In 2006, Edith Macefield, 84, made international news when she refused a million dollars from developers who wanted to knock down her Ballard home, that she’d lived in since she was a child, and build a shopping center in its place. So they built around her. I mean, right around her: the little 108-year-old farmhouse sits smack dab in the middle of a block long, five-story building called the Ballard Blocks that houses a gym, a grocery store and more.
Edith passed away in 2008 and her little house is still there, uninhabited. But now we know what will become of it.
“We wanted to keep Edith’s house where it was. We decided to clean it up and repair things. Ideally, what we’re trying to do is make Edith’s house a vacation rental or a nightly rental home,” said Portland’s Lois Mackenzie, architectural designer, who now owns the house and named it Edith’s House at Credo Square.
Lois bought the house from Barry Martin, the superintendent on the Ballard Block project. Now, most people have assumed that the developers were the villains and Edith was a poor little old lady who didn’t want change or gentrification and wanted to keep the neighborhood intact. But it turns out that wasn’t exactly true.
Here’s how Barry the project superintendent and Edith the, sharp-as-a tack, house owner met.
“I went over to her house, introduced myself and gave her my card. I would stop and check on her everyday just to make sure that she was OK. She didn’t have any family,” Barry said.
One day, Edith called him.
“Asked me if I would give her a ride to get her hair done. Everything in Ballard’s only four minutes away. I said, ‘Sure, no problem.’ That was sort of the start of our friendship.”
Pretty soon, Barry was making regular visits and taking Edith to her doctor’s appointments. But she was a tough lady who had a hard time trusting people.
“I made her dinner one night. I went down and got her some fresh halibut, some baby red potatoes, and sugar snap peas. Brought it out to her, set it down on the coffee table. She looked at me, grabbed a hold of the edge of the coffee table, flipped it upside down and dumped the dinner all over the floor. Obviously that made me mad. So I said, ‘Fine, okay, I’m done.’ I started to leave and she said, ‘See, I knew that you wouldn’t make it.’ I said, ‘Well, what are you talking about?’ ‘Well, you’re quitting.’ I said, ‘I’m not quitting. I’m just going home. I’ll be back in the morning.’ That really kind of shocked her because I think that she thought that I was really headed out the door. I did. I hopped in my truck and I got down the road about four miles and she called me and said, ‘I’m hungry.’ So I turned around, went back, picked up the mess and made her something else for dinner. She didn’t get halibut that night though.”
Barry was dedicated to Edith until the day she died.
“It was seven days a week. I made her breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for nine months. Typically, I would go home, sometimes that would be nine or ten o’clock at night. Anywhere from midnight, one, two, three, four o’clock in the morning she’d call me. She’d either be on the floor, had fallen down, or had an accident. I live about 45 minutes away and I’d get up and drive down and take care of whatever she needed.”
I wondered if he had been a caregiver before. Why was he so intensely dedicated to helping Edith?
“All she wanted to do was live the rest of her life in her house and die where she wanted. I thought that was a pretty simple request and I think that everybody should have that opportunity.
Edith eventually made Barry, the ‘evil building superintendent,’ her power of attorney and left everything she owned to him, including the house. And as far as Edith’s opinions about new development:
“She didn’t really care,” Barry said. “She said, ‘It’s change, it happens all the time.’ She didn’t have any problem with that.”
This is why she didn’t want to leave her house:
“She didn’t have anywhere she wanted to go. She was comfortable and happy just as she was. Giving her money wasn’t going to change that.”
Lois say she wants to leave Edith’s mark on the renovated vacation house with framed photos and art that commemorates her credo. While Barry is neutral on the project, he doesn’t think Edith would appreciate it because she never understood the international hubbub, and doesn’t feel like she needed to be honored.
“She didn’t understand it because it’s like, ‘I’m just a little old lady, I don’t want to move. It’s not that big of a deal.'”
No word on when Edith’s house will be ready to receive guests, but we’ll certainly keep you updated.
Barry wrote a book about his relationship with Edith, that came out in November, called “Under One Roof.”