[caption id="attachment_348" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Once upon a time, it was a beautiful home..."]
If yesterday's job were a cartoon, upon entry we would have found four mice, dressed as Al Capone wannabes in pinstripes and fedoras and suspenders, smoking cigars and playing cards at the kitchen table. The mice then would have scattered once they saw the jig was up, that the Federal Garbage Patrol were there to clean up the town.
It was reality, though, and the mice simply ran behind the greasy stove and into the walls. Our initial walkthrough revealed the living room, picture above, to be far and away the cleanest in the house. The rest were piled with trash, the floors covered in animal excrement. Unfortunately, I have very few usable pictures of this house because most windows were boarded up and there was no electricity. It was too dark to photograph.
We went outside to formulate a plan for cleaning this 1,820-square-foot beast. That number is deceiving, though. While there are indeed 1,820 finished square feet of living space, there is that same amount of unfinished space in the upper floor and basement. These spaces looked like a Third World boarding house, with rubbish piled between stained mattresses. It was a daunting task.
The neighbors came out to investigate the provenience of the big trucks parked outside. Some asked for a job; some for scrap metal. One gentleman shed some light on the previous occupants. "I told him, man, I told him the bank was gonna get his house if he kept all that [crap] up," said a lanky man of around 50. I pressed a bit further. What had gone on in this house? "Drugs, prostitutes, all that stuff, man. He'd rent rooms to drug dealers and hookers. Hell, I've been in there a few times, but not for years. Man, this house was off the chain!" exclaimed the neighbor with a breathy whistle, shaking his head as if he couldn't even believe the crazy times that were contained by those walls. Behind us, on a tree, was a wilting shrine of balloons, streamers and cards, remembering a little girl who was killed in a drive-by shooting earlier in the summer.
[caption id="attachment_349" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Note the book on the table."]
It's still hard for me to imagine how far from grace this neighborhood has fallen.
This house is emblematic of the demographic shift that's taken place over the last three generations in Minneapolis's North Side. Built in 1922, this home was likely sold to an upper-middle-class family, as part of the city's burgeoning merchant class. Fine details are found throughout the house: extensive oak molding; beveled-glass mirrors; built-in bookcases and buffet. It's the kind of place that could have housed a decent soiree in the parlor, maybe not quite Jay Gatsby-esque, but certainly more elegant that where I grew up.
The entire neighborhood boasts an incredible housing stock. Block after block are filled with homes just like this one. Slowly the homes have decayed
I could find no evidence of the original owners in the house, but I did find an old mortgage-payment schedule, dated July 1, 1946, for the sum of $10,000. The post-war owner had recently been discharged from the military, and it appears that he lived there for at least 35 years. In the mid 1980s, there was a new owner, who made some "upgrades" that included track lighting, boxy appliances and other accoutrements in favor at that time. A decade later, I found documents suggesting a series of court proceedings against the occupant, including a hit-and-run charge and a lawsuit arguing malfeasance in a medical setting.
The latest occupants, the ones who had just lost their home, however, were much more than images conjured up in a garbage man's head as he tossed old trash. They were parked right outside of the house while we worked.
It was a couple who looked to be in their late 30s, but in all likelihood were much younger, their weathered appearance a result of hard living. They pulled up in a beat up Dodge and acted like they were having engine trouble. Both of them appeared to be tweaked out, gaunt from years of drug abuse and eager to get back into the home to reopen their business.
[caption id="attachment_350" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Welcome home?"]
Inside, we found some evidence of their line of work. The bathroom contained condoms, lube, personal hygiene products. Used condoms lay like Dali clocks in several rooms. We found a couple of pipes. A small glassine vile filled with an acrid-smelling liquid.
What we didn't find was any copper pipes, any clean area or anything of value. That had been cleaned out long ago.
The couple didn't try to get inside. They just watched as they scampered through the alley and along the street as we filled a dumpster, then a dump trailer, then two cube trucks, then another dump trailer, with their jettisoned things.
We cleaned the entire house, save one item. In the basement there remains a cannonball safe
. This 3,600-pound monster was once the most technologically advanced safe in the world.
[caption id="attachment_351" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="This is one heavy safe."]
There it sat, at the base of the basement stairs. Three of us tried to push it (it has wheels) and it wouldn't budge. I don't think the stairs could even handle the weight.
We'll have to call a safe company to get some advice. Meanwhile, stay tuned. I'll be back out in the field on Wednesday. The previous occupants offered to give us the combination from their perch across the street. I don't remember what it was.
[caption id="attachment_352" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="The inside of the vault door."]
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