Remember that Disney movie UP? Turns out it was based on a true story.
This is the story of the little old lady who hung on to her historic home until the very last hurrah.
In the movie it was an elderly man who stubbornly clung to his house in the midst of monstrous urban development.
In real life, there was a woman who owned an old house in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. When developers bought up all the lots around her and offered her a million dollars for her tiny home in order to raze it for a multi-story shopping mall, she steadfastly refused. Thus began the urban legend of Edith Macefield.
It began in 2006 when Ms. Macefield turned down a large chunk of cash and refused to vacate her long time home to make way for a large commercial development. The developers decided to simply build around the homestead holdout. They went ahead with plans and constructed their five story mall around her small lot.
Originally a farmhouse on rural land, the humble bungalow with an attic dates back to around 1898. Edith purchased the home as a single woman in the 1950’s and lived there for the rest of her life.
The tough old bird staved off the developers and when construction equipment roared around her tiny home, she simply turned up the volume on her television.
“I went through World War II, the noise doesn’t bother me,” she told reporters.
Here’s where the story gets even more fascinating…
During construction, the senior project superintendent felt somewhat guilty so he took it upon himself to meet with Edith Macefield and the two ended up becoming fast friends. Barry Martin took pity on the ailing senior and offered at first to run errands for her, but ended up cleaning for her, feeding her and spending hours sitting by her side listening to her stories.
And tell stories she did. The plucky octogenarian claimed to be among other things, a spy during World War II, a concentration camp survivor, and a Hollywood party girl who rubbed elbows with Charlie Chaplin and Jean Harlow.
As the massive mall project wrapped up, Edith became ill with pancreatic cancer and sadly, died in June of 2008 at the age of 86.
In her will, she left her small home and all her worldly possessions to her friend, the construction project superintendent, Barry Martin.
I’m speechless too.
Martin sold the house to a realtor in 2010 for $310,000. The realtor used the house as an office for his real estate coaching firm. In the fall of 2012, the house was remodeled – to include all new windows and an expansion of the attic space. The owner states that he plans to raise the house (that’s RAISE, not raze) and construct a community event space below.
While I’m having trouble visualizing this dear old house being hoisted up and suspended off the ground, the idea of a community use area is rather quaint.
Edith’s plight to keep her home may have been short lived, but in the process of standing up to the big bad developers, she became something of a local hero. Grass-roots activists have co-opted her name and house image and used it for everything from resistance-minded tattoos, to the now annual Macefield Music Festival.
The corporate world has not missed out on their piece of Edith pie…. while promoting Disney’s animated film UP in the spring of 2009, Disney publicists fastened balloons to her house as a promotional tie-in to their film.
Barry Martin went on to publish a book about his unlikely friendship with Ms. Macefield: Under One Roof – Lessons I Learned from a Tough Old Woman in a Little Old House.
I sit here at my computer in awe of how one stubborn elderly dame could have such a societal impact and her obstinacy could make so many people money.
Edith is now gone but the symbol of her resistance-against-the-machine is still standing: her little brown house.
Just as I finished writing this post, news broke that Edith Macefield’s former house is in foreclosure and will soon be up for auction.
Apparently, the real estate firm that owned it did not pay its taxes!
You just can’t make this stuff up.
Unfortunately, speculation on the internet is pretty much in agreement that the mall developer will swoop in, purchase the property and demolish the infamous house.
Edith’s friend Barry Martin said in 2009 that the mall building was originally designed to expand onto the Macefield property. So it seems the developers were intent on waiting the old gal out.
But who knows. The tiny house has proven to be as resilient as its former owner.
Hopefully the fine leaders of the Ballard community will see fit to preserve the house’s shell and exploit the hell of out it. Because, hey, who doesn’t like a Disney movie come true!
Looks like it’s the wrecking ball for Edith’s house….