Hardworking owner, family and friends are retrieving an old house from ruin

MIRACLE IN UNION SQUARE

December 02, 1990|By Lynn Williams

Karen Darden's house was a mother's nightmare.

Need reasons? Take your pick. The three dead dogs in the back yard, maybe. A kitchen so crawling with cockroaches it looked as if the walls were moving. Non-locking doors and nonexistent windows. Holes in the ceiling from water damage, and holes in the walls from a former owner's indoor BB-gun practice.

Any one of these might be reason enough for a mom to say, "Not for my daughter!"

Ms. Darden's mother is made of stronger stuff, though. When she looked at the shabby three-story row house she didn't say, "You can't do this to me," but "We can do it!"

"My mom convinced me -- she conned me! -- into this place," says her daughter with a laugh.

"I have no idea what we saw in this place," Ms. Darden states -- but she does, of course. First of all, the 27-year-old accounting clerk and her mother, Sunny Bolander, saw a rock-bottom price. Then they noted the 110-year-old house's good-sized, nicely proportioned rooms. The block, right around the corner from Union Square, had attracted quite a few middle-class rehabbers and was, according to a passing policeman, reasonably free of serious crime.

But it was the neighbors themselves who really won them over.

"Every time we came here to look at the place -- I also came with my father, and I brought some friends by -- neighbors would always come rushing out, saying 'Are you thinking of buying this house? Welcome!' Everybody just fell over themselves to let me know how important it was to bring new people into the neigh

Karen Darden's house was a mother's nightmare.

Need reasons? Take your pick. The three dead dogs in the back yard, maybe. A kitchen so crawling with cockroaches it looked as if the walls were moving. Non-locking doors and nonexistent windows. Holes in the ceiling from water damage, and holes in the walls from a former owner's indoor BB-gun practice.

Any one of these might be reason enough for a mom to say, "Not for my daughter!"

Ms. Darden's mother is made of stronger stuff, though. When she looked at the shabby three-story row house she didn't say, "You can't do this to me," but "We can do it!"

"My mom convinced me -- she conned me! -- into this place," says her daughter with a laugh.

"I have no idea what we saw in this place," Ms. Darden states -- but she does, of course. First of all, the 27-year-old accounting clerk and her mother, Sunny Bolander, saw a rock-bottom price. Then they noted the 110-year-old house's good-sized, nicely proportioned rooms. The block, right around the corner from Union Square, had attracted quite a few middle class rehabbers and was, according to a passing policeman, reasonably free of serious crime.

But it was the neighbors themselves who really won them over.

"Every time we came here to look at the place -- I also came with my father, and I brought some friends by -- neighbors would always come rushing out, saying 'Are you thinking of buying this house? Welcome!' Everybody just fell over themselves to let me know how important it was to bring new people into the neighborhood who would rehab buildings like this."

Karen Darden began her house hunt following a broken engagement. She had intended to rent a downtown apartment close to her job, but when she spotted the "for sale by owner" card in the window, she decided to investigate.

"When we came in here, this was the scariest place you can imagine. It was so loaded with roaches that the Terminex man said it was the worst case he had ever seen!" exclaims Ms. Darden, an articulate, fine-boned woman who looks as if she should live in a place well-stocked with horses and golden retrievers, not creepy-crawlers.

She cheerfully offers horror story after horror story, proffering "before" photos and even a videotape to bolster her case. From the rats in the basement to the bags of trash in the living room and old auto parts in the tiny back yard, this was, no doubt about it, a dump. The bug problem really gave the women the shivers: When they returned home to Glen Burnie after looking at the house, they would rush around to the basement door, take off all their clothes, and immediately pop them in the washing machine.

But the house was, Ms. Darden knew, salvageable -- albeit with lots of elbow grease. After some negotiation, she signed a

contract in early August and took possession in mid-September. Financing was a problem, because no bank thought it worth its while to write up a mortgage on a house costing less than $30,000. So Ms. Bolander lent her daughter the money so that she could purchase the house with cash.

"I will not get a wedding, or a Christmas or birthday present, but I will own a house!" Ms. Darden says with a laugh.

Her mother has taken an active role in the renovation, too.

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