I’ve wandered around dozens of dumps over the years, and though some were creepy (the old Notre Dame hospital in Biddeford comes to mind), I can honestly say I’ve never actually been scared by one. Until now.
The property encompassing 9 and 11 St. Lawrence St. on Munjoy Hill is the most frightening dump we’ve documented to date. From the street it just looks shabby and sad. The front residence, clad in ancient gray shingles, rises four stories from the sloping lot. Teenage trees and vines are reclaiming the landscaping around the foundation, partially obscuring the red sign posted by the fire department declaring the house vacant.
When I started to walk up the crumbling concrete steps leading to the sideyard, my stomach tightened up. To the left, beneath a rotted wooden porch leading to a doorway, I peered into a dank and shady storage space, half expecting to find a body. Instead I spied a softball, an overturned black pot, some broken shovels and an old wooden crutch, bleached gray and hanging on a hook.
The doorway above is menacing. The door itself is painted black, even the knob. Its window is framed by white and brown-stained murder curtains. White fiberglass insulation has been stuffed into the small windows on either side to suffocate the breeze. The lacy pink curtains hanging in a window to the left only increase the unease.
The weedy sideyard is not safe to enter wearing shorts and sandals — who knows what ticks, snakes and furry vermin lurk there — so I retreated home to put on jeans and hiking boots. When I returned, I scanned the weeds for wildlife and saw a gray cat curled up on the ground, quite dead.
Venturing farther along the concrete path I encountered a second house, a two-story with white siding, attached to the back of the gray structure facing the street. It appears to be in marginally better shape, but also long vacant.
Two wooden posts with crucifix-like cross beams are planted between the two units, apparently to support laundry lines. A scowling, gray stuffed bear sits in the crux of one of them, wearing what appears to be a frayed and faded dish towel. Looking up, I saw two laundry lines strung between the buildings; a short noose of rope dangled from each one.
I snapped a few pictures and got the hell out of there. And this was in broad daylight. I drove by once at night but was too spooked to get out of the car.
So here’s the skinny. The original gray-shingled building dates to 1840. It was most recently home to the Ferrante family until a death left it vacant and cast it into legal limbo.
According to real estate broker Chris Lavoie, who sold it last December, there are 18 heirs with a claim to some portion of the property’s value. Some of them live in Maine and others are “scattered all over,” so getting this disparate group to come to terms on a sale was “kind of a mess,” he said. For example, Lavoie said an heir in his early 20s demanded another $5,000 the day before closing. Other heirs had to step in and mollify him to allow the sale to go through.
The buyer is Pierre Vial, a French architect and developer who lives in Biddeford Pool. He snapped up the property for $300,000 (about $40,000 less than its assessed value) as soon as it went on the market. Vial plans to have the old buildings razed and condos built in their place. There’s room for several units, some with water views.
I was unable to arrange a phone interview with Vial before this issue went to press, so it’s not clear what his timeframe is for this project. But Lavoie said Vial is not in a hurry to pre-sell the condos, which will almost surely be snapped up as quickly as this dump was, given the location.
— Chris Busby