Wayback Wednesday: The Big House

Yesterday’s post about moving tips spawned a little conversation on Facebook this morning about the ill-fated move that inspired item number four, “If possible, move when the weather can be relied upon to be decent.” This, in turn, inspired me to share the house that was the subject of that move as today’s Wayback Wednesday post. It also serves as a nice counterpoint to my story a few weeks back about my apartment across from the crack park, because if that was the worst place I lived, this one was the best.

While the house was white when we moved in, it was re-painted yellow with blue trim while we lived there.
While the house was white when we moved in, it was re-painted yellow with blue trim while we lived there.

I moved here with my friend Heidi in the winter of 2003, when her sister (with whom she had been living) moved out of the area. I was living by myself – and had been for quite a while – but we were good enough friends that I decided to try having a roommate again. I think the most difficult part of the process was actually finding a place, since we both had very particular ideas about what we wanted. To this day, I occasionally pass some house or other in the neighborhood and think, “Heidi and I looked at that place.”

The great, sunny living room with huge windowsills was a particular favorite of the cats.
The great, sunny living room with huge windowsills was a particular favorite of the cats.

We ended up in this house, just a block away from what was then the rapidly improving Barracks Row Main Street area of Capitol Hill. (And is now the fully improved version of same.) It’s not far from where I live now, and I still pass by it often. It’s one of the older homes on the Hill, as it is wood frame and free-standing – neither of which were built after around 1810, if memory serves.* It was also fairly clear that what was the side door/porch when we lived there was once the front door, before the neighborhood was built up around it.

This house was far and away the biggest place I’ve lived other than my parents’ – probably because it’s also the only proper house (not an apartment) that I’ve rented. There were actually more bedrooms than people, a living room and a dining room, a laundry room, along with great outdoor space, including a giant – and fruit-bearing – apricot tree. It was great for entertaining, and we did plenty of it – several parties, a few cookouts, and a respectable amount of casual hanging out.

The back patio, complete with apricot tree.
The back patio, complete with apricot tree.

I feel fairly confident that, had Heidi not opted to move to Michigan in 2005 to go to grad school, I’d probably still live there. I could probably afford the rent on my own now, without a roommate, though I couldn’t back then – well, if it didn’t go up too much, that is. Heck, I wouldn’t mind buying the joint, but given its location, I’m quite sure that would be way beyond my nonprofit-girl means. Sigh.

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* I learned this in a preservation class years ago, and while I may have the date wrong, at some point in DC, wood-frame houses became illegal, and party walls (that is, rowhouses) were required.

Wayback Wednesday: Living by the Crack Park

The summer before last, when I was up in New York for my annual summer visit, Shannon and I drove past one of my old apartments in Troy, and I made her stop so I could take a picture. I had been thinking it might be fun to start posting photos of my past (that is, pre-blog) life here at some point, so I decided to grab a photo while I was in the neighborhood. It was almost six months later that I posted my first Wayback Wednesday post based off that idea – and yet somehow, a whole ‘nother year has passed and I still haven’t posted the photo that started it all.

And so, here it is:

To the immediate right of the alley, top floor...
To the immediate right of the alley, top floor...

This was my second post-college apartment, where I moved with Wendy and Marlene in the summer of 1994. I broke the lease on my first apartment to move in with them because this place was so cheap that even with the penalties I incurred I was still saving a ton of money. And by “so cheap” I mean: we paid less than $200 per month, each. For a three-bedroom apartment.

It will come as no surprise then, when I say the neighborhood was dicey. When I would tell people where I lived, they’d say, “Really? By the crack park?” Oh yes, really – on at least a couple of occasions I opted to drive around the block a few times before parking rather than interrupt the drug deal taking place on my front porch. (Though in defense of my ‘hood, I was double-shifting retail and waitressing gigs, which routinely got me home after midnight – it’s not like this was typical daytime activity or anything.)

In addition to perhaps being on the wrong side of the tracks, it was also a strange apartment. My bedroom (the top-floor window to the right of the alley) was so small it allowed only two feet of clearance around my full-size bed, not even enough room to open the closet door. I don’t really remember where I kept my clothes, since I don’t think my bureau fit either, but… well, it was a long time ago. The living room was all in shades of sea-foam green – carpet, walls, flowery drapes. There was, initially, no shower – just a giant claw-footed tub (to this day the best tub I ever had) – though our landlady did eventually install a shower head and wraparound shower curtain.

When I think about it now, I remember it as being dirty, not because we didn’t keep it clean, because we (mostly) did, but because it had an air of decrepitness and despair about it, in that way badly maintained older buildings often do. It was somewhere I wanted to make better – I even cut up some of the carpet at one point with an eye to fixing up the wood floors – but I lacked the resources (both money and knowledge) to do so.

As I’ve been writing this and briefly describing just the apartment and the neighborhood – not my life there – it has occurred to me why it’s taken a year and a half to share this photo: I have a lot (a. lot.) of emotions tied up in that place. It was everything that is awesome and awful about being 23 and learning to be an adult. Any memories I could share here would hardly even begin to tell the story.

But if I could spend about a week sitting on the floor drinking cheap wine and listening to “Exile in Guyville” on repeat, I could probably do it justice.

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Random note: every time I attempted to type 1994 in this post, it came out 1194. It’s as if my subconscious considers this apartment so far in the dark recesses of the past that it might as well be in the Middle Ages.

Also: Strangely enough, the building looks neither more nor less crappy in this photo from 2010 than it did back in 1994. Wonder why that is?