Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bringin' down the house

Yesterday a hydraulic excavator was delivered on a flatbed trailer to my neighbor's house, diagonally across the street. That afternoon the excavator tore apart 1/2 the house and loaded the pieces into a large dumpster truck. Today 2 more dumpster trucks have been filled with the remains of the house. By the end of the day I expect there will be nothing left but the cinder block foundation. Maybe that will be torn apart and removed as well.

Until yesterday I had never seen a house be demolished. Its really quite interesting. The company handling this demolition did a great job of keeping the area safe. Since the lots are small and the houses are close together here in this historic 'downtown', they can't just come in with a backhoe and push the house down. There's no room to push it anywhere, so it has to be carefully pulled apart and placed into canisters to be hauled away. Not very noisy and very little debris in the air. Its almost an art form to watch.

The house belonged to a very nice 50-something year old man named Spencer. I believe he grew up in the house and then lived there with his wife and daughter. The year before we moved here his wife passed away. About 2 years later his daughter moved out to be closer to her job. Spencer said the house held too many memories of the past so he put it up for sale. Spencer moved to a condo nearby and we still see him occasionally.

The house was purchased a few months ago by a 'local couple' who then made arrangements for its demolition. The asbestos siding and shingles were removed, as was the heating oil tank. The city removed the electrical and water connections.

The house could best be described as a modest cabin. It was probably built 60-70 years ago, before this town had a building code. The original cabin had 2 tiny bedrooms (probably 8' x 8') without closets and 1 bath. The kitchen appeared to have been added over time, with mis-matched cabinets and countertops and an ancient stove and sink. At some point the back porch was enclosed to create a family room of sorts and another bathroom was added.

Spouse & I looked at the house not long after it was put up for sale, before we built the garage onto our house. We thought we might be able to renovate the cabin to be used as a weekly rental for tourists and we could build a garage onto the house to store Big Ella. But our review of the cabin's construction and overall condition lead us to decide it was beyond renovation, which is apparently the same conclusion drawn by the purchaser.

The remaining lot is a nice size and shape, nearly square. Many of the lots around here are narrow and long, requiring 'shot gun' style homes to be built on them. But this lot will accommodate a traditional style home and I'm curious to see what will be built there. The location is desirable due to its walking distance to the 'main street' in town.

Gentrification of neighborhoods is a tricky concept. While gentrification usually results in more attractive homes and better overall property values, it also tends to erase the history of a neighborhood. This pocket of town used to be the 'black' section of town and many of the original houses were like Spencer's. One by one the properties have been sold, the cabins torn down, and new homes (like ours) have replaced them. While I'm glad that this has taken place, since we love our home and its location, I feel sad that the history of the African American families who once lived here has been replaced by the fake history represented by the reproduction homes (like ours) that now occupy those lots.

Hopefully the history will remain in the stories told by longtime residents who return for the neighborhood block party every Sept. This year I'm going to be more interested in hearing and remembering those stories.

Crush du Jour: Jonathon Nason


behrmark said...

Mark Mark left out the most important pieces of information. Were the workers who demolished Spencer's house hot or not??

anne marie in philly said...

I WANT the crush! I could corrupt him so bad...unless he bats for the other team...then behrmark would have to be called in!

John Going Gently said...

anne marie
he;s mine

anne marie in philly said...

OK, john..but I just ADORE men with a british accent!