My Grandparents' House

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Photo October 2007

My father's parents lived here at 3131 Scottwood in Toledo, Ohio from the early 1960s until the early 1980s. The other end of Scottwood, near the Art Museum, was the richest part of town, full of fantastic mansions. This end was more middle class and had a small shopping area at the nearby corner of Central and Detroit with a grocery, restaurants, and shops.

We used to come here for Christmas and frequently during the rest of the year. My grandmother was a great cook. I particularly liked her molasses cookies. She never measured ingredients except by the pinch or handful. There was a cuckoo clock, an old piano, and a 45rpm record changer. At Christmas the tree had real metal tinsel and the big lights. There were tomato and rhubarb plants in the back yard. The house had pocket doors on the living and dining rooms and a big musty attic and a mysterious basement. There was a garage facing an alley.

The neighborhood started to decline in the 1970s and my grandmother died in the early 1980s. My uncle held on to the house for a few more years then tried to sell it but no one would pay the $15,000 price for this nice house in a declining area. It finally sold a few years later for something like $8000.

The area hit bottom around the early 1990s. I drove by one day and when I stopped to look, a young man sauntered over to ask "What do you want?" (meaning, "What illegal drugs do you want to buy?"). The street was full of trash, and there were burned out cars and burned out houses. There were squatters living in the house.

It's come back a bit since then. When we stopped to look recently, the woman who lives next door came out to talk. She's been calling the mayor's office trying to get this house torn down. It's nice that she cares even if it means the end of the house.

I don't know how to save these neighborhoods. Jane Jacobs had many of the answers 50 years ago but no one listened at the time. I think strangling the downtown with a noose of freeways, like we did in Detroit, is a sure way to kill a city. I think the Canadians are doing a lot of things right, like creating regional authorities to end the suburban squabbling that still plagues Detroit (and Toledo too, I assume).

The City tore the house down in 2009, and in June 2010 the vacant lot sold on eBay for 99ยข.

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Jim Rees