In early June, 2014, my husband, John, and I stopped in a couple of real estate agencies looking for a fixer-upper on the main line of Philadelphia. It has been our experience that good fixer-uppers in great areas are sold by real estate agents to a builders or a contractor on the QT and before anyone else even knows they’re up for grabs.
It wasn’t surprising that there weren’t any listings for what we were looking for in terms of “fixer-uppers.” So we decided to branch out on our own. Since John grew up on the Main Line and knows the area like the back of his hand, we simply drove around neighborhoods in the western part of the main line (the eastern part is more congested).
So we drove up and down streets and roads while John pointed out homes where his friends lived while he was growing up. All the while we looked for houses that needed TLC. Since John is a contractor, the plan was to do the majority of the rehab work himself and hire licensed subcontractors for plumbing and electrical, etc. We renovated our previous house and with John’s experience working with several builders through the years, it was absolutely doable.
It didn’t take long to stumble upon what we had in mind.
As we drove down a main road, the same road where John went to high school, where his school bus traveled (back in the 70s) we stumbled upon a brick split-level that looked as though no one was living in it. It had that lonely, kind of forgotten look to it. The grass had not been cut and the overgrown shrubbery at the front of the house had taken over and was shrouding the house in what appeared to be secrecy. The door-less and rusty Leaning Tower of Pisa mailbox had at least 2 or 3 weeks of mail precariously stacked in it.
One of the shrubs was a gigantic weed that had taken over to the right of the (underneath) one-car garage. The white front door peeked through long and strong leafy branches as though to say, help me, I need some grooming and a quality facelift. In fact, the branches were blocking the door; John had to bend them back in order to step up to the front stoop.
This photo was taken the first day we discovered the house. We pulled in the driveway and John got out of the car to knock on the door. Dangling from the front door was a small, black camera with wiring leading into the house. Were we being filmed? From the front stoop, looking to the right and left, were big Sterilite and Rubbermaid heavy-duty plastic bins stacked and hidden behind the shrubs and hearty weeds.
After knocking a few times, and hearing nothing, I got out of the car and we walked to the end of the driveway at the west side of the house.
We were confronted with a POSTED sign stating “No Trespassing.” Within our view from where we stood were more large plastic bins. They were stacked and there were lots and lots of them. In fact, too many to count. They were stacked three high and three rows deep. Water and leaves had collected on the top bins.
Looking past the posted gate, the back yard was dark on a bright, sunny day. The trees were so thick and dense, it looked like a jungle. Weed-like vines hung from trees and the ground was covered in tangled ivy. Leaning up against the house, a ladder lead to ham radio antennas on the top of the roof. We then walked to the other side of the house where we had a better view of the backyard. We looked up at the chimney hidden behind tree branches and saw more ham radio antennas. They were actually attached to the brick chimney and very tall.
From where we stood, we peered in the backyard and saw a tool shed in the center of the backyard with what looked like a dryer vent sticking out of the side under a small window. And on a big, pretty oak tree, a large round clock was nailed to the trunk. Thick, black cable wires were also attached to the tree which then continued to the very back of the deep lot. Instead of being on the road, the power lines ran parallel to the back of the property, where the suspended cable wires crossed the yard and connected to a pole. In the distance, and at the back of the property, we could see that there were tons, and I mean tons of large plastic bins, all stacked, and rows and rows of them. Weeds had grown up around them and we could tell they hadn’t been touched in a very long time. The scene was hard to comprehend.
Both of us had all kinds of questions running through our mind. Our first thought being, “Does anyone live here?” And if not, where is the owner?” It didn’t appear that anyone lived in the house because a branch pretty much blocked the front entrance. So if someone was living in the house, did they pull the branch back like opening a gate? We were undoubtedly curious.
John walked over to the next store neighbor’s house and knocked to inquire about who owned Brick House 319, but there wasn’t an answer. We left and drove down the road and stopped at another house. John knocked on the door and a woman answered. She said she didn’t know anything about the owner and never saw activity at the house. She knew a neighboring house had a pool which was filled in and recently sold, but that was the extent of her knowing anything.
I turned the key and we drove off thinking that we would return in the next few days and try knocking on the door again.
John repeated a few times, “That’s it, that’s the house!