Yesterday, while browsing around with Google Earth, I decided to take a look at my childhood home, 2708 East Denny Way, in Seattle. To my surprise, it was not there. The house and its sibling on the corner at 2702 had been built to meet the post war desire for new home ownership around 1946. These were the only two houses on the north side of Denny Way between 27th and what was then Empire Way.
My mom and step-dad bought the house from the builder for $7,900, with a small down payment and monthly payments of $50. No banks or mortgage companies were involved in the financing, because the builder sold it on a contract and payments were made directly to him. This basic method of financing has long ago fallen out of use, supposedly because it is impractical for a builder to build on his own money and then carry the paper himself. It is supposed to work better if the builder borrows the money for a construction loan and then the buyer borrows the money for a purchase loan which pays off the construction loan. In fact, it is supposed to work even better if the purchase loan is then sold by the lender to some investor, perhaps as part of a package of such loans. The investor can then sell shares in the package... and on it goes.
I always envisioned some older builder with a little money of his own had decided to build a few houses after the War to help out some returning soldiers who were starting their families. The builder met them personally and sized them up and made his decision on that personal basis. For 2708 he met a somewhat different family, an older man from Ohio, newly discharged from the Army who had met a recently divorced Seattle woman with two small sons. She and her ex had sold their older Seattle home as part of the divorce, which may have given her enough for a little down payment on the new house. All parties were anxious enough that the contract was made with the couple before they got married.
Denny Way is the first house I remember. It was a quite small two bedroom house with an unfinished basement. The front door opened into the living room which included a tight dining area to the right, from which the kitchen was accessed. The kitchen also had a door to what was called the hallway, although it was actually about a six foot square central area giving access to the two bedrooms, the living room, the kitchen and the only bathroom. Crammed into the corner of the hall was a telephone table. I knew the floor plan well, because within a few years I began to put its circuitous route to use in avoiding capture and beating by my step-dad. I got very good at reversing direction and confusing him on which way to chase me. Since I could not stand up to him physically, I developed a technique of delivering verbal shots on the run. Eventually I would quit while I was ahead, by darting out either the front door or the back, which exited from the kitchen.
Our house was a place to eat, sleep, and do chores. Chores included household tasks assigned by Mom and too many outside chores from our step-dad. He pridefully accepted compliments for his manicured Kentucky Blue Grass lawn, while my brother and I continually hand clipped the seemingly miles of edges without acknowledgment. Then there were infrastructure projects, like the six foot cube of old bricks from which we had to chip mortar with an axe and regularly un-stack and re-stack elsewhere. Whenever our step-dad was around it meant likely chores, so we usually took off to avoid him.
My main destination was around the corner on 27th, where various friends lived. Their houses were always welcoming and the level street was our playground. Sometimes we wandered down to Washington Park and the Arboretum for larger turf. In the earliest days, the house at 2702 was owned by a red headed man with blonde daughters and a wife who said "again" with a long "ay" sound. They soon moved and were replaced by the Lewises, a black childless couple who became best friends of our family and mentors to my brother and me. I did not understand at the time that the Lewises were part of a swift demographic change in our neighborhood, which turned it into a defacto racial ghetto. We neighborhood kids did not concern ourselves with anything beyond our personal relationships, in which race was not a factor.
My brother and I slept in twin beds with a narrow four shelf stand between. I have that shelf stand in my home office today as a reminder of that house, that small bedroom and the relationship it signified between my brother and me - both separating us and joining us. Three years apart in age, sometimes we seemed close and sometimes a little distant. Sibling relationships, unlike being an only child, come in numerous combinations. Two brothers is one of the simplest. In larger families, sometimes the oldest child barely knows the youngest. I never longed for lots of siblings, though I always thought it would be nice to have a sister, and when I thought about having children of my own, I wanted five, though the four I ended up with turned out to be fine. My birth dad and his family did not stay involved in our life and our step-dad, who had been long orphaned, had no connections with his family back in Ohio. Once in a while I used to wonder what it would be like if my Mom had a child with my step-dad, though it quickly became obvious that was not going to happen.
Two additions were made to the house in the 1950s. An extension was built onto the kitchen, providing an eating space with a view into the back yard flower garden, and a carport was built downhill from the house, with a sitting space on top where a covered swing bench was placed to enjoy the view of the valley. This small view was apparently enough of an amenity to help attract whoever tore the house down and replaced it with five separately addressed units. It does seem fitting that none of the new homes is numbered 2708, so the one I grew up in is probably the only house to ever bear that address.
My brother lived in the house only as long as he had to and he left after high school graduation in 1956. I decided to go onto college and then law school and to take advantage of the free board and room program at home. After finishing school, I had to go for my Basic Training in the Air Force in Texas, and shortly after I returned in 1966, I left the Denny Way nest. Often adult children return to the family home for various reasons, often economic. When my brother returned from his military service, he briefly slept on the living room couch at 2708 before setting out on his own again with a new career in real estate.
When my brother married and became a step-dad, his wonderful "instant" family brought an uplifting dynamic to 2708. The folks, step-dad soon to retire and Mom sort of, now became instant grandparents, a role they both relished. The house had always had its holiday parties with whatever of my mom's family could attend, along with a fair amount of friends, but aside from parties, the atmosphere was usually tense. But now a new era in family was at hand, with unpleasant memories put aside to appreciate the here and now.
White friends of my parents often wondered why we continued to live in the ghetto. Inertia and convenience were part of the reason, but a big factor was that we knew all of our neighbors and were friendly and comfortable with them. One advantage of being kept in a ghetto is that the neighborhood has a certain stability. But as housing opened up more in the late 1960s and as the neighborhood population aged and children started moving, things changed. Working in real estate my brother was able to find a bigger and better home for my parents in the south end. After they bought that house, they put 2708 up for sale. Somewhat fittingly, it was bought by a young interracial couple. During their housing transition, my parents had me housesit, first in their newer house and then for a couple months at 2708. Living in my childhood home again, this time as a newlywed, was so surreal that I barely remember it.
I lived at 2708 for about 20 years, the longest ever in one house. The 20 plus years of my marriage were divided between two houses. The first house we bought, where we lived when my kids were born, is my happiest house memory. Our next house, though bigger as we needed, never felt the same. I have been in my present house about 13 years, with some ambivalence as to satisfaction. I am not quite sure how I feel about the demise of 2708. I will never be able to drive by and see it again, but I cannot even remember the last time I did that. I have pictures and memories and that should be enough.
Today, as so many families are losing their homes to foreclosure, I can only imagine what that must feel like, especially if the home being lost has been a happy one. Maybe the best way to think about 2708 is to pray that the homes that replaced it are being lived in by happy families who will be able to live there as long as they want.