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Owner of Julian Price House caught in legal tussle
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Owner of Julian Price House caught in legal tussle

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GREENSBORO — The longtime owner of Greensboro’s famed Julian Price House is representing herself in a lengthy court battle with Bank of America, which has scheduled a foreclosure sale of the architectural and historic landmark for Jan. 11.

Well-known interior designer Sandra Cowart said Monday in a petition filed in U.S. Middle District Court that she is deeply in debt and “working 18 hours a day to save my home and get back to work.”

Acting as her own lawyer, Cowart filed the latest in a series of so-far fruitless complaints against the bank in federal court on Monday, asking to proceed in a “pauperis” status for those who cannot afford the filing fee and other costs of court action.

Cowart also petitioned the court Monday for a “permanent preliminary injunction” barring the bank from selling the large, imposing structure on Fisher Park Circle.

“The defendant Bank of America N.A. corporate structure has misrepresented themselves to their legal representatives, our judges and legal system, and the plaintiff by claiming standing with the ability to enforce a loan which they have never named or given status,” Cowart said in one of the pleadings in her new federal action.

The bank has won several rulings against her claims of fraud in both federal and state courts, arguing successfully earlier this year to the N.C. Court of Appeals that Cowart borrowed $1.9 million on the Fisher Park property 10 years ago in a loan that is “now approximately 67 months past due with a total outstanding debt of more than $2.5 million.”

The house dates back to 1929 and was designed in the Tudor style by an acclaimed, New York-bred architect, the late Charles Hartmann. The highly skilled architect was brought to North Carolina by Price, a linchpin in the growth and development of what would become the Jefferson Standard Life Insurance Co.

News & Record efforts seeking comment from Cowart by phone and email were unsuccessful Monday.

Bank of America spokesman Rick Simon said that bank officials have not seen Cowart’s most recent suit, so they could not comment on it or the potential impact on the Jan. 11 foreclosure auction.

Guilford County officials value the 7,266-square-foot house and surrounding grounds at about $1 million for tax purposes.

The 31-room, brick and half-timbered mansion on Fisher Park Circle qualifies as a significant, historic property both architecturally and as the home of so prominent a businessman as former Jefferson Standard president Price, said Benjamin Briggs, executive director of the nonprofit Preservation Greensboro.

The house holds a longstanding place on both the National Register of Historic Places and the Guilford County Landmark Properties list, Briggs said.

“I’m pretty sure that the current homeowner had the building put on the National Register 30 or so years ago,” said Briggs, whose group works to preserve Greensboro’s architectural and historic landmarks.

One of its more historic qualities stems from the fact that Hartmann focused heavily on commercial and office construction, including the original Jefferson Standard Building in downtown Greensboro and the nearby Woolworth’s Building that now is home to the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.

“This is a rare example of residential architecture from his body of work,” Briggs said of the Price home, also known as “Hillside”

Cowart has been pressing the fight to retain ownership for several years, losing fraud or misrepresentation arguments in previous federal cases as well as at the state level in Guilford Superior Court, the Court of Appeals and the North Carolina Supreme Court.

According to court documents, Cowart “has lived in and cared for the subject property since 1975, a total of 40 years”.

Bank of America initially sought to sell the house in a foreclosure sale March 11, but was thwarted by Cowart’s case in U.S. Bankruptcy Court that has since been removed as an obstacle.

During another unsuccessful court action by Cowart in Guilford Superior Court on Dec. 14, Bank of America also prevailed by arguing it held clear ownership of her mortgage loan that was more than 5 years delinquent.

An attorney for the bank told the judge that Cowart was manipulating the court system by making baseless claims to stave off foreclosure.

During that hearing in state court earlier this month, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Lindsay Davis Jr. pressed Cowart to define what was new in her claims that already had not been decided in earlier court rulings.

She tried to formulate an answer, but fell short.

“That’s already been decided, Ma’m,” said Davis, who appeared to go out of his way to make sure that as a non-lawyer Cowart received every opportunity to make her case.

The Fisher Park property’s listing Monday on zillow.com said it will be sold at auction “as is” on Jan. 11.

Contact Taft Wireback at (336) 373-7100, and follow @TaftWireback on Twitter.

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