Aileen Oldham, better known as ``Mrs. Leon,' the venerable owner and head mistress of Leon's Beauty School and of eight Leon's beauty salons, is mixing business and pleasure at home.
For $365,000, she bought herself a 7,000-square-foot historic mansion of granite and chocolate-colored mortar at 1007 N. Elm St. It's her home and headquarters for the office end of her little cosmetology empire.She didn't plan it that way.
Needing office space at the beauty school on West Lee Street, Oldham had an architect draw up plans for an addition. The plans completed, she realized the addition would take the building right up to the street. Not wanting to be that close to the thoroughfare, she started the search to buy office space.
``I became discouraged looking around for it in Greensboro,' says Oldham, whose husband, Leon Oldham, died in a farm accident in 1975. ``Someone called this place to my attention but at the time I dismissed it. I'm 70 years old. It's time to start looking for a nursing home, not a 24-room house. The size overwhelmed me.'
Also, she wasn't sure she could heat and cool it economically, a concern that has not proved a problem.
Eventually her search led her back to the three-story Tudor Revival and bungalow-style building, one of the last built on a section of North Elm Street known as the Gold Coast. She bought it in August 1988. The previous owners, Dr. Russell Cobb and his wife, Marie, had renovated the house to lease for professional offices. It is listed it in the National Register of Historic Places.
John Marion Galloway, once the world's largest grower of Bright Leaf tobacco, built the gabled and dormered mansion in 1919 for his wife, the former Margaret Greeson of Whitsett, and their infant daughters, Gwendolyn Marion Wren and Margaret Haviland Blanchard. Today, the daughters live at Wren's Nest near Siler City.
Harry Barton was architect. He also designed the old county courthouse and assisted in the design of First Presbyterian Church.
Oldham has spent more than a year returning the place to a single residence.
``I did it in spurts,' she said.
She didn't completely move from her Caldwell Square condominium in northwest Greensboro until mid-February.
``I didn't know if I'd like (the big house),' she said.
But she does.
``We go in (to the school) early and work hard,' she said. ``I like to go home. I turn on the music and walk around in my bare feet.'
Looking back, Oldham says that it's best to live in a place a while before starting to change it.
``When I first came here, I said I was going to do this and this and this,' she said. ``Then I said, 'No, I like them the way they are.' '
She tackled the final move from Caldwell Square after returning from the late January International Beauty Salon Chain Association convention in Acapulco.
``I plan to put the condo up for sale.' she said.
The main undertakings were installation of a state-of-the-art kitchen and removal of the paved parking lot out back that had destroyed six of the home's lofty trees. Last spring Oldham planted willow oaks, magnolias, Leytan cypress and grass.
The house had lacked a kitchen since 1983, when the Eastern Music Festival Auxiliary and Friends of the Carolina, with the Carolinas Chapter, American Society of Interior Designers, nursed the decaying beauty to health for a money-making ASID Greensboro Designer Show House in 30 of its rooms and spaces.
Because of city health-code problems, the show house tearoom was moved from the carriage house out back to what had been the kitchen.
Oldham says she designed the 13-by-14-foot kitchen in ribbed pickled pine with the help of contractor Joe Hunt of Trim Master. The electronic island range vents to the outside through the basement. The island has pull-out shelving. Oldham says they measured her pots for adequate storage space.
The Gaggenau oven is capable of baking a cake and fish simultaneously. Pine paneling conceals a sub-zero refrigerator built into the wall.
Tobe Melton marbled the hardwood stairway to the second floor that contains the master and guest bedrooms and the office space. Oldham's daughter, Parker Washburn, vice president of the Leon enterprise, and their accountant, Rick Oakley, have offices there, as well as Oldham.
Oldham installed a washer and drier on the enclosed back porch and a wet bar and a bathroom with jet-stream tub off the downstairs back hall.
One of the reasons Oldham wanted the roomy house was to have wall space for her paintings.
``I've been collecting a long time,' she said.
Unfortunately, she doesn't have as much wall space as she anticipated.
``Not with all the windows,' she said. ``I have 24 just on the first floor.'
Her furniture filled the house adequately except for the large living room, Oldham says.
``Everything I put there, the room ate up,' she said.
That led to her buying 80-inch matching sofas. Also, she installed side lamps and a mirror over the fireplace. The Oriental rug, whose ends needed tucking under in the condo, has plenty of space in its new location in the living room.
In the foyer area across most of the front, Oldham added a chandelier and friezes taken from the King Cotton Hotel shortly before its demolition.
``Yes, I like this old house,' Oldham said. ``It has a great deal of warmth. It's not a designer showplace. It's a plain old house. My home.'
Leon's owner Aileen Oldham in entrance of mansion turned home-and-headquarters Installation of a state-of-the-art kitchen was a major part of renovation