New York City,” says Drunsic. “The residential units have an atmosphere that is both rustic and modern. It’s a perfect balance between historic elegance and streamlined contemporary comfort.” Throughout the building, the disassembled and repurposed vault doors, antique signs, and repurposed timber studs create a nostalgic and elevated aesthetic that hearkens back to the structure’s past eras. These gracefully-placed decorative touches imbue the residential units and businesses in Factory Point Place with an air of distinction and import and serve as a heartwarming tribute to the building’s enduring impact on the town of Manchester.
The Best of Both Worlds
Over the course of the Factory Point Place renovation project, Manchester’s downtown area experienced a burgeoning renaissance. Restaurants and businesses now line both sides of Main Street in the Factory Point district, providing a cultured culinary and retail experience that delights both visitors and locals. In the advent of the project’s completion, prospective homeowners seeking to purchase property in the town of Manchester were offered a unique opportunity to enjoy the “best of both worlds” at Factory Point Place. “The stunning residential units at Factory Point Place are situated in an ideal location for people who want to savor the best of what Manchester has to offer,” says Britt Wohler. “The residents of Factory Point Place get to experience a truly balanced and cosmopolitan lifestyle in downtown Manchester. You can look out of your window and see a panoramic Vermont mountain view, then walk outside and enjoy world-class dining and shopping, all within walking distance.”
Wohler is a real estate agent at the Manchester-based Wohler Realty Group. He and his colleague, Cheyanne Pugliese, served as the two agents who oversaw the marketing and sale of three of the four residential units at Factory Point Place. Working closely with local photographers to capture the enchanting essence of the historic structure, Wohler and Pugliese were able to present the residential units to their clients in an effective and resonant manner. “The locally milled hickory floors and exposed trusses are exquisite,” notes Pugliese. “The developers went out of their way to restore and incorporate the original framework, and the results are magnificent – dramatic beam work, soaring ceilings, cozy sitting nooks, and clever storage spaces. By capturing those features and the luxury finishes with beautiful photography, we were able to get buyers through the door. The photos also helped our clients understand the possibilities for the spaces and envision themselves living there. While the images are incredible, to be at Factory Point Place in person is an awe-inspiring experience. There is nothing else like it. It was a very fun and fulfilling property to work with.”
In addition to an ambitious photographic campaign, Wohler and Pugliese applied a considerable amount of effort toward the creation of detailed floor plans. They also staged virtual tours of the properties for out-of-state clients, and worked with globally-renowned luxury residential promotion platforms to effectively target buyers. As a result of their concerted COMefforts, all four residential units have now been sold.
According to Pugliese, she and Wohler were immediately overwhelmed by the spectacular visual appeal of the units from the moment that they first walked through the doors of Factory Point Place. “Every unit in Factory Point Place is the perfect marriage of urban-chic design and classic architecture. I instantly fell in love with the northward-facing unit when I saw the beautiful woodwork, high ceilings, and exposed trusses.”
True to Pugliese’s word, the four residential units at Factory Point Place are beautifully-designed, spacious, and visually-arresting. Walking through the reclaimed-wood doors of the 2-bedroom/2.5-bathroom residential unit that overlooks Main Street, the walls of the front hallway are lined with tasteful sconces that cast soft light down onto a tiled floor. The hallway leads to an open and modern kitchen, which is outfitted with a state-of-the-art steel gas range stove, wine cooler and refrigerator, as well as quartz countertops and wooden cabinets.
Beyond the kitchen, a distinctive chandelier hangs from a high ceiling in front of two tall windows that overlook a charming stretch of Main Street. In the front-right corner of the room, the ceiling comes down to form a rectangular archway, which leads to an airy and expansive living room with hickory floors sourced from a hardwood mill in Bristol, Vermont. The entrance to the first-floor master bathroom and bedroom stands adjacent to a wooden closet door in the living room, which has impeccably-carved semicircular line patterns on its surface. Inside the bathroom, the shower is lined with porcelain tiles, which are intentionally patterned to closely match the color of the black soapstone that was once locally quarried in Vermont. A staircase in the back corner of the living room is framed by wooden banisters with industrial cable railing. The staircase splits into two separate staircases halfway in between the first and second floors, which are separated by a wall partition that stands under an angular framework of exposed wooden trusses and beams. One staircase leads to an elevated loft space with views of the mountain range to the east of Manchester, and the second leads to the upper floor.
On the second floor of the unit, a full bathroom stands directly at the top of the stairs, complete with a locally sourced marble vanity and porcelain-tiled guest shower. In the guest bedroom, three long windows overlook the living room below. The guest bedroom leads to an additional storage room behind it, with built-in wooden crawl-space cupboards. As Wohler reflects on the future of Manchester’s housing market, he postulates that the success of Factory Point Place and its residential units serves as a promising indicator of emergent real estate trends. “Manchester is a lovely community, and its population is continuing to grow. Bill and Stephen Drunsic set a high standard for Manchester’s residential development projects with Factory Point Place, and I hope to see more similar residential units on the market in the future. They managed to honor Manchester’s heritage and history while pushing towards the modern age, and they made the whole downtown district an even more beautiful place in the process.”
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