Macefield's world-famous 'Up'-style house will sail away, saved from wrecking ball

Macefield's world-famous 'Up'-style house will sail away, saved from wrecking ball
Edith Macefield in her beloved home. Courtesy of Barry Martin.
Edith Macefield in her beloved home. Courtesy of Barry Martin.

It's practically a Disney ending: The so-called "Up" house in Seattle will be saved.

The home will float away -- not as Carl Fredericksen's did in the 2009 Disney/Pixar film "Up,"  but instead by barge, to Washington's Orcas Island, where it will be turned into a home for a family in need, thanks to a local nonprofit, according to the home's real estate agent, Paul Thomas.

The home was owned by folk hero Edith Macefield until she died, inspiring a diehard following. And its resemblance to the story in "Up" was so uncanny that Disney used the house for movie marketing.

You probably know most of the story already: Developers offer to buy an elderly homeowner's rundown cottage for a cool million dollars — and they're flat rejected. The defiant homeowner stays put, winning the (maybe grudging) respect of construction workers even as they build a giant complex that looms over and dwarfs the little house.

She never caved in, eventually leaving the home to the construction foreman who struck up a friendship with her. He sold the home, only to see it fall into foreclosure and disrepair. It eventually hit the auction block, but no bids were viable. Its fate looked dire until today.

The OPAL Community Land Trust, an organization that specializes in saving and repurposing old homes for low-income families, will take on the task of moving and renovating the home, Thomas says. The home will live on land owned by OPAL on Orcas Island, part of the San Juan Islands north of Seattle in Washington (where affordable housing is apparently hard to come by). OPAL will work over the next two months to raise the $200,000 necessary to complete the move, Thomas says.

It is still unknown what will happen to the property in Ballard.

The neighbors cleared out.
The neighbors cleared out.

Neighbors clear out

Macefield is legend in Ballard, a small, independent-minded fishing village across Salmon Bay from Seattle proper, annexed in 1907. Like Macefield, Ballard is a bit of a holdout, doing its best to maintain its character within the big city.

But like the rest of Seattle, change came anyway and around 2000, dense condominiums and shopping centers began popping up in what had been largely a working-class neighborhood of single-family homes. Along with the development came an influx of Amazon employees and other tech-industry talent.

A view of the back of Macefield's house in 2006. Click any photo for a slideshow.
A view of the back of Macefield's house in 2006. Click any photo for a slideshow.

Most of Macefield's neighbors were really long gone by the time developers rolled around to clear out whatever was left. At that point, she was living in a dirt-and-gravel lot that was cleared out for the Ballard Blocks retail and office center.

[Click here or on a photo for a slideshow of the house, the neighborhood and Macefield herself.]

Developers offered to buy her home, eventually upping the ante to $1 million, but she stayed put. Even when they began noisily replacing her sky with five stories of gray, concrete walls on three sides of her property, sandwiching her between a Trader Joe's and an LA Fitness, she stood her ground.

Her reason was simple, and according to her, not at all heroic: She'd lived in the home 50 years. It was where her beloved mother died, and it held all her memories.

"I don't want to move. I don't need the money. Money doesn't mean anything," she told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2007, during the thick of it.

The 'Tough Old Woman in a Little Old House'

She eventually got what she wanted, to never move out. She died in the home in 2008 at age 86.

Martin's first errand with Macefield in 2006: a hair appointment.
Martin's first errand with Macefield in 2006: a hair appointment.

She was able to stay partly because of the help of an unlikely friend: Barry Martin, the supervisor of the project that wanted to displace her.

He and other crew members got to know her during construction. She simply went about her business, tending her garden and fixing her ceramic animals in the windows. The workers starting to look out for her.

"She would get up really early to feed the birds every day," Martin recalled to Yahoo Homes in March. "And so if we ever didn't see birdseed out front by 10 a.m., we'd know to go check on her."

Martin began checking on her frequently and eventually she asked him to run her to the salon to get her hair done.

"At first it was just a little bit of time, 20 minutes here or 20 minutes there, then it became 20 minutes every day, and then more," Martin said with a laugh.

[Click here or on a photo for a slideshow of the house, the neighborhood and Macefield herself.]

Like most everyone, he thought she was a bit of a nut at first, he wrote in his book, "Under One Roof: Lessons I Learned From a Tough Old Woman in a Little Old House."

Macefield as a young woman, playing the sax. Courtesy of Barry Martin.
Macefield as a young woman, playing the sax. Courtesy of Barry Martin.

As he came to know her, he was taken by Macefield and her story, or really, stories. She had a vast musical collection, and she'd tell of playing clarinet with her cousin Benny Goodman and friends Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey. She could quote from classic books and speak multiple languages. Photos on her wall showed an early life lived overseas; she claimed to have worked as a spy in England until she was caught and sent to Dachau, the Nazis' first concentration camp in Germany. She said she escaped and ran an orphanage for war refugees.

It was all a little hard to believe. But Martin found proof — a letter from Benny Goodman referring to her as his cousin, portraits she made of big stars autographed, letters addressed from England — that supported at least some of her claims.

A symbol and a rallying cry

Macefield's story inevitably caught the attention of local media, and then national media. Soon reporters were knocking on her door, a nuisance the private woman didn't understand and didn't like.

When Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Kathy Mulady asked for an interview, Macefield hung up on her. (Macefield eventually did consent to an interview with Mulady. Mulady also wrote Macefield's obituary.)

Michael Stephens' tattoo of Edith Macefield's house. Click any photo for a slideshow.
Michael Stephens' tattoo of Edith Macefield's house. Click any photo for a slideshow.

"She didn't understand all the attention," Martin says. "She was just living in her house, like she always had."

Far beyond a mere news story, she and her house have become an enduring symbol — a rallying cry, even, and as her story was threatened once again, long after her death, neighbors began putting baloons on the fence outside the property.

Near the end of her life and with no family left, Macefield named Martin her sole heir, leaving Martin this one instruction on the house: "Just make sure you get your price."

He nearly sold it to the Ballard Blocks developers a few years later but got a last-minute offer from a motivational company called Reach Returns that planned to keep the home — at least the exterior — for a project called Credo Square.

But the new project never really got off the ground. They did, however, get part of the way there, stripping the home before falling into foreclosure.

"They had changed the whole inside," Martin says. "All the studs, all the siding, where the stairway was, the upstairs. They were real happy about it and proud of it and I didn't really want to tell them I was really disappointed. They were trying to sell it as if it was Edith's place, but the only thing that was Edith's is the roofing."

Click here or on a photo for a slideshow of Edith Macefield and her legendary "Up"-style house.

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