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'We would dream about it at night': Louisville couple restoring more than a mansion in the historically-Black Russell neighborhood

After years of water damage, squatters, and robberies, Gabriel Jones Jr. and Kaila Washington are estimating renovations will cost more than $300,000.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Sitting in a room without air conditioning, in a house without power, Gaberiel Jones Jr. and Kaila Washington smile like they won the lottery. 

"We would dream about it at night," Washington said. "Before we even made an offer, before it even came on the market."

In the Russell neighborhood, on West Muhamad Ali sit a piece of Louisville history, built before the famous boxer was born.

A white widow built the house in 1888 when the street was named W. Walnut.

Decades later, the white flight began and ads placed in local newspapers called for people of color to move into the home. 

Credit: Kaila Washington

A family named the Ebbs moved in and stayed for generations. They owned it for 97 years, until 2021.

Jones said, "June 6th, I believe it was?"

"Sure," Washington replied, laughing. 

"No, it was June 10th," Jones decided.

The couple is already living in the Russell neighborhood and now they want to stay for generations.

But, their new home is not quite livable yet. 

Washington stood in the corner of a second-floor room, avoiding parts of the floor she called "soft," then she pointed to the ceiling to explain, "There was water coming through the gutters."

After years of water damage, squatters, and robberies, they're estimating renovations will more than $300,000. That's five times what they paid for it.

"We have some things we're hoping to lean on for that," Jones said. "There's the historic home tax credit that we're hoping to utilize and there's also the Russell homeownership incentive program we're hoping to utilize."

Credit: Alyssa Newton/WHAS-TV
JULY 18, 2022; Gabriel Jones Jr. and Kaila Washington are on a mission to restore a mansion built in the 1800s in Louisville's Russell neighborhood.

They said the program is moving slowly but it is designed to make a change like this happen. 

"I am so excited," Jackie Floyd said.

She's known as the unofficial mayor of the Russell Neighborhood says this is what her community needs. 

"To see young people buying back into the neighborhood, staying in the neighborhood, it means Russell will continue to grow to be a greater neighborhood than it is and than it was back then," Floyd said.

For Jones, It's not about the size of the mansion or the parquet flooring, it's about what he calls a Russell Renaissance. 

"Being a part of changing the way people think about the Russell neighborhood," Jones said. "I feel like a lot of what people see in the media or on the news which is typically negative, and that forms what they think about the neighborhood but when you come down here and you meet the people and see how much love there is in this community, that changes things."

Change is what they hope to bring, and keep, in the Russell neighborhood for generations.

The couple posts updates as they work to remake the mansion on Instagram and Youtube.

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