Friday, June 20, 2008

I've been writing about this story on and off for a year or so.....

Edith Macefield and her house were symbols of Old Ballard

Danny Westneat

Seattle Times staff columnist

Last time I saw Edith Macefield, she threatened to sue me. Then she smiled and invited me in.

It was in 2006. I had written a column about how old Edith had refused to leave her tiny home in a filthy, industrial Ballard neighborhood, saying "no" to a nearly million-dollar buyout offer from a developer.

Her house was valued as a worthless tear-down by the government. But to her it was priceless.

When I stopped by later to check on her, she said she was angry that I had written about her. More than anything, she said, she wanted to be left alone.

But Edith, I said. You're a folk hero.

I showed her some of the 200 e-mail messages I'd gotten from readers, some from as far away as Seoul, South Korea. They hailed her for valuing something other than money. For being a lone holdout against relentless Seattle yuppification.

"She's about the last thing left with any soul around here," said a typical one.

That's when she invited me in. Turns out she had gotten 60 similar letters, some hand-delivered with flowers. As she showed them, she dismissed all the fuss as hooey.

"I'm no hero," she said. "I meant it. I just want to be left alone."

Edith died Sunday, at 86. She died in the tiny cottage she had refused to leave, not for a million bucks.

"She got what she wanted," said Charlie Peck, a longtime friend. "She wanted to die at home, in the same house, on the same couch, where her mother had died. That's what she was so stubborn about."

He said she was never trying to stick it to The Man. Or to make any larger statement against development or money or anything else.

Yet to look at her house today, it's hard not to be impressed by her iron will, no matter her motivation.

The tiny house in the industrial flats once was part of a row of picket-fence-lined cottages along a working-class street. That was old Ballard.

Today it sits walled in on three sides by what will be a five-story health club and a Trader Joe's. New Ballard.

The only reason the new hasn't completely obliterated the old — yet, anyway — is because of the principled lady who lived there. She stuck it out through years of garbage trucks rumbling by, a homeless car-camping colony out her front door, and now, for the past two years, the racket of construction mere feet from her windows.

"I don't care about money," Edith said. "What would I do with that kind of money anyway?

"This is my home. I wouldn't like it anywhere else."

Who says things like this anymore? Who so confidently ignores the tides of money and power?

Forget that frivolous Ballard Denny's. It didn't tell Ballard's story, old or new. Edith's house is the real Ballard landmark.

Not that it is likely to remain. The five-story structure going up around her home is being built so that Edith's lot can be easily absorbed into the development, said Kent Voter, a superintendent for Ledcor Construction at the site.

Voter described how spots have been left so steel beams could be inserted into the concrete to complete the upper floor, assuming Edith's home is sold and torn down.

She has no known relatives, but Voter said he believed she had left her property to Ledcor's senior construction superintendent, who had been taking care of her. I couldn't reach him for this story.

Peck said he doesn't know what Edith wanted done with her house. He'd love to see the spot preserved, as a reminder of Edith and old Ballard. She adored jazz, and years ago gave Peck her record collection, thousands of 78-rpm records featuring the big bands. Benny Goodman. Glenn Miller. Tommy Dorsey.

"I used to talk with her about opening a music club, so people could come to hear those old records and while away the time," Peck said. "I don't really know what she wanted. But she loved listening to music. I bet that would make her happy."

They could call it Edith's Place. It'd be an old hole in the wall of new Ballard, literally.




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