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'Where Yesterday Began' --More about Edith Macefield and the Little House In Ballard
December 29, 2008 6:05 AM   Subscribe

'Where Yesterday Began'

More about Edith Macefield and the Little House in Ballard.

See also The Little House in Ballard is now empty..
...Ms. Macefield had little time for trendy food or fitness. Her interests were opera and Sinatra, Garbo on videotape or the classics in dusty hardback. She had history, too. If she let you in the door, she might recount her escape from a concentration camp while she was an undercover agent for the British during World War II.

...'She was just full of stories and stories and stories about her past,' said Charlie Peck, whose friendship with Ms. Macefield began more than 20 years ago, after she gave him a collection of recordings of Benny Goodman, Paul Whiteman and other bandleaders on old 78s.

...'Everybody that’s come in and tried to talk about this has tried to create that image of her,' said Mike Semandiris, whose family has owned a chili parlor around the corner for more than 70 years. 'But she didn’t give a damn about preserving old Ballard. The lady just wanted to live in her house.'

Ms. Macefield was 86 when she died in June of pancreatic cancer. Six months later, her 108-year-old bungalow is cloaked by what will soon become an LA Fitness club and a Trader Joe’s, set to open next year.

Inside, bed sheets are still on the living room sofa where Ms. Macefield slept when she could no longer climb the stairs. Ceramic cows ornament the top of every appliance. A few copies of 'The Little House,' the children’s tale by Virginia Lee Burton of a country cabin swallowed by sprawling development, are in one corner. People she did not know would drop them off.

In a bookcase in a dark hallway there is another book, not well known like the others. In fact, it is unclear whether anyone other than its author has ever read 'Where Yesterday Began.'

Ms. Macefield paid to have her novel published in 1994, under the pen name Domilini. It is set against the backdrop of post-World War I Europe.

An introductory page begins, 'This story is for all those who have ever loved -- truly, deeply, irrevocably -- and in the thrust of disaster. For some, love simply dies -- and one moves on. But for a few, love is as lasting as the ages -- despite the impossibilities, the separation, the insured loneliness.'

The book is 1,138 pages long, not counting the musical references, from Scottish folk songs to a 1915 work by the English composer Albert W. Ketelbey, and a 16-page glossary of the French, German and Italian phrases sprinkled throughout. 'I think it was kind of a love story,' said Mr. Peck, the longtime friend. 'I never did read it.'
A fascinating back story emerges, complete with potential probate drama.

My solution: the city takes it over, nominates it a historic site and turns it into a two story cubic paperweight made out of a suitable clear polymer or such. You know--like varathane.
posted by y2karl (42 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
The current Google Street View of the house shows the construction going on around it.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:12 AM on December 29, 2008


Try that again. Here's the Google Street View of the house.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:27 AM on December 29, 2008


I don't know why (because I am sure this kind of thing happens a lot) but it's a really compelling story. It's made all the more so by the revelation of the role of the developer, who, by multiple accounts, really was looking out for her well being. I expect a really precious independent film about all of this to be forthcoming.

My proposal: The future home of the Ballard Anti-Redevelopment Anarchist Society's museum and book shop. Seriously, I would like to see the city or some group of concerned citizens turn it over to some kind of public use. My god, who would want to live there and who would have the heart to tear it down?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:00 AM on December 29, 2008


Inside, bed sheets are still on the living room sofa where Ms. Macefield slept when she could no longer climb the stairs.

Still saturated with the pungent odour of Eau de Pensioner. Seattle museum authorities are currently examining feasibility proposals that involve lending the sheets to living octogenerians in an attempt to maintain an authentic version of the distinctive old lady smell for generations to come.

Republican councillors insist that the cost of preserving the authentic aroma would be prohibitively expensive, and an adequate simulacrum can be accomplished using synthetics. The local branch of the Grey Panthers dispute this claim, stating,

"These days, young people can go through their whole life avoiding the genuine smell of the continence-challenged senior citizens. Without the real smells of pee, boiled cabbage and decomposing flesh we'll be robbing the children who visit this museum of their birthright. The odour on Ms. Macefield's sheets is every bit as important to US cultural history as our other national hisorical icons like Salem Sue, the World's largest talking cow, The Great Beaver Shoe Tree and the Praying Hands of Tulsa."
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:17 AM on December 29, 2008


Here are some Edith Macefield-related entries from the excellent local blog myballard.com.

I'm really, really surprised that no group has formed to try to raise the money to buy the house yet, or come to the city council with a proposal. Seattle will be kicking itself for decades if it lets that house fall into disrepair and get demolished.
posted by gurple at 9:18 AM on December 29, 2008


Delightful post. I love that picture of her place, authentic personal life in the face of the soulless, corporate mall.

Fills me with a feisty rush to read about her choice to do a Ferdinand the Bull and not budge but enjoy it just where she was.

So interesting to read about her life. What a life!

