103-0367_IMGGarage/Party House


Last weekend my Minneapolis friend George called to say that his environmental organization won a lawsuit and will be permitted to examine the files of the Met Council, the regional government, to find out what kind of sweetheart deals were struck with the railroads which threaten the trails we created. He also told me my old house is on the market again. This time the asking price is $649,000.

I couldn’t resist the urge, and went out on the Internet to see what the new owners had done to the property. I was appalled. I hardly recognized the place. The 1870s farm house had been thoroughly “modernized.”

Big Money has stripped out every bit of charm. Gone are the Bridal Wreath hedges, the arbor which provided shade for casual lunches, the pond (the sole reason I bought the place), the bookshelves in the library, every bit of color throughout the interior (it is now industrial white). The realtor did not take any pictures of the garage/party house, so I assume that, too, is gone.

Why would anyone want to live there anymore? I could never go back. Hell, I couldn’t afford to live in my old house anymore, even if I wanted to.

I’ve got news for anyone who’s researching that property. In the mid-’70s we bought that house for $35,000. It needed a lot of work, but we were willing to do it. It also had some deficiencies that we were willing to wait out: chiefly, a working railroad switching-yard just beyond our backyard fence. Eventually that went away, and I changed to converting the switching-yard to a park and trail. It took 30 years, but through steady work and investment, we managed to transform that property and, to a lesser degree, the greater neighborhood. A lot of people were touched by that Minneapolis property and they will never forget it. They still reminisce about it now.

When I first visited Estrella Vista, I thought that at long last I had found a property that was worth investing in for the long haul. In many ways, it reminded me of my Minneapolis property, but on a different scale. It was just 20 acres at first and covered with junk. But it has the beginnings of an adobe house that I thought was charming. I began buying land around the original 20 acres so it would never be built upon and ruin the views. We are now up to 60 acres, and one of our neighbors has offered to donate another 20. It is all owned by a Trust with parricides, friends, and family members as beneficiaries. Successor trustees have been designated so as to continue my work after my death.

My experience in Minneapolis taught me a couple things. First, with a long-range vision and dedication, anything can be accomplished, even with little money. The second thing I learned is more problematic. If the original person who holds the vision leaves the scene, everything can change. When I die, I know I will leave things in the hands of others with different tastes, experience, and priorities. What I envision as a desirable place to live will go away with me. My idea of steady progress towards a future goal will go away, too. New people will tend to be impatient and settle for the expedient, even if it’s ugly.

Now that the mortgage is paid off, I am going to stay alive as long as possible and get enough built on the property so that a direction will be set that can be continued after I’m gone. But I have no illusions. Everybody worth their salt will have their own ideas. They will believe they’re “better” ideas. Maybe they are. Maybe they aren’t. But they’re not my ideas, and I want to build things at Estrella Vista that are charming.


Weather Report

86° and Clear


PS: The Dutch journalists came and went in one afternoon and evening. We passed their sniff-test, and they passed ours. They will be back with a five-person crew in July.


2 Responses to “charmless”

  1. 1 Erik Roth
    May 31, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    How dreary it is for me to hear of this, because I am among the small multitude you gently touched, and positively influenced, and then all together we managed to transform a very significant part of Minneapolis for the greater good of the whole community, ecological and civic. Ever since that success I’ve proudly called it to the attention of people around the country, not to boast, but to showcase the example so that it might be accomplished in similar fashion elsewhere.
    Beyond the larger picture of that remarkable achievement, fond memories linger of the fine solstice parties you bi-annually hosted at your house, which though modest in scale, felt rich in character and most comforting to visit. That the bookshelves in the library are now gone seems the ultimate insult and crass degradation, books being so intimately part of that life and place, the very vitality of what you and your wife (who sadly I never met, yet always felt positively present) had created there.
    Personally, I am grateful for the kindness you once showed me when I desperately needed work by providing the small job of assisting you in wall-papering a little room on the second floor.
    One of these days I suppose I’ll wander by to check out the site, or maybe not. It’s too painful to see what money without sensitivity can do to anything.
    And not incidentally, it is at least good to hear that George has won a battle in his valiant effort to combat terribly misguided development imperiling the nature park we worked so hard to create.
    By the way, it should be noted that the Met Council here, while a part of the regional government, is wholly unaccountable to the public, entirely an appointed authority, exerting enormous power with evidently little wisdom, and in this case absolutely no planning sense whatsoever.
    Please keep attending to what’s charming, for it’s that which enriches our lives, and makes life worth living.

    • May 31, 2016 at 8:12 pm

      Erik, thank you for your kind words. I had forgotten that you helped me wallpaper that bedroom; I do, however remember that paper and that it had been designed by a Hollywood set designer, Hobe Irwin… very old-fashioned and precious. Thank you again for helping make that house a home.

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