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Row homes [Jan. 30th, 2008|05:33 pm]
Funky Midatlantic Rowhouse

Two things have gotten me through the past week of fevers, vomiting, runny noses and general flu related misery:

1 - Obsessively re-reading Jane Austen and obsessively watching the ITV/BBC/Masterpiece Theater adaptations on Youtube.

2 - Drooling over real estate, reading about real estate and dreaming about real estate.

But what I realized after reading numerous blogs about What To Look For When Buying A House or How We Found Our Dream House is that what most people value and look for when buying a house is not what interests me.

Of course I'm not talking about things like structural soundness or a new roof (of course I would want those things). What I mean is that as a resident of a large mid-Atlantic city with old housing stock and a rich and varied vernacular architecture, the things which most (suburban) home buyers look for do not apply to me.

I love row homes and semi-detached houses. High density housing. Small, compact, old, well loved and well worn. I am not looking for a master bath and a two car garage. I am not looking for a brand new kitchen with a granite counter top. I don't need the finest, fashionable stainless steel appliances. Hell I lived without that necessity of necessities - a dishwasher - for 12 years! And walk-in closets? Heavens! I'd be happy for any closets at all.

The charms of row homes are not immediately apparent to most people. Their charm is subtle and is not tied to flashy external materialism. My own row home has uneven floors, old drafty windows, painted wallpaper, steep staircases pulling away from the sides of the house. But it also has gorgeous old, red pine floors (never mind that they are mostly painted over), original solid wood panel doors, intricate cast iron steeple tipped hinges, beautiful vintage tiled bathrooms. And the plaster walls muffle sound in a way that drywall can never hope to.

The charm of a row home is its history. Renovation turns up old newspapers (from the 30s) stuffed into walls, original bills of sale from when the circa 1950 Youngstown kitchen was installed. Digging in the garden turns up broken pottery and 90 year old glass bottles from a now-defunct local soda manufacturer.

Row homes are part of a neighborhood. As we slowly renovate our old row home (two, actually, which we have combined into one) we enjoy the occasional ring of the doorbell announcing the ancient, retired plumber from up the street who first installed a bathroom in our house (our houses did not get a real bathrooms with flushing toilets until 1945 or so). Or the son of the family who lived here 40 years ago.

Living in a row home means you live in close proximity with your neighbors and you get to know them well - warts and all. One neighbor is a left-wing, old school IWW member who dislikes the gays. One neighbor is an 86 year old widow who has lived in her house for 60+ years and raised four children in it. One neighbor has two little dogs whom she dotes on and who was instrumental in ridding the block of a drug dealer. One neighbor uses every minor holiday as an excuse to set off fireworks. The neighbors next door are friendly, agreeable people but are slobs and always have overflowing trash cans. They're better than their predecessors, though, meticulous homeowners who swept the street and grew tomatoes, but who threatened to poison one of our cats and complained about niggers when an inter-racial couple moved in two houses down.

From the vantage of my row home's corner I can keep on top of everything in the neighborhood. I know who walks by, heading downhill, at the same time everyday. I know which squirrels are nesting in which trees. I know who takes the bus to work and who takes the train. I can help delivery drivers bewildered by the maze of one-way streets and dead ends find their way around. I know that if my car ever needs a jump there are five people within half a block whom I can ask for help. When I was pregnant I never had to carry in my own groceries or shovel my own sidewalk.

These are the things I look for and which most people think I am crazy to value. An old house with character and which has stood the test of time, a close knit community with people I can rely on? That is what I want and what I will always be interested in. Granite counter tops be damned.
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How to Catch a Rat [Jul. 3rd, 2007|10:37 am]
Funky Midatlantic Rowhouse

Leave the back door open at night, with the wrought iron French doors locked of course, so the rats can get in at the dog food.

Ignore all evidence of their taking up residence until you find the dish washing brush wedged into the little doorway which opens in the wall to the water cut off spigot.

Put on a rat-catching outfit such as the one described by misslam2u -- white tank top, black gym shorts, sequinned flip flops and lots of silver bangles.

Go to the store and get 10 rat traps and a box of leaf disposal garbage bags. Read the directions carefully, very carefully, dude.

Lock the animals up.

Take out a garbage bag and ruche the side as you would a pair of panty hose. Place it where you want to catch the rat, and carefully smooth out the bottom of the bag and pat the ruching down.

Bait the trap. Set it and place it in the center of the garbage bag.

Keep the animals out until the trap has caught a rat.

When the thumping stops, take off your glasses.

Without really looking, ascertain that the trap is still inside the garbage bag.

Hustle those ruched sides of the bag up over the trap, body and all, close the bag and take it to the garbage.

When a man walks by and says, that's God's work you're doing, temper your reply.
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My favorite funky rowhouse [Jul. 3rd, 2007|10:04 am]
Funky Midatlantic Rowhouse

This house is a breath of fresh air in neighborhood full of drab, tan or gray stucco rowhouses. The vibrant color, coupled with the whimsical steps and the tiny but riotous garden, make me smile whenever I walk by.

Ripka Street rowhomes

More photos under cutCollapse )

crossposted to funky_rowhouse and my own journal
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Funk [Jun. 24th, 2007|04:13 pm]
Funky Midatlantic Rowhouse


Dee Herget is one of Baltimore's master window screen painters, an art invented in Baltimore by a Czech immigrant to shade the vegetables displayed inside his grocery shop.

aulaitcru lives in a funky mid-Atlantic rowhouse in a traditionally working class neighborhood with no irony. Ironwork, yes, hipster funk, no. Tacky, quirky, yes.