There was a woman, Harriet, who lived on 53rd Street. In 47 or 49 West 53rd Street, who wouldn't budge from her apartment in an old 5 storey walk-up. She lived in a building something like these ones, which are a few blocks away. She worked for the FBI at one time, was a secretary at another. She was a classic, feisty, older single person. Because she didn't budge, I was able to streetvend outside her now demolished building and the adjoining buildings, just down the street from the Museum of Modern Art, for 15 wonderful years. My favorite vending spot was 53 West 53rd, which will now become this spikey skyscraper. It had such character that street and is now losing it year by year.

Finally, in her very old age, she moved to a condo the developers bought for her and I lost my marvelous, primo, serene, spacious vending spot. And so did the 10 other vendors who sold outside those old buildings, now all gone and become an ugly parking lot and an even uglier, quite purgatorial looking, new soulless version of The Museum of American Folk Art.

So, having experienced somebody who was a holdout, I'm delighted to hear more about Edith Macefield, her life and the Little House in Ballard. May she rest in peace.

Thanks for the post dear y2karl. I've missed your presence here on the blue. Nice to see you again. :)
posted by nickyskye at 9:24 AM on December 29, 2008


Well, they already let Sunset bowl crumble into crap and the Googly building will be a parking lot from now until building high rise condos pays off again, I'd say the chances arn't good.
posted by Artw at 9:27 AM on December 29, 2008


Well, they already let Sunset bowl crumble into crap and the Googly building will be a parking lot from now until building high rise condos pays off again, I'd say the chances arn't good.

The Sunset Bowl and the Denny's were both on great big lots in great locations for new development (when giant new development still made sense). As the NYTimes article mentions, Edith's house isn't worth that much now -- I can't imagine anyone would pay more than a couple hundred thousand either to live in it or to put a business there.

It'd probably bring in tourism on the order of the Fremont Troll or the Lenin statue in Fremont -- which is to say, not a ton, but the local businesses would benefit.

The people who should really buy the house are the developers of that shopping center. They could offset some small part of the ill will they've generated in the community.
posted by gurple at 9:43 AM on December 29, 2008


“She was a really curious person, but she was always fun,” Mr. Peck said.

He says that as if "curiosity" and "fun" were normally mutually exclusive, which seems rather sad.
posted by Rumple at 9:54 AM on December 29, 2008


reminded me of this one bugs bunny :P but yea, this one is more apropos!
posted by kliuless at 10:01 AM on December 29, 2008


The MeFite Sunset Bowl meet-up, which started at Sunset bowl also took in Mikes Chili Parlour and a peek at the Edith Macefield house.

Caution: I look weird in the photos.
posted by Artw at 10:04 AM on December 29, 2008


Delightful post. I love that picture of her place, authentic personal life in the face of the soulless, corporate mall.

Too be fair, I fully intend to shop in that Trader Joes. A lot.
posted by Artw at 10:08 AM on December 29, 2008


Still saturated with the pungent odour of Eau de Pensioner.

This is America. We don't get pensions. What you're smelling is Eau de Privatized Retirement. It is somewhat reminiscent of cat food.
posted by stet at 10:11 AM on December 29, 2008


Rumple writes: “She was a really curious person, but she was always fun,” Mr. Peck said.
He says that as if "curiosity" and "fun" were normally mutually exclusive, which seems rather sad.

I think "curious" is meant more in the sense of "odd" or "strange."
posted by anifinder at 10:27 AM on December 29, 2008


Hmm, you must be right, anifinder, but I would never have read it that way in a million years. Odd.
posted by Rumple at 10:29 AM on December 29, 2008


Yes, very curious, indeed.
posted by anifinder at 10:32 AM on December 29, 2008


Curioser and curioser.
posted by Artw at 10:35 AM on December 29, 2008


I took a picture of her house years ago, when everything around her had been torn down, but not yet started on the rebuilding, not knowing anything of the story.
posted by nomisxid at 10:43 AM on December 29, 2008


The thing that gets me about the anti-development stance is the sentimentality that seems to be exclusively for the point in time the anti-developer is familiar with. Certainly Sunset Bowl and that gross Denny's building displaced buildings that were twenty percent more quaint, and those displaced the Shilshole Native American communities that were here before that.

It's myopic to make Ms. Macefield's home 'the past' that must be revered.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:45 AM on December 29, 2008


The gross Denny's building could have been really cool, had it not been horribly mistreated over time. There seems to every incentive to treat architecturally interesting buildings as bad as possible in Seattle so that they are fucked up beyond repair by the time anyone tries to give them any kind of protected status (historic facades being torn down, that kind of thing).
posted by Artw at 10:50 AM on December 29, 2008


It's myopic to make Ms. Macefield's home 'the past' that must be revered.

Do you mean that the home shouldn't be preserved, just because it's only one thing that stood on that ground over the centuries?

