When you first see Edith Macefield's tiny house, surrounded by rubble and graffiti in the industrial flats of Ballard, you wonder: Why would anyone want to live there?
It's the only house on the worst block. It's small and 106 years old. There's a chemical plant across the street, abandoned lots strewn with garbage on three sides. Government assessors peg the house's value at just $8,000 — essentially a worthless tear-down. The sliver of land it sits on — less than four-hundredths of an acre — is assessed at $101,000.
So when developers showed up offering 84-year-old Edith a buyout package worth an estimated three-quarters of a million dollars, friends were flabbergasted.
"When they presented the offer, I about fell out of my chair," said Charles Peck, 61, a Seattle contractor and friend of Edith's who saw the offer.
"They said they would buy her house, then build her a brand-new bigger house with a wheelchair ramp and pay for her health care for the rest of her life," Peck said. "It just blew me away."
So did what happened next: Edith said no.
To her, the house everyone else wants to get rid of is priceless.
You see, she's lived there for 54 years. Never mind the faux-brick asphalt siding. She remembers when her house was part of a row of picket-fence-lined cottages along working-class Northwest 46th Street, just east of the Ballard Bridge.
Her mother died in the house. Now Edith may be among the last of old Ballard, but she's not about to leave. Apparently for any price.
"I don't care about money," Edith told me. "I'm 84. I'm perfectly happy here. And I don't want to move.
"What would I do with that kind of money anyway?"
And so the developer, seeking to completely remake one of the city's most dilapidated blocks, is forced to build around Edith.
I called a partner in the developer group a number of times, but he didn't call back. Plans show a five-story retail complex, health club and parking garage. It will stretch across the block — minus a skinny, rectangle-shaped notch, right where Edith lives.
It means her 1-½-story home will be flanked on three sides by walls roughly 60 feet tall. Work is scheduled to begin this spring or summer.
Garbage trucks' rumble
She doesn't seem to mind. For years she tended her tidy yard, no more than 150 feet square, as garbage trucks from next-door General Disposal rumbled around her. About half the block was later labeled a hazardous-waste site.
The area is also a major car-camping colony. On most nights, people can be found sleeping in every car and van parked along Edith's block.
She's got a simple answer when strangers ask how she lives amid the blight.
"It's my home," she says. "I wouldn't like it anywhere else."
I tried to find out more about her, but she isn't all that interested in sharing. She spent decades writing stories inside her little house, for example, and I found one of her children's tales that was published back in the 1960s. When I asked her about it, she scowled: "That was so long ago. Why talk about it?"
She's becoming part of the lore of old Ballard, said Mike Semandiris, 39, part owner of the famed Mike's Chili Parlor on the same block.
"Everybody knows about Edith, and she gets nothing but respect," he said. "When our customers hear that she's holding out, that she won't sell at any price, they say, 'Yeah, you show 'em, Edith!' "
Peck, her friend, says the developers have been gracious. They just want to fix up a mostly vacant lot. Edith just wants to go on living the only way she knows how. The two are at odds, but nobody's at fault.
Still, he says, "I'm so proud of her. Not many people hold to what's important to them, regardless of money. Her whole world is in that house. She's not going to move. Period."
I'm proud of her, too. Our society is about striving to make progress every day. Trade up, sell out, move on — that's what we do. You get a better offer, you take it.
Not Edith. She's doing something hardly anyone does anymore. It's simple, but it's so heroic it has dazzled old Ballard.
All it is is this: She's staying put.
Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.