Which brings us to a seminal issue. What is funk? Folk art?

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Universe [Jun. 24th, 2007|08:23 am]
Funky Midatlantic Rowhouse

When I moved into my funky mid-Atlantic rowhouse, I did not sleep for a month. It was on the shabby side of a good neighborhood -- my house had been built in an alley by Mary Robertson, a domestic -- next to the cloacal park on a cliff which separated the neighborhood from the rest of the city and through which rapists and muggers and burglars escaped. Malefactors from all over the world travelled to this neighborhood to relieve us of our goods. It was like a property tax. It was their right. Men were seen on a regular basis carrying televisions and air conditioners through the park. Recently a guy's throat was slit during a mugging. Other muggers reasoned with us, at gun point: We have to do this. It's the only way we can make a living.

Early Sunday morning dog walkers could, by walking behind the fence behind the softball diamond outfield, find gutted wallets and knapsacks and all the things the muggers did not want. Father's funeral mass cards. Birth control pills with 26 left. Filthy Hermes scarves. It was the syringes on the jungle gym which freaked the breeders and sent them scurrying for the burbs. But that is a whole nother story.

At the other end of the park from the junkies festooning the play equipment, a Spanish-speaking ho who couldn't have passed muster in full daylight took to entertaining her clients -- all the Latino employees of the Four Seasons Hotel -- on the picnic table after 10 p.m..

Osama vaporized a neighbor headed to LA.

Drunks headed to the local university bars puked, pissed and pillaged every pot of chrysanthemums or Jack O Lantern arranged on the stoop.

One neighbor had attention deficit disorder. She thought she didn't get enough. She set fire to her kitchen curtains regularly, after a cocktail or two, and when the firemen arrived greeted them in her birthday suit. When the firemen caught on, she went to Neam's and lay down on the floor and beat it with her tiny fists when they told her they didn't have arugula. When Neam's barred her from the veg aisle, she took to standing on the corner of 28th and O until she was mugged, which normally took about an hour. Then she went to rehab.

Where were the police, you ask? In their cars. And, in a white neighborhood in a majority black city, posturing in ways either fearful or defiant that left the place undefended. The police dispatcher would kiss you off as only a black woman with a lip on her can do. The parking meter man, when one dowager expostulated with him in rather too imperious a congenital tone, told her he wasn't her slave and he didn't have to listen to her any more.

The only viable de facto neighborhood watch were the dog people, who hit the bricks from about 5 a.m. to past midnight. The sidewalks and parks and houses and back yards and alleys were deserted by day, as all its Type A residents went to work early and came home late. Indeed it was an intrepid dog person -- a freelance reporter who worked at home -- who caught a one-man crime wave air conditioner thief vaulting her fence one fine morning, after she had observed him walking down the street in broad day light snapping each parked car with a bungee cord. To see if it had an alarm.

Back when I moved to the hood, I didn't sleep until I had debated the question of putting bars on the first floor windows, and on the basement level French doors in the back. I didn't have the money. I didn't want to admit that the block was robbed, and my neighbors mugged, on a weekly basis. I also didn't want anybody to break into the house while I was in it, since women tend not to survve burglaries in one piece.

So I bought the bars. The house was so old and funky the guy asked me if I wanted the bars plumb with the house or plumb with the universe. I said universe.

I had him make French doors out of wrought iron bars. Which I kept locked. The dog could squeeze through the bars. So could the rats. But in the 20 years I lived there, mine was the only house on the block which was not hit -- through the basement level French doors.

I slept like a baby. Mary Robertson's baby.
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How to Make A Tire Planter [Jun. 23rd, 2007|01:11 pm]
Funky Midatlantic Rowhouse


I've been making tire planters for years. For these, you need a tire on its rim in order to create a graceful urn. First, pull out the valve stem or otherwise release any pressure left inside the tire. You will be cutting in the sidewall area, not in the tread portion of the tire. Make an initial hole on the valve-stem side, using an awl or electric drill. I cut free-hand, in a zig-zag pattern, using a serrated Ginsu-type kitchen knife. If you prefer, mark out the pattern first with a China marking pencil. Another design option is to use a soup can as a template, to mark scallops rather than pointy zig-zags. Once you have cut all the way around, the fun begins. The tire now must be turned inside out, and it is what I imagine wrestling with an anaconda must be like. The tire wants to stay in its original orientation, and you want to get it inside out.

Stand the tire up on the tread. Get both hands into the cut at the top of the tire, and, while pulling towards yourself, bash your knee into the sidewall hard enough to dent it. Pull along the cut, as hard as you can. Pulling the side wall is not too hard. It is reversing the curve on the tread portion that is difficult. Once you get it started, it will try and flip back. Have a friend help you, by holding the successfully reversed portion while you further work along the cut. The last little bit seems the hardest, since the tire will still, at this point, spring back into its original shape. Persevere. The moment will come when the tire conceeds defeat and accepts its new configuration. You now have a lovely urn with a gracefully curved rim, the metal wheel rim as a pedestal, and a narrow ground-level skirt from the piece of sidewall left attached to the rim.

-- http://www.bellewood-gardens.com/07_2003.html

The classic:
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