Wednesday, April 26, 2006
  Tribute to a little house.

I've used this digital model of a house in a couple of cartoons. In fact it's an accurate model of my own real-life hovel, all 520 glorious square feet of it.

Next month I'll make the last mortgage payment (Huzzah!), so this feels like a good time to pay tribute to a humble servant that has done its job beautifully.

Zooming out a bit:

Most Western towns grew in a series of discrete bursts. If you know architectural styles, you can read a town's history like counting the rings in a tree. The original townsite, down by the river or railroad, fills up quickly then sits around waiting for the next boom. If there is no next boom, the town usually fades out.

In most surviving towns you'll see a 1920's zone representing the Coolidge expansion, and a 1950's zone where the returning soldiers used their GI Bill mortgages. Aside from that you'll find a record of local events like a steel mill, an army base, or an oil-drilling boom, each in its own subdivision, with similar houses within each area.

Spokane didn't work that way. It blasted out hugely and richly at the very start (silver and gold mining, railroads), then slowly and steadily filled in afterward. A 1920 street map looks very much like the current one, so you can't find major zones or rings of growth. Thus every area holds a random mix of 1910 Sullivanesque mansions, 1920 bungalows, 1930 colonials, 1940 emergency quickies, 1950 mass-produced GI modules, 1960 Wrightish ramblers, 1970 bi-levels with awful beaverboard siding, 1980 pseudo-Palladian monstrosities, and 1990 Seven-Gables monstrosities.

This little house lives in a subdivision called Boulevard Park, platted in 1918 around an electric interurban line that never materialized. The interurban was meant to run northwest toward Loon Lake, so Boulevard Park is a five-block-wide diagonal strip. Boulevard Park didn't thrive at first; only a dozen 1920 houses are still visible. It must have been mighty rural for a long time. The next scattering of houses are a few late '30s colonials, then the 1950 GI modules pretty much saturated the land.

Based on a little research and a lot of guessing: This little house was built in 1943, when building a new house was technically illegal.

The basic square (20 by 20) is identical to a plan found in some 'kit house' books, and is built plainly and solidly. I don't see any definite signs of kit-itude (no Aladdin or Sears indications), but there are a dozen similar houses around this quarter of town, so it's a fair hypothesis.

It was placed on the back of a corner lot already occupied by a '30s colonial; the owner of that house was listed as a contractor in the City Directory, so I'm assuming he built this place on his own lot to make some rental money from war workers, and later separated the piece of the lot.

The neighborhood must still have been semi-rural at that time, because the house had a septic tank and an oil heater.

The first occupants were Jim and Bertha Willis**. Jim died in '55, then Bertha either died or moved in '61.

The back section (laundry and storage room) was crudely tacked on in 1956. The Directories show only sporadic occupancy until 1968, at which point this house simply disappears from the books and never returns. Was it condemned at that point? Possibly, because it does show signs of a long vacancy.

In 1978 a local realtor bought it. Using Carter's 'weatherization' subsidies, he replaced the wiring and plumbing and added electric heating, aluminum siding and metal storm windows, then rented it out. In 1991 he retired from landlording and put it up for sale.

I moved to Spokane in late '90 to take a programming job at the local branch of WSU. Tired of apartments, I hoped to finally buy a house. Unfortunately my timing was poor. A whole pack of Californians had discovered Spokane at that same moment. They cashed out their wildly overvalued million-dollar GI modules in LA, and bought better houses here for 80K. So my hopes of buying a decent-sized house for a decent price evaporated, and I had to rent an apartment and lower my sights.

The delay was probably a good thing, because it gave me time to learn which parts of town are safe. Friends advised me: "Pick a bad house in a good neighborhood, not vice versa. You can fix a house but you can't fix a neighborhood." Amazingly I followed that advice, and not-so-amazingly it was good advice. The other houses available in this price bracket were nicer or larger than this one, but they were in gang-infested neighborhoods.

So in the end I didn't get what I dreamed of, but I got exactly what I needed. Low expenses, convenient location (walking distance to groceries and WalMart) and relative security.

At this point I've lived in this little house for [approximately] a quarter of its life and a quarter of my life. It will never be featured on HGTV, and it was probably not intended to last very long, but its basic design and construction have held up through six decades of bad weather and bad maintenance. So far it has only given me two expensive problems (septic tank, replaced by a real sewer connection in 2004; water heater failed two weeks ago), and in both cases it waited until I could afford the money and time to fix them.

Does my love for a minimal house make me a CrunchyCon? Maybe so. I frankly don't understand how Livin' Large became congruent with conservatism; Coolidge wouldn't understand it either.

= = = = =

** 2014 update: Accidentally found Jim and Bertha in the 1940 Census while searching for something else. Traced them a bit further with obituaries. Jim was born in Missouri a few miles from where my grandpa was born. More Census searching (Mo ED 46-11) finds a pile of Willises and a pile of my relatives living in the same township. They were neighbors.

Jim and Bertha moved to Spokane in 1909, and in 1940 they lived a few blocks south of here in a bigger and better house. That house is still intact, and I see it every day on my walks. Jim was 53 and Bertha was 51 in '40, which would make him 68 when he died in 1955. Bertha then moved in with relatives in the Valley and died in 1970. Jim was a mechanic with above-average income, so it's not obvious why they 'downsized' to this house in '43.

<< Home

blogger hit counter
My Photo
Location: Spokane

Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

My graphics products:

Free stuff at ShareCG

And some leftovers here.

March 2005 / April 2005 / May 2005 / June 2005 / July 2005 / August 2005 / September 2005 / October 2005 / November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / May 2007 / June 2007 / July 2007 / August 2007 / September 2007 / October 2007 / November 2007 / December 2007 / January 2008 / February 2008 / March 2008 / April 2008 / May 2008 / June 2008 / July 2008 / August 2008 / September 2008 / October 2008 / November 2008 / December 2008 / January 2009 / February 2009 / March 2009 / April 2009 / May 2009 / June 2009 / July 2009 / August 2009 / September 2009 / October 2009 / November 2009 / December 2009 / January 2010 / February 2010 / March 2010 / April 2010 / May 2010 / June 2010 / July 2010 / August 2010 / September 2010 / October 2010 / November 2010 / December 2010 / January 2011 / February 2011 / March 2011 / April 2011 / May 2011 / June 2011 / July 2011 / August 2011 / September 2011 / October 2011 / November 2011 / December 2011 / January 2012 / February 2012 / March 2012 / April 2012 / May 2012 / June 2012 / July 2012 / August 2012 / September 2012 / October 2012 / November 2012 / December 2012 / January 2013 / February 2013 / March 2013 / April 2013 / May 2013 / June 2013 / July 2013 / August 2013 / September 2013 / October 2013 / November 2013 / December 2013 / January 2014 / February 2014 / March 2014 / April 2014 / May 2014 / June 2014 / July 2014 / August 2014 / September 2014 / October 2014 / November 2014 / December 2014 / January 2015 / February 2015 / March 2015 / April 2015 / May 2015 / June 2015 / July 2015 / August 2015 / September 2015 / October 2015 / November 2015 / December 2015 / January 2016 / February 2016 / March 2016 / April 2016 / May 2016 / June 2016 / July 2016 / August 2016 / September 2016 / October 2016 / November 2016 / December 2016 / January 2017 / February 2017 / March 2017 / April 2017 / May 2017 / June 2017 / July 2017 /

Major tags or subjects:

Carbon Cult
Defensible spaces
Experiential education
Grand Blueprint
Гром победы
Language updates
Natural law = Sharia law
New toys
Patient things

Powered by Blogger