To my mind, it should be preserved, not because the house itself is special or because it represents a bygone era, but just because the story of her refusing to sell is so interesting. That story, itself, is the piece of cultural heritage that should be held onto, and it's a modern story, not a tale of bygone days.
posted by gurple at 10:51 AM on December 29, 2008


TBH The problem with Ballard is not so much the individual buildings it's loosing so much as the net effect of so much of it being torn down and replaced with huge monolithic blocks.
posted by Artw at 10:52 AM on December 29, 2008


And I guarantee that, if the local businesses around her house paid for the upkeep of the building, they'd more than make their money back in people drawn to the neighborhood to see the curiosity spending money. Quantifying that economic benefit is tricky, which is why I think government should step in.
posted by gurple at 10:54 AM on December 29, 2008


It's kind of tucked around the back, close to an overpass. I don't really see tourism or an increase in traffic to (previously non-existant, until the big building went up) local shops.
posted by Artw at 10:56 AM on December 29, 2008


I don't really see tourism...

Really? I think it could be promoted and people could be drawn out to that area. Once they're there, true, I don't see them stopping into Mike's Chili Parlor, but there are two breweries pretty close by, and the giant new mall, of course.

At very least it could be a stop on the Ducks.
posted by gurple at 10:59 AM on December 29, 2008


They could go a little further and stop by Fred Meyer or Office Max.
posted by Artw at 11:05 AM on December 29, 2008


And, of course, as long as they're at Fred Meyer they'd probably stop into Coastal Marine Engine and pick up an outboard or two.
posted by gurple at 11:07 AM on December 29, 2008


I know I do!
posted by Artw at 11:14 AM on December 29, 2008


Artw: 'huge monolithic blocks' are (in a way) what tourists purposefully go to Amsterdam to admire. Before I get backed into a corner defending the horrible condo designs that have sprouted up in Ballard; no I don't like many of them, and in a decade or so some of those neighborhoods are going to look pretty slummy (if that's a word).

Overall, I like the net effect of the dense development in Ballard though, even if many of the buildings are poor, and there is definitely a lack of open space. The liveliness is nice. It has become a true 'urban village' that I travel outside of as little as I can manage.

I don't know. I guess I'm just less sentimental as I get older. I felt the same about the effort to preserve the Kalakala ferry, even though I have fond memories of riding on it. Things come and things go. It's no good digging up Grandma's bones and trying to put her back together again. Let her rest in peace.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 11:26 AM on December 29, 2008


People go to Amsterdam because fo it's charm and beauty. Condo-trenches score a big fat 0 on both those fronts - in fact the more they actually try to make the building look like a block-long 8 story high craftsman the more they fail.
posted by Artw at 11:30 AM on December 29, 2008


Also, gurple; I liked your points.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 11:32 AM on December 29, 2008


I will say this for Ballard - at least it's not Fremont.

/shudders.
posted by Artw at 11:34 AM on December 29, 2008


The mix of residential, small scale manufacturing and owner-run businesses is pretty unique and really a healthy mix. I don't see how it can last.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 11:38 AM on December 29, 2008


I'm really interested in seeing how the feel of Ballard Commons changes when the QFC goes up. 8 stories, right there looming over the park and the library... that's really going to change how I feel walking by there every day, I think.
posted by gurple at 11:44 AM on December 29, 2008


I will say this for Ballard - at least it's not Fremont.

Quick! Everyone! To Georgetown. It doesn't suck yet, but if we all pitch in we can reach Jamba Juice and World Wraps saturation in ten years.
posted by stet at 11:48 AM on December 29, 2008


... Jamba Juice and World Wraps saturation ...

Oh, that is so 1990s. These days it's Mooberry, 'Zaw, and 3-4 spas per block.
posted by gurple at 11:51 AM on December 29, 2008


Is Georgetown the next Ballard? I want to get in on the ground floor.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:21 PM on December 29, 2008


Is Georgetown the next Ballard? I want to get in on the ground floor.

Man, you're too late. White Center is the new Georgetown.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:02 PM on December 29, 2008


On the one hand, I understand and admire to some extent the impulse to stay put in your own home, but on the other hand, to turn down an offer of a million dollars just seems like cutting off your own nose to spite your face. She could have lived very comfortably indeed on that.

Or she could have, you know, given it to me if she didn't want it.
posted by kcds at 11:20 AM on December 30, 2008


Well, I've seen similar houses in that neck of the woods go for in the vicinity of a million dollars for, you know, a fucking place to live, so I always figured that, for prime real estate, the developer was lowballing her. My wife and I were house shopping when Macefield's struggle first hit the papers/metafilters and any house we could find within a mile of Ballard ave was at least $800k.

The last thing that I want to do is dismiss a million dollars as nothing or argue that Ballard/Seattle's real estate values are anything like sane, but that fucking developer was trying to get out cheap. If he'd offered her fair market value or better, I'd question her judgment, but that condo-building piece of shit thought he'd get off cheap. Fuck him. A fair offer on the property would have been two million at least but the shithead figured, rightly, that it'd be cheaper to wait for her to die.

Also, white center is over. Bremerton is the new seattle.
posted by stet at 11:50 AM on December 30, 2008


Don't breath too deep.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:00 PM on December 30, 2008


Here's what's supposedly going up in place of the Googly Dennys.
posted by Artw at 12:39 AM on January 28, 2009


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