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The Home Tour

7 June 2006

Let me tell you a bit about my neighborhood. It’s 125 years old this year. Development began when a new private university opened right here, which at the time was outside the city limits, but now is only 5 minutes from downtown. Advertisements from the late 1800s sell this area as a wonderful getaway from the city: a place where families (of lawyers and small businessmen) could live in the fresh air of the countryside, only a trolley-ride away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. It was a golden age.

Then, in the mid 20th century, life wasn’t so good. These old homes (Craftsmans, Foursquares, and a few Victorians) were big (many, such as ours, were built with a back staircase [servants’ staircase]). They weren’t insulated. Electricity and indoor plumbing were added after the fact. Not many people could afford the upkeep, so they were purchased by that bane of cities: landlords. These people came in a craved three, four, or more apartments out of these single-family homes, adding outdoor staircases to attic apartments, doing just enough maintenance to keep the city inspector from applying fines.

Needless to say, if the landlord doesn’t care about the property, neither will the tenants: as property quality goes down, tenant quality goes down, too. By the 1970s, the university was telling students to stay off the neighborhood streets, police weren’t very visible, and life around here sucked.

But a few tenacious property owners banded together and started a neighborhood association that worked with the city to fix the neighborhood’s problems. Once a few people start making a difference, more outsiders become willing to take a risk and purchase property in this type of neighborhood.

By the time we arrived in 2000, this neighborhood was up and coming. Many older homes had been renovated by adventurous home owners, and every year the neighborhood association sponsored a Tour of Historic Homes. In fact, the Consort and I decided to buy in this neighborhood because our house-hunting weekend happened to fall during the House Tour that year, and we chatted with people and decided we could make a go of it here. Don’t get me wrong: it is still a transitional neighborhood. But the city is actively involved in keeping it safe, and right now we have, all within walking distance, a drugstore/market, a video store, several restaurants (Chinese, Mexican, Greek, African, American bistro, barbeque), a one-screen movie theater, two sandwich shops, a coffee shop, two hairdresser, a couple of tattoo parlors, a live-music venue (OK, it’s called Hairy Mary’s and their acts are mostly punk, but still…), and lots more planned.

The Home Tour is a way for the neighborhood to showcase the great work people can do to fix up an older home, and to get people thinking, “Hey, I could live here, too!” Anyway, most of the homes on the House Tour have been renovated by couples without children (either before they have kids or with no plans of having children). We were asked to be on the tour for two reasons: first, our awesome backyard (because previous owners bought a condemned house, tore it down, and put in fruit trees; and because the Consort’s put a lot of time and effort into adding plants, bushes, and more fruit trees); and second, because we have kids (so the thought process can go from “Hey we can live here” to “Hey we can live here with our kids!”).

The House Tour is a great motivator: we redid the kitchen and repainted the living and dining rooms. It’s exhausting both before (trying to get everything finished on time) and during (standing up from 11 to 5 two days in a row, talking with people who walk through your house, all day). But it was so fun to hear the compliments from people when they saw the garden, the kitchen, the woodwork in the dining room that we stripped of paint and varnish. (And the color choices both in the dining room and in the kitchen; that made me feel good, too.) Lots of people liked the floating floor we installed in the kitchen, too. I forgot to add that picture in the kitchen set, so here is the vinyl before and the new floor:


It was also fun that one woman who came had grown up visiting this house weekly: Her aunt and grandmother lived here from the 1940s to the 1980s. She saw an article for the Houme Tour, which mentioned this house, in a magazine when she was getting her hair permed, and decided she had to see what the house looked like now. It was wonderful talking with her. And one of the two guys who did a lot of the renovations to this house and who turned our garden into the “oasis” that it is came on Saturday. On Sunday he returned with his partner. They told us all sorts of funny renovation stories, and gave us a duplicate set of pictures of the old condemned house and of them doing some of the tear down. As the Consort said, you never expect when you do the Home Tour that visitors will be telling you stuff about your house!

So I’m glad we did it. It made me feel proud to live in this neighborhood, and it made me feel proud of our home decorating accomplishments. And it made me remember how much I love our very cool garden, that makes living in the city bearable.

(I’ve posted pictures of the living room and kitchen below this post.)

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