Table of Contents
Here is a link to the past, lost but for me.
Anyone who fixes up an old house understands. . . .
Here was where someone had built a life, and as far as anyone knew this was all that remainedâtheir contribution to the enterprise in which we were somehow all engaged. That made the house a precious thing, a window on an age that had otherwise slipped away. It brought out your inner archaeologist. Just when you were fed up with leaky roofs and sclerotic pipes and at the point of calling in the bulldozers, you'd haul up on some dusty artifact from days long past, and instantly your mind would be as afroth with questions as if you'd found a fragment of cuneiform in some
in the Mideast:
What was it for? What did it mean? What were these people
And sometimes, seeing as this was a house in the city:
What went wrong?
The Barn House
“A lively, often funny, sometimes startling, occasionally surreal account of the rehabbing process, from getting the mortgage to choosing the architect to balancing dreams with reality. It's the perfect book for armchair or would-be renovators.”
“Enlightening. And entertaining. [Zotti's] humor brings to mind Dave Barry.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“If you are a do-it-yourselfer with a compulsion to fix up a house, this will be a fun read, and you can laugh along as Ed hires a homeless trumpeter to guard the open house, forgets to wish his wife a happy Mother's Day, and single-handedly tames ancient radiators, forcing their rusted bushings to yield to his will. . . . I have no idea what a bushing is, either, but I read all forty pages about that incident, a classic tale of Man vs. Rusty Widget. It was just that amusing.”
YIEW FROM STREET 3Â·19Â·93
New American Library
Published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA â¢ Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) â¢ Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England â¢ Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) â¢ Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) â¢ Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India â¢ Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) â¢ Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First New American Library Trade Paperback Printing, September 2009
Copyright Â© Ed Zotti, 2008
All rights reserved
Illustrations by Charlie Friedlander
Frontispiece by Bruce Bondy
REGISTERED TRADEMARKâMARCA REGISTRADA
eISBN : 978-1-101-21213-4
The barn house: confessions of an urban rehabber/Ed Zotti; illustrations by Charlie Friedlander. p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-101-21213-4
1. DwellingsâRemodelingâIllinoisâChicago. 2. urban beautificationâIllinoisâChicago. 3. Zotti, EdâHomes and haunts. I. Title.
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Penguin is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity.
In that sprit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers;
however, the story, the experiences, and the words
are the author's alone.
To my wife Mary,
and my children Ryan, Ani, and Andrew,
without whom I'd have had no story to tell
My thanks first of all to Charlie Friedlander, a good friend and fine architect, who contributed most of the illustrations. I also acknowledge with gratitude the encouragement and good counsel of those who read the manuscript at various stages, among them Bob Bruegmann, my editor Mark Chait of New American Library, the Chief, Howard Decker, Charlie again, Ann and Jim Kepler, Ruth Knack, Ann LaFarge, my agent Dave Larabell, my wife Mary Lubben, Irene Macauley, Mike Miner and Betsy Nore, Jim Shapiro (especially Jim Shapiro), Sue Sharrock, and Bob Yovovich. If you think this book is a mess now, you should have seen it before. Thanks also to Bruce Bondy, Gabe Burgos, Ned Coe, Tony Czupryna, Diane and James Fitzhugh, Lisa Hoffer, Fran Markwardt, Kendall Mallette, Pat O'Neil, Ned Reece, Jane and John Santogrossi, Carol Sills, Mike Waechter, and the Rev. Jack Wall for their valuable contributions. Finally, my deepest appreciation to the workers too numerous to name who helped rebuild the Barn House, including my friends and relatives who volunteeredâthey proved craftsmanship isn't dead, it merely awaits summoning.
round noon on what was surely the worst day of his life, my friend Mike got a call from a neighbor telling him that smoke was pouring out of the chimney of his house on the north side of Chicago. It wasn't the usual sort of smoke. The house was on fire.
Mike hurried home to find his house surrounded by fire engines, policemen, and curious bystanders. Up on the roof of the front porch a fireman in a black raincoat stepped out of a window and came down a ladder carrying Mike's ten-month-old daughter, Joanna. Her eyes were rolled up and she was covered with soot. “She's alive,” the fireman told Mike as he put the baby in an ambulance. “What about the woman who was in there?” Mike asked. His housekeeper, Nina, had been in the house watching Joanna while he and his wife worked. “She's dead,” a cop said. “We think she's been murdered.”
Nina had been beaten and choked and her body submerged in a running bathtub on the second floor of the house. Joanna had been lying only a few feet away. Apparently the killer then went down to the basement and set a fire in another bathroom. The bathroom was destroyed and most of the house suffered smoke damage.
A few days later Mike asked several people, including my friend Mary and me, to help him sort through his family's belongings and make an inventory for the insurance adjusters. I worked in the disheveled basement; Mary went upstairs with Mike's wife, Betsy. We didn't speak much that I remember. I didn't ask Mike whether he and his family planned to stay in the house; probably at that point he didn't know. In the end they stayed. Mike wrote a column about the experience for the newspaper both of us worked for. Joanna recovered uneventfully.
Sometime later the police arrested a man in connection with another murder and a rape, and, in the interest of closing the books on Mike's case, decided the fellow had killed Nina, too. Mike had his doubts, but the police didn't pursue the matter further. The evidence in the other cases was persuasive enough to earn the man a life sentence; he was never formally charged with Nina's murder.
As time went on I saw less of Mike. By the time Mary and I started looking for a houseâwe were married now, with two kids and a third plannedâit had been years since I'd been down his street.
Mary and I (well, I) wanted to stay in the city. But the prices in the most popular neighborhoods were well beyond our reach, even for fixer-uppers. We started looking farther out, in areas that were still a little rough. One winter's day Mary drove by a place that struck her, in what presumably was dim light, as promising. We both went back to see it.