Cute little house' lost in shuffle Mistake: Housing officials attempted to delay the demolition of a house they were negotiating to buy hours after wrecking crews toppled it.

April 08, 1997|By Jim Haner and John B. O'Donnell | Jim Haner and John B. O'Donnell,SUN STAFF

The little house at 10 N. Spring St. had stood since before the Civil War - sheltering five generations of working-class families through riots, fires, floods, the Great Depression and the worst follies of 29 U.S. presidents, 30 Maryland governors and 36 Baltimore mayors.

Now, it is gone, brought down too soon by a bureaucratic mix-up in the city's Department of Housing and Community Development.

"They screwed up," says Stanley Ali, recalling the day in late January when he found an 8-foot mound of broken brick, twisted pipe and shattered glass where his investment property had stood.

"We made a mistake," says a housing official, admitting that a belated agency effort to delay the demolition was made hours after the house fell.

Vacant but in decent shape, Ali's 11-foot-wide alley house was one of the last three left on Spring Street in the Washington Hill area of East Baltimore, surrounded by new and renovated housing. In various states of repair, these alley houses stood where neighbors wanted a postage stamp-sized park.

The worst problems code enforcers could find late last year at Ali's house were peeling paint and cracked brickwork. Though vacant, the house wasn't abandoned, so there was little apparent justification for razing it and billing the owner for demolition - the procedure commonly used for abandoned houses.

Instead, the city would have to pay Ali for the property.

A year ago, the city added the house to its demolition hit list, and Ali was told in July that the city planned to buy it. Though he couldn't prevent the sale, Ali was assured that he could get his own appraisal if he wasn't satisfied with the city offer and the matter could be settled in court.

But the address got into the hands of a city wrecking crew and came down more than a week before the postman delivered the city's offer of $8,000 to Ali. He wanted more money, but he had only a pile of rubble to show an appraiser.

"Where in the hell is my brand new tub?" sputtered Ali, picking through the rubble days after the demolition. "Where in the hell is my brand new washstand?

"There's the stove!" he said, pointing to a crumpled hulk in the pile of brick and block that was once a four-room house.

And then he sighed: "It was a cute little house."

Pub Date: 4/08/97

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