You might remember the 2009 Pixar/Disney 3-D animated movie “Up,” about an aging widower, Carl Frederickson, who learns to let go of his past and live his dream of moving he and his beloved late wife’s “clubhouse” to a cliff overlooking Paradise Falls in Venezuela – where the once young couple’s hero, Charles Muntz, a famous but now disgraced explorer, was said to have discovered the skeleton of a rare bird which skeptics alleged was fabricated.
In the movie, the “clubhouse” is integral to the plot. In the opening scenes of the movie the audience learns that the clubhouse, which had been Mr. Frederickson’s deceased wife’s clubhouse that the couple later turned into their home, is sitting in the middle of a construction zone because old Mr. Frederickson has refused to sell his house to a developer who has proceeded to build around his house anyway. When a large loader knocks over his mailbox and a construction worker tries to fix it, Mr. Frederickson struggles with the worker not wanting him to touch any of his memories, and in the process inadvertently strikes the man with his cane. Later, in court, Mr. Frederickson learns that he has to leave the house and go to a retirement home. Apparently, justice is quick and decisive in their town. However, instead of going to a retirement home peaceably, codgy Mr. Frederickson rigs the clubhouse with thousands of balloons and proceeds to fly away, home and all. And, so the movie begins.
Soon, however, what some have called the real life “Up house” will be sold. And the story behind the house is about as a interesting as its movie counterpart. And, because we lawyers are into disclosures, I will disclose that “counterpart” is more accurate than “adaption,” since the movie Up was in production before the events giving rise to the real life Up house took place.
Edith Macefield and the “Up” House
A small, barely over 1,000 square foot, house sits in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. The house is surrounded on three sides by sheer concrete walls of a retail and office complex known as Ballard Blocks.
The 115 year old farm-house was the home of Edith Macefield until she died in 2008. Mrs. Macefield, who was born in Oregon in 1921, apparently exhibited some of the feistiness she would become known far and wide for in her later years, when she told her mother she was going to college and instead joined the war effort in England during World War II although she was underage. After being thrown out of service for being under 18, she continued to stay in England where she helped war orphans, until she came back to the United States to care for her ailing mother at the house that would later be inextricably tied to her name.
In an interview, Mrs. Macefield commented, “My mother died here on this very couch. I came back to America from England to take care of her. She made me promise I would let her die at home and not in some facility, and I kept that promise. And this is where I want to die. Right in my own home. On this couch.”
But things would inevitably change. The Ballard neighborhood was settled by Scandinavians in the 1860s, incorporated as its own city in 1890, and later annexed by Seattle in 1907. Once known as the “Shingle Capital of the World,” Ballard was known for its lumber and ship building industries, true to the Nordic heritage of its inhabitants, and was decidedly blue-collar. As the 21st century came around, however, Ballard, like many parts of the United States, experienced an economic boom. By early 2007, nearly 20 major condominium and retail projects were just completed or under construction in Ballard.
One of those projects was Ballard Blocks. In 2006, the developer of Ballard Blocks famously offered Mrs. Macefield $1 million for her modest home which Mrs. Macefield more famously turned down. She told a newspaper at the time, “I don’t want to move. I don’t need the money. Money doesn’t mean anything.”
So, the developer built around her.
And she built a reputation as a local folk hero.
Friends Can Come From the Oddest Places
As the grey concrete walls of Ballard Blocks rose feet from her kitchen window, cranes towered above her roof, and the sounds of construction were everywhere, Mrs. Macefield simply turned up her television or her favorite opera music. “I went through World War II, ” she said, “the noise doesn’t bother me.” And as if to underscore that she had been there a long time before Ballard Blocks and would be there a long time afterwards: “They’ll get it done someday.”
It was during this time that she met the unlikeliest of friends. His name was Barry Martin. And he was the senior superintendent of the Ballard Blocks construction project that was surrounding her home.
According to Mr. Martin, one day Mrs. Macefield asked him to drive her to a hair appointment. It was unexpected but he obliged. And soon thereafter, he was getting her groceries, picking up her prescriptions, and even cooking her dinner.
This continued for two years as Mrs. Macefield’s health slowly declined.
She had pancreatic cancer.
In 2008, a year before the movie Up was released, Mrs. Macefield died at the age of 86.
In her home.
A Home Without an Owner
Mrs. Macefield had no surviving children. Although once married, her husband had long since passed away, and their only child had died of meningitis at the age of 13. Apparently, she also had no or few relatives or friends. Except one. Mr. Martin.
She bequeathed the house to Mr. Martin who arranged for her funeral and later wrote about his friendship with Mrs. Macefield in a book called Under One Roof: Lessons I Learned from a Tough Old Woman in a Little Old House.
In 2009, Mr. Martin sold the house for $310,000, just a little over a third of what Mrs. Macefield was offered three years earlier. By 2015, however, the house was in foreclosure for failure to pay back taxes, and was placed up for auction which yielded no bidders. The house is now on the open market and is being sold by the No B.S. Broker. Seriously. No B.S.
While the future of the house may be uncertain, what does appear certain, is that the legacy of the house and Mrs. Macefield will likely be remembered for years to come. In fact, a music festival was named after Mrs. Macefield – the Macefield Music Festival – which has been held in Ballard since 2013. And a local tattoo artist has created a tattoo in honor of her featuring, what else? Her house.