Dating The Building

Tomorrow I’m going to try to get over to the city archives but in the mean time I’ve found some interesting details. The house was described in the listing documents as built in 1900. But that’s a suspicious date – that’s what you put when it’s “at least 100 years old but we don’t know and can’t be bothered to get over to the archives to check.”

Also, my sister-in-law saw the place and she says it is absolutely built before 1900 just looking at it. And she’d know these sorts of things.

And sure enough, the building appears in roughly its present shape on this 1895 map, so we know it’s pre-1900 already. This is simultaneously one of the best and most frustrating things about knowing my sister-in-law: She’s so frequently right, and I want to be the one who’s right all the time.

This map from 1874 shows a building in the same location, although it looks like only half the duplex was built at that time. Also interesting to note that Summit Ave didn’t go all the way through from Walnut Ave to Vinal Ave.

Looking back a little further, in 1852, neither Vinal Ave nor Summit Ave existed at all.

So my guess for now is that the first half of the building was built in the 1860s or so, and that it was expanded into a duplex some time in the 1880s.

House Status: Step 1

We’ve moved some things into the house on Summit but we don’t want to put too much there yet – anything moved in will have to be moved around as we renovate, and it’ll get filthy.

But this morning I met with the architect for detailed measurements, and the contractor for a phase 1 estimate. He’s going to get us samples of the material he recommends for the roof, and a permit, and an estimate for the exterior work, and contact his plumbing guy about getting the gas line turned back on. In the mean time I can use an electric heater to keep the pipes from freezing.

To the Summit!

I haven’t written this up yet because I didn’t want to jinx it, but Megan and I just bought a new house, in Union Square, Somerville. It’s a great location and it’s structurally sound, but it needs a lot of work.

What we know of the history reflects the development of Somerville as a whole. It was constructed some time around 1900, probably earlier, but we aren’t sure yet. It may have been at one time a home for unwed mothers, or a boarding house, or just one of those Prospect Hill duplexes.

By 1970 it was a dilapidated 4-family, and some people who met during a consciousness-raising workshop in the summer of ’69 bought it to turn into a collective living space. They added on to the back and converted it into a single-family home for about 12-14 hippies, all of whom kept day jobs – they turned on and tuned in, but didn’t drop out. In May 1971 they were profiled in the Boston Sunday Globe.

The commune turned it into a single-family home with one kitchen and two bathrooms, each with triple sinks. Membership changed over the years, and we’re a little vague for a couple decades. Eventually the building was owned by a couple who ran it as a collective rooming house. That arrangement ended when the couple broke up. One person stayed and one left, prompting a condo conversion in the 1990s.

The sold condo was purchased by James Welborn, who left a tech job at Akamai to open Hub Comics, just down the hill. He died in 2011 after what appears to have been a struggle with mental illness.

The condo was unoccupied from then until the time that we bought it. The commune’s mouldering triple-sink single bathroom is still there, along with a depressing kitchen, bannisters that appear to have been gnawed by dogs, and a fridge with magnets holding both a child’s artwork and a divorce-related court order.

Thanks to the work of Banco Santander and Century 21 Real Estate of Fall River, it was more than 3 months from the time we signed the Purchase and Sale agreement to the time we were able to close. That means we’ve got a tight timeline to get the building weatherproofed before winter sets in.

The list of tasks that must be completed in the next 30-ish days includes but is not limited to:

  • Replace roof and fix holes in siding
  • Replace back door
  • Replace front door locks
  • Reconnect gas service
  • Replace furnace
  • Restore rotted window sills
  • Clean & sanitize basement, install dehumidifier
  • Sage-smoke building to remove any and all ghosts

Once that’s done, we can begin the renovation proper.

MBTA Funding Thoughts from Rep Dave Rogers

I wrote to my state government officials this past week to complain about the way our transit system has been shortchanged for decades, and how it’s now failing spectacularly when even slightly challenged.

Some of them responded, but Dave Rogers took the cake with the following incredibly exhaustive explanation of why Beacon Hill hasn’t come through for the T yet. It’s upsetting to hear, because the answer is still basically “money is tight, have patience” but he’s certainly paying attention:

Aaron – As you may have noticed, the biggest debate that the state legislature had in the last legislative session (2013/2014), was a debate over transportation finance. It was protracted. It was heavily covered all over the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. It was again, clearly the single biggest issue the Legislature took up in the last legislative session.

Gov. Deval Patrick proposed a bold plan that called for raising $1.9 billion in revenue in part by raising the income tax, actually lowering the sales tax significantly, and closing or modifying 44 different credits, deductions and exemptions in the Massachusetts state tax code. The money raised was to be spent on two major investments: transportation and education.

His proposal fell flat in the Legislature, with many members skittish about a big tax increase. While my relatively more progressive/liberal constituency would likely support a tax increase as long as they knew it was targeted to meaningful investments in our future, many legislators represent districts where a tax vote would all but guarantee them a very serious political challenge and indeed could cost them their seat in the Legislature.

