Washburn Avenue is one of those streets everyone drives by and no one notices. It runs along and above Interstate 295 for four blocks before curling back into the neighborhood around the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus.
The line of leafy trees standing 30 feet high along a rusty chain link fence barely baffles the steady roar from below, bathing the houses across the avenue in a wash of white noise. Regardless of the highway, families were drawn to this pocket of Portland for decades by its proximity to Nathan Clifford Elementary School. The city shuttered that historic John Calvin Stevens building last year, and it’s no coincidence that “for sale” signs have been sprouting around the area like weeds.
In front of the two-family house at 99 Washburn Ave., it’s just weeds that are sprouting — for now. A viney one is reaching over the front porch railing and making a slow grab for one of the two front doors — the padlocked one that’s still a door. The other portal has been sealed with a sheet of plywood.
Yellowing mail is stuffed into the box next to the padlocked door, which sports a round blue sticker produced by the American Family Association: “Merry Christmas. God with us.” The box next to the plywood is missing, and its contents have been blowing around the porch for weeks, like a person pacing in frustration.
The litter tells a sad story. There’s an empty envelope from the state courts’ violations bureau, postmarked Aug. 15, 2012, and an unopened missive from the city’s Treasury Department. I read a repossession notice regarding a 2004 Oldsmobile Alero. The car is nowhere in sight, its owner owes over six grand, and the fact this document is lying open on the front steps leads me to believe payment will not be forthcoming any time soon.
Another notice, this one sent by the Maine Department of Heath and Human Services in July, says the feds have told the state that the amount of money they provided for utility bills last year was too generous by a total of $80. Although this was clearly the government’s mistake, the tenant must now repay that sum, and an arrangement can be made by which future monthly assistance payments are reduced to make up the difference.
Somebody beat a hasty retreat from this place this summer. (The documents name that person, but The Bollard could not reach the tenant and is not naming this person to protect their privacy.) A peek inside the first-floor windows reveals a trashed interior: dirty clothes and empty beer bottles on the floor, box springs leaning against a weightless weight bench, a big TV facing a wall. There’s another sizeable boob tube on the front porch among the mail, along with beat-up skis, a bright yellow mop bucket and a black plastic smokers’ post.
A neighbor said a U-Haul arrived a couple months ago, and in its wake the plywood went up. The grass hasn’t been mowed in two years, the neighbor said, and a window on the second floor has been wide open for three months. A quiet, middle-aged couple lived in the upper unit, but it was never clear to the neighbor who lived downstairs. The cops used to show up at least once every couple of months to address the living situation there, and there were “big rock and roll metal parties” in the double-bay, two-story garage next to the house.
A dirty pleasure cruiser is parked in front of the garage. The neighbor said its trailer broke loose last summer. The boat skidded across the street and slammed into a Mercedes parked nearby. That was one of the last times the neighbor saw the owner: a big dude, maybe 6’4” and three bills, scary lookin’. The Mercedes’ owners decided not to fuss too much. The cops came and wrote up a report.
That guy may have been John C. Frank III, the owner listed on city tax records and in a legal notice published in the daily paper in July. Frank’s property is being foreclosed upon by Bank of America. Like B of A’s lawyer, I couldn’t find Frank, either.
City tax records peg the property’s value at $233,500, though that sum does not seem to include the lot with the big garage. The property sold for nearly $300,000 nine years ago, then was put back on the market for a few months before the listing was rescinded. Broker Cathy Johnson said 99 Washburn was “quite a nice place back then,” but had no other info to share.
I suppose we’ll just have to wait for the court and the bank to slog their way to a conclusion in this case. And another “for sale” sign will sprout.
— Chris Busby