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Edith Macefield’s Ballard home could be demolished

Edith's Ballard house was stripped to the studs. People come from all over the world to visit it, and write a message on a balloon. (Photo by Rachel Belle)
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It’s been months since Edith Macefield’s 115-year-old Ballard house went up for sale, and today we learn who was going to buy it. Emphasis on the word “was.”

But first, a quick refresher: Edith Macefield was a Seattle woman who refused a one million dollar offer by developers who wanted to tear down her home. She stayed put as a huge shopping center called the Ballard Blocks was built up on three sides around her home. The story got international press. Ballard residents tattooed the house on their bodies, people called Edith a hero.

“Just something about sticking to your guns and ‘this is my home and I’m not going anywhere,'” said Ballard’s Michael Stevens, who has an Edith Macefield house tattoo. “I love that. She was unmoved by money because it’s her home. That’s what resonated with a lot of us in the community.”

Edith died in 2006, at the age of 86, and her home has changed hands a few times since. Currently, it is in shambles, after the last owner attempted to rebuild it, but went bankrupt part of the way through. But visitors from around the world still visit, and write messages on the hundreds of colorful balloons tied to the front fence.

“A lot of the messages on balloons are from kids saying, ‘Keep the Up house!’ and ‘We love the Up house!'” said Seattle realtor Paul Thomas, referring to the Pixar film, “Up.”

“When you see a kid there with their eyes as big as saucers looking at, actually, the “Up” house, it’s a pretty special thing to witness,” he said.

Thomas, also known as “The No BS Broker,” is selling the house. He says 38 people made offers on the home, all local entrepreneurs, and the deal was: if you bought it, you had to memorialize Edith.

“The winning bidder, after the 30-day sealed bid auction, was a mother and daughter pair who wanted to open a pie and coffee shop in Edith Macefield’s house,” Thomas said. “They wanted to do things like put up stained glass balloons all over the outside of the house. The whole theme of the pie shop was going to be Edith Macefield.”

Sounds amazing, right? Well, unfortunately they hit many roadblocks.

“They made four different trips to the city to find out what the regulations would be. Each time they went they added more to the list of requirements. It kept getting more and more ominous,” Thomas said. “Finally, on the last visit, one of the city employees just happened to mention they need to bring this 100-year-old house up to 2012 code. It required some very, very expensive things like earthquake retrofitting. So unfortunately they backed out and four other people behind them came to the same conclusion that there’s not a way to meet all the city requirements in a cost effective way.”

So what will become of Edith’s house and the land underneath it?

“The house, we’re going to spend 30 days gathering proposals from people who are interested in receiving the house as a donation,” Thomas said. “We’ll give priority to non-profits. Hopefully an organization will step forward who says, ‘We’d like to move it to our land in some other location with less restrictive building codes.’ After that, the land will be sold just as raw land in Ballard.”

If no one takes the house in 90 days, it will be demolished. As for the land, it’s only 1,500 square feet. But you can build up.

“There’s been a lot of interest from developers who are looking at it for a variety of uses,” Thomas said. “Certainly Ballard Blocks would be interested.”

Thomas said they may require the land buyer do some sort of Edith-related memorial. He’s really disappointed by the way this whole thing is turning out. He was really rooting for that coffee and pie shop.

“It’s been really a frustration to me, personally, to be involved in a situation where I routinely walk by city lots that were occupied by a single residential house,” Thomas said. “And the house is torn down and developers figure out a way to put a bunch of tall and skinny, and often hideously ugly, houses on that same little piece of land. Near where I live, someone has just managed to put seven houses on one lot.”

“On the other hand, we can have 38 entrepreneurial people who are really focused on trying to save one little bitty house in Ballard that’s been around since 19-oh-something,” he said. “When they go to the city they encounter so many obstacles and so many challenges that they almost universally conclude, ‘we just can’t make this work.'”

Stay tuned. The story of Edith Macefield’s home is not over yet.

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