And, putting aside politics, in addition many of the same legislators actually didn’t think a big tax increase was a good idea because we ought to be looking for savings and efficiencies in the budget before we go to the taxpayers for more money. Also, they observed that Governor Patrick waited until he did not have to face the voters again before proposing his tax increase. Opponents also noted that within the 44 different credits, deductions and exemptions that Governor Patrick proposed to eliminate or modify, several were very popular with the public and it would be deeply unpopular and perhaps ill-advised to eliminate them. I will not go through the whole laundry list of 44 different items, but just to give one example, the Governor proposed eliminating the exemption from taxation of the capital gain on the sale of a home. Because ownership of a home is often the single biggest way that many middle class people try to build financial security, many taxpayers take advantage of this exemption and removing it would have been controversial.

Governor Patrick countered that he was open to negotiations and was not overly wedded to one particular approach. He also noted that he didn’t want to propose the tax hike during the worst of the recession, not because he was waiting until he didn’t have to again run for election. He also strongly argued that these investments in public transportation (including but not limited to the MBTA) and education were vital to our future prosperity and quality of life and that taxpayers would get a good return on the investment.

It would be hard to describe how intense the debate was on Beacon Hill.

I sided with Gov. Patrick, believing that transportation and education are so vital to our future as a state and as a society, that no matter what political pain might come, it was the right thing to do for a whole variety of reasons. Unfortunately, Governor Patrick’s plan did not carry the day. So while we did raise revenue by increasing the gas tax and the cigarette tax, I do not think we actually raised enough.

However, the revenue we did raise will now be invested in the system. Obviously, it takes time to fund capital projects and get them implemented, so it will be a while until we see the improvements. For instance, the T has placed orders for new Redline and Orange line cars. I also believe that upgrades will be made to the electrical grid and the other parts of the system involving mechanical and electrical engineering, the parts that T riders never see but that are so vital to a smoothly functioning system.

I would also note that on the ballot this past November, one piece of our transportation finance package was before the voters. Specifically, part of the tax package we passed to finance the transportation system included indexing the gas tax to inflation. That way the purchasing power of the revenues generated by the gas tax will not erode over time. The voters chose to repeal the indexing of the gas tax, further diminishing a revenue package that I didn’t think was big enough in the first place. So you can see the concerns of those in the Legislature like me were not totally unfounded.

Of course, those of us in the Greater Boston area also need to bear in mind that in large parts of the state, they do not benefit from the T and they believe that investments in the Greater Boston area always overshadow investments in other parts of the state.

Making public policy is ALWAYS more complex than meets the eye. Sometimes the media puts out sound bites, but there’s always more detail that is involved.

I will continue to be a strong advocate always for public transportation. To me public transportation is vital to economic growth, quality-of-life and to keeping cars off the road which cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. It links workers to jobs and businesses to their consumers.

I don’t see major changes in the near-term but do believe the capital improvement projects I referenced earlier will begin to bear fruit over time.

Gilded Age

There was a harpist busking on the T the other day. On Beacon Hill, a main broke and water poured down the hill into the gutters at the bottom, swirling around the oversize wheels of a late-model Bentley coupe. Down the street there’s a billboard advertising a company that does medical debt collections. In a grassy spot next to the hospital, a gaggle of frequent emergency room customers bicker and slur and nod out. There’s a Mercedes S class with the license plate EXACTA idling in front of the coffee shop, near a store selling a ten-thousand-dollar custom chest of drawers and the convenience store where the mentally disabled guy shakes a cup of change. The guy who usually panhandles in front of the Dunkin Donuts disappeared for a while, then reappeared with crutches. He doesn’t look so good these days. It’s going to be a cold winter.

I don’t know what any of this means. I don’t know if it’s worse than it used to be. But something isn’t right here.

The most horrible thing you’ll read all day/week/month

Worse than that Rolling Stone article about how Michele Bachmann’s congressional district has basically exacerbated bullying and touched off an epidemic of suicide among its teens is this piece in N+1 about violence, particularly sexual violence, in the the largest prison system in the world:

Crime has not fallen in the United States—it’s been shifted. Just as Wall Street connived with regulators to transfer financial risk from spendthrift banks to careless home buyers, so have federal, state, and local legislatures succeeded in rerouting criminal risk away from urban centers and concentrating it in a proliferating web of hyperhells. The statistics touting the country’s crime-reduction miracle, when juxtaposed with those documenting the quantity of rape and assault that takes place each year within the correctional system, are exposed as not merely a lie, or even a damn lie—but as the single most shameful lie in American life.
….
In January, prodded in part by outrage over a series of articles in the New York Review of Books, the Justice Department finally released an estimate of the prevalence of sexual abuse in penitentiaries. The reliance on filed complaints appeared to understate the problem. For 2008, for example, the government had previously tallied 935 confirmed instances of sexual abuse. After asking around, and performing some calculations, the Justice Department came up with a new number: 216,000. That’s 216,000 victims, not instances. These victims are often assaulted multiple times over the course of the year. The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.

Just got back from NOLA, already planning my next trip

I saw this band play at this exact bar just this Monday. Since it was Martin Luther King day, they opened by getting everyone to sing “We Shall Overcome.” And it was absolutely amazing. The whole show. Better, I think, than this video really conveys. Definitely more crowded.

He’s coming to Johnny D’s in Somerville in just a couple weeks. I plan to be there.