Hope for a blighted property on Humboldt

ECCO — The house at 3249 Humboldt Ave. had seen better days.

The paint peeling, the roof sagging, the front windows boarded up. The house, in an otherwise stable and well-kept neighborhood, had been vacant for years. Long as anyone could remember.

It became a regular topic of discussion, a place folks mentioned in passing after ECCO board meetings and published updates about in the neighborhood newspaper. Maybe because it stood out on the block, or maybe because neighbors cared and took it upon themselves to make others do the same.

The house even became a talking point during the Ward 10 City Council race in 2005. Ralph Remington heard about it at meetings, from people he met while door-knocking and visiting coffee shops.

"When I was campaigning, it was a big issue," Remington said. "It was totally decrepit. There are certain houses when you’re campaigning, you go up to it and say, ‘Wow, this is lit from the last
election.’"

The owner, people said, was a good guy who just wasn’t able to take care of the place.

As the house continued to slip into disrepair, folks estimated it might cost more than a quarter-million dollars to fix up again. It attracted squatters or users and who knows exactly what other kinds of undesirables.

Nobody ever knew for sure, mostly what they had heard they admitted was just rumor, though they did know that the people who occasionally wandered across the lawn at night didn’t belong. A few police calls for trespassing were logged over the last few years, but not much came of them.

Still. It was a striking house in a great location. Somebody had to want it.

* * *

Mike and Kathleen Johnson walked into the November ECCO board meeting and sat quietly in the chairs in the back.

A few minutes after the meeting started, board chair Bruce Grimm called an open forum.

The Johnsons stood up.

"I just wanted to tell you all that we bought the vacant house on Humboldt," Mike Johnson said.

The ECCO board broke into applause.

Remington — who was at the meeting to update the board on, among other things, the house — grabbed Mike Johnson’s hand and pumped it furiously and patted him on the back.

The Johnsons told the board how excited they were to own the property. They said the house was in such poor shape that they had no choice but to demolish it. They couldn’t wait. It was an opportunity, they said, to build in its place the house of their dreams.

They assured the board that yes, the house would be built to match the neighborhood, and yes, they would live in the house full-time.

After board members asked a few more questions, the Johnsons excused themselves, and it seemed for a moment that the members would applaud a second time.

* * *

At least one guy is a little disappointed in the purchase.

Though it’s worth mentioning that Tom Thompson, a Southwest crime-prevention specialist for the sector where the house is located, is pretty happy that the police calls will now almost certainly end.

"Bummer," he said, when he found out the house was no longer available.

"I really wanted to get ahold of that property. I’ve watched it for the past three years. Looks right straight down the street to the lake.

"Beautiful house."