What Will Happen to the Edith Macefield House?

CC BY 2.0. Wikipedia

Edith Macefield became a bit of a folk hero for her refusal to sell out to the developer building a big shopping mall in Seattle. She turned down a million bucks for her turn of the 20th century farmhouse, telling the Seattle Pi: "I don't want to move. I don't need the money. Money doesn't mean anything." After she died in 2008 the construction worker she willed it to sold it to a real estate company that actually planned to raise it up into the air. But they never paid their property taxes and now it is being foreclosed on by the county, and is going up for auction.

macefield house today

wikipedia/CC BY 2.0

When you look at the house today, there's not much of the poor thing left; no doubt the owner of the mall will grab it and fill in the gap. Because it looks very much like any value in the house has been pretty much stripped off. It's an example of what we call "demolition by neglect", that if you ignore it for long enough something will happen; perhaps a convenient fire, or just this: It is empty, ignored, sad.

The little house

© Virginia Lee burton

It instantly reminded me of one of my favorite childrens' books, Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House, built in the country but soon surrounded by serious urban development, and eventually moved by the great-great-granddaughter of the builder out to the country where it could once again " watch the seasons pass and live happily ever after."

The little house

© Virginia Lee burton

Some have thought that the book was a critique of sprawl and urban development; According to Wikipedia, Burton simply wanted to convey the passage of time to younger readers. I certainly took it as critique. Because there was never any sense of planning, of order, just dirt and noise and smoke. And the house is never happy again until it is out in the country.

Of course I learned eventually that cities don't have to be such dirty horrible places (this was written in 1942 when they still used coal for heating and cities could be dirty and horrible, look at this slideshow of Pittsburgh in the 40s and it looks just like the book) and every house does not have to be out in the country to be happy.

I also learned that even as an architectural preservationist, not every house can or should be saved, that intensification is desirable and necessary. But surely planners and builders can do better than they have. The Edith Macefield house deserved better. We deserve better.

And if you haven't read the book, here is the terrible Disney version.