And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. ~ Kahlil Gibran

Monday, March 29, 2010

An Answer For Fr. Peter... (or)... The Story of the House Next Door

Soon after moving into Barefoot Manor, we noticed that the house next to us seemed to be empty. It was a little strange, because I remember noticing folks peeking at us out the windows when we came to tour our house before buying. We asked around the neighborhood, and heard that the folks living there had just disappeared between one day and the next, and the general feeling was that they had lost the house and just walked away from it. Within a couple of months, there was a for sale sign and that familiar paper we had seen on so many foreclosed homes taped to the front door.

I talked to Mom and Dad about the possibility of them purchasing it, since I couldn't at that time. We went over to look, and it was really kind of sad. The house was an old two story "farmhouse" style place. It had probably been built around 100 yrs ago, and it looked it. The former owners (and I mean the former owners for the last 50 years or so, not just the ones who left most recently) had not really taken care of the place. The foundation was crumbling, there were holes in the walls at every corner, the roof was falling apart. The chimney was falling apart, the back porch looked ready to fall right off the hosue, and you could see where rodents had been going in and out of the attic. Mr. Barefoot got to talk to the guys hired to clean out all the junk left inside the house, and they told him that it didn't have electricity upstairs and that the house had obviously been hard-used. The house had been adorable and charming once upon a time, but we quickly realized that it was beyond our resources to fix this one up.

So the house sat empty for another year.

The city finally bought it, and I got all excited thinking that they would possibly just knock the house down and make a small park on the lot. They have done that on a couple other lots here in town where there had been empty houses falling down, and I thought it would be wonderful to have that empty lot with some picnic benches and some pretty grass.

Then the city gave it to the Historical Society. So I started hoping that it would be restored, or at least dismantled and the bits salvaged.

That was not to be. They eventually condemned the house and donated the site to Habitat for Humanity.

The local fire dept used the house for drills for months. They practiced rescues and how to put out fires in different locations. It was noisy, but kind of fun to watch. Finally, this past Saturday, they burned it to the ground. I wasn't there to see it, but Mr. Barefoot sat outside most of the day watching the show. He said they set it on fire several times, and then practiced putting it out. I am sure it was a wonderful opportunity for the local firemen to practice, and it has inspired Little Sprout to be a fireman when she grows up. It seems the whole neighborhood showed up to watch, and Mr. Barefoot was kept very busy keeping them out of my flower beds. Rude people! Now the plan is for Habitat to build two homes on the same lot (ask me how I feel about THAT grrrrr...), and for local families to move in.

I know that several folks approached both the city and Habitat about salvaging some of the historic wood trim and other things from the home before they burned it, but I don't know what the result of that was.

So that is the story of the house next door. Right now I can look out my kitchen window and see the pile of (still smoking) rubble left behind. Soon crews will start cleaning up the mess, and building the new homes. I don't look forward to the noise while I am trying to sleep, or the people looking over my fence at me while I garden. Hopefully nice families will move in, and there won't be too many windows overlooking my yard.

Who says I am not an optimist?

Now, Fr. Peter, I am curious... what do they do with condemned homes over in your area? Or is allowing a home to get that run-down just not an option? I know that Americans do not have the same sense of national history that most other countries have, and that (especially in Europe) there are many MANY more historic buildings in wonderful condition than here. It seems, from what I have seen on the TV and in magazines, that many of the very old buildings I have seen are built with stone or brick. Does that make a difference? I know that in the U.S. (at least in MN), stone or brick is hard to come by and most homes are timber frame. We tend to let old homes fall apart and then replace them (atrocious behavior, but true). I am curious how things work in other parts of the world, so would you be willing to share? Thanks!


Fr. Peter Doodes said...

OK Barefoot, here goes!

It depends on the age of the house and if it is 'listed' or not. 'Listing' is a category that houses with historical importance are placed in. This does not actually mean that they have to be very old (but most are) but they have some historical value, so a house built in the 60's by an architect of note may well be listed. A building has normally to be over 30 years old to be eligible for listing.

Buildings built before 1700 which survive in anything like their original condition are listed, as are most of those built between 1700 and 1840. The criteria become tighter with time, so that post-1945 buildings have to be exceptionally important to be listed.

Properties can be demolished if not listed (and on very rare occasions indeed when they are listed) but this means that planning permission has to be sought and 99% of homes are, as you said, brick and stone. The process of demolition usually takes some time and because the materials used are needed for renovation work that is in keeping, these are saved and reused.

In the UK there are 3 categories of listing, Grade 2, grade 2* and grade 1.

Grade 2 means that you have a property that is of national importance, so can do some work on the building but only with permission from the local council and the work has to be in keeping with the original building. Grade 2* buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest. This means that the owner will need permission to change anything and this includes decoration. Grade 1 buildings are of exceptional interest locally, nationally and sometimes considered to be internationally important and you can change very little, apart from your clothes, without permission.

An estate agent once told me that she defined these as grade 2, think twice before you buy it, grade 2* think very, very seriously indeed before you even think of buying it and grade 1, don’t even think about buying it.

We live in a property that is 300 years old, most of the original homes in this village are of this age but we do have a Roman fort nearby that is around 1,800 years old and yes, that is listed!

barefoot gardener said...

OH. Wow!

Ummmm, yeah. Major cultural difference. I don't think there is a single building in MN that is 300 yrs old! Really, MN only became a territory in 1849 and a state in 1858.It sounds like a long time ago, but our entire state is 150 yrs younger than your house!!!! We do have homes and buildings that are classified as historical, and those homes have restrictions on what can be done to them and what colors they can be painted, but they are rare.

Thank you so much for the information! I really enjoyed reading your comment....

Fr. Peter Doodes said...

Me again Barefoot,

I should have mentioned this but around 300 years ago there was a parliamentary act that made it illegal to use new oak in house building as it was then getting scarce for shipbuilding.

As a consequence the old and past their sell by date ships became very valuable as a source of building timber, and our merchant fleet was quickly renewed with the proceeds!

Our house has internal timbers that are from ships and may easily be well be over 100 years older than the house. I often wonder where they have been on their travels, the US perhaps?

barefoot gardener said...

That is so fascinating! Here in MN, any home over 100 yrs old is considered ancient. I love to visit the older homes and piece together theories of when each room was added and what the rooms were originally used for. It would be so amazing to live in a house (as you do) with even more history! If we could only access the stories that those walls have seen unfold.... *sigh*