Thursday, March 12, 2009
Taking A Tour Of "Casa Del Brian" In The Homewood Enclave Of Willard Hay (Part Two)
Time to get back to our tour of Brian's fantastic house in the Homewood Neighborhood, an enclave of Willard Hay. First of all, Brian send me some email commentary on the crime (or lack of crime) in his Northern Minneapolis neighborhood. Brian says as follows...
"There are garage break-ins from time to time, even one across the alley from me a little more than a week ago. But, yes, not much happens around here. That wasn't always the case, though. The neighborhood was falling apart quickly in the '70s and '80s (the handful of homes razed were done in 1973-1976), and there were a number of Homewood crack houses (crack mansions?) in the late '80s/ early '90s.
Cross Plymouth Avenue or Penn Avenue, and things can get exciting quickly. Hookers 'disappearing below dashboard level', drugs, assaults, shootings. There was enough gunfire last summer (outside the neighborhood, but within, errr, earshot) that I developed a knack for determining range and distance.
"Hmmm, just about 15th & Queen, I think..."
Brian also commented that although trouble may drive into his neighborhood, more often it might just walk there. All the same, it is Brian's perception that when trouble comes to Homewood--which doesn't happen very often--it is an invasion of trouble, and not indigenous to the region.
Brian send me a bunch of corrections and commentaries--he is a detail-oriented computer geek, after all--but Brian never said anything about my repeated mentions of how he is SINGLE, FINANCIALLY WELL OFF AND LOOKING, LADIES.
But back to our tour of "Casa Brian." Brian helped me with some computer stuff and then invited me and my 11-year-old son to see his house. My son was comfortable where he was, but then Brian mentioned having a THIRTY INCH COMPUTER SCREEN and that was all it took to entice Alex.
Some cool things in Brian's house included "hard pine" floors in the kitchen. Brian told me that hard pine is difficult to obtain and "can't be had for love or money." In the kitchen, I noticed Brian recycles--so his coolness factor goes way up, in my book--and Brian mentioned how his daughter's visitation weekends correspond to recycling being picked up, so it's her job to sort the recyclables.
In his basement recreation room--which is sort of coming together and a work in progress--Brian has a pinball machine from 1976, set to give as many free plays as guests would like. The year the pinball machine was made is significant because the company "went digital," with half the machines made that year digital, and half old school. Brian's machine is old school, of course.
The house has old Art Deco doorknobs and--incredibly--an Art Deco light fixture hanging in the entryway.
Some of the artwork hanging on the walls was painted by Brian's grandmother, including the house where she was born and a scene of a European street. His grandmother had never been to Europe, she just painted what she thought a European street looks like. It could have fooled me. Brian also has an old Zenith radio with vacuum tubes, another family heirloom. It sort of freaked me out when Brian turned the radio on and then it suddenly "warmed up" and made noise while I was examining the dial.
Who thinks about a radio "warming up" anymore? I thought for a split second I was going to hear dead people. I could feel the radio ghosts inside.
"We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds...We shall NEVER surrender..."
Brian also showed me an odd feature of the house called a "Faraday cage." It turns out wireless internet signals can't be received in the dining because of some aspect of the construction of that room which Brian happens to know is called a "Faraday cage." The way I see it, that's a bonus if your teenager can't use a Blackberry at the dining room table. Maybe we should build these things into houses ON PURPOSE.
The dining room has a unique arch in the doorway...in fact, Brian got online to look at images of various arches, but couldn't find one exactly like it. The house also has some "enclosed radiators," which I'd never even HEARD OF before, but there they were behind wire screens.
Other things the house had: two cedar closets. The biggest crawl spaces I'd ever seen in my life. One is tempted to make the crawl spaces into play areas. Brian said one of the upstairs rooms was apparently meant for a live-in nanny. I wondered why the biggest cedar closet was in the nanny's room but then I thought, heck, they probably have her ironing clothes all day, the poor little dear. The house also has a working laundry chute behind a charming little wooden door.
But one crazy thing about the house: the closet in the master bedroom is so small Brian has to hang his shirts at a 45 degree angle. I'm guessing Mr. Harris, the plumbing executive who first lived in that house, kept exactly one set of clothing in that closet, starched and pressed by the overworked nanny and ready to go in the morning.
The fact the house had not always been luxurious and well-maintained was evident in one place: inside an old wooden cupboard door, a bunch of former tenants had scribbled their names. Brian was all, like, WHO DOES THAT? Who writes their name on a cupboard door? I suppose I could have told Brian about the incredible autograph collection I accumulated on the bathroom walls of "Roland-o-land" in Grand Forks, North Dakota, but the fewer times in a day I hear the words "Grand Forks, North Dakota" the happier that day tends to be.
Maybe it's a social class thing. I don't have a problem with signing names on certain house features, under certain circumstances. The Beatles and a lot of other musicians all signed their names on the door of a recording studio, and later that door was worth a lot of money. (I think I have the gist of that story right)
All the same, the scribbled names on the cupboard door conjured up images of a different era in the history of the house, when pull tab beer cans were on the floor for days at a time and nobody bothered to pick 'em up, and music was in the air from a radio that was never turned off.
"Working at the car wash, yeah..."
But Brian's history tour of the house was just getting warmed up. Though Brian has just scratched the surface in researching the house, what he has dug up so far has been impressive, indeed. More in a coming blog post.
ADDENDUM: Here is more commentary from Brian, who is too modest, by far:
"Financially well-off" - that's false advertising. I have a house, a mortgage, my health, and a tenuous toe-hold in a crappy economy. And that's about it. This is a lousy time to be a small business owner, trust me.
The proper adjective to describe the master bedroom closet is shallow, not small. Most people would be thrilled to have a 9-foot-long closet; it's the 18-inch depth that is the issue!
Hard pine can't be had commercially (it was old-growth wood), but you probably can find some if it's been recycled from a tear down.