I took a vacation last month and neglected to do much dump hunting. A few days before deadline, I still had no property to write about. Then a postcard arrived in the mail. On one side, a photo of the monorail at Epcot Center that circles Spaceship Earth. On the other, an anonymous tip about a large Victorian on Whitney Avenue in Portland’s Libbytown neighborhood.
“It was moved to the neighborhood more than 30 years ago + no one has lived there. What’s up?” the tipster wrote.
The sprawling house at 120 Whitney Ave. isn’t in terrible shape. Granted, its wood siding and trim are practically begging for paint, and numerous windows are blocked by cardboard on the inside. A series of tall, weathered-gray wood posts with rusty pump jacks at the bottom are still positioned along its north side, and have apparently been there since its relocation. Rust is blooming on the white-painted metal front door and the back porch above the garage is disintegrating. But the yard is being mowed with some frequency, and the old home appears to be structurally sound.
So here’s what’s up. According to documents preserved on microfiche at the city’s permit and inspections office, this stately home was moved in the late 1960s from 1170 Congress St. (a long-lost address somewhere between the Norway Savings Bank building and I-295) about a half-mile northwest, to its present location. The owner at the time was Arthur McDermott, of Westrook, but in the early ’70s it was purchased by its current owner, Roger Matthieu, who lives in Falmouth.
It seems that Matthieu has long struggled to keep the place looking nice. A letter from the city’s code office to Matthieu, dated August 23, 1979, reads: “Congratulations are extended to you for the general condition of your property … We did, however, note the following items that could cause future problems: peeling paint overall walls and trim. Good maintenance is the best way to protect the value of your property and neighborhood.”
In 1984, Matthieu got a permit to convert the house from a one- to a two-family dwelling, and an inspection report filed in 1997 indicates there were three units at the time. The paper trail ends there.
Reached by phone at home in Falmouth, Matthieu was genial and willing to talk. He said he retired this year and plans to start working on the property “pretty soon.” A master electrician, he added, “I like to do things myself,” rather than hire contractors. “I’m a saver, not a spender, you know.”
That much is clear.
Matthieu said he can’t remember how long it’s been since he had tenants at the Whitney Avenue property. “My relatives remind me how much [money] I’m losing,” he said.
Built in 1863, the house is valued by the city’s taxman at just over $112,000 (by the looks of it, a gross underestimation). Add in the land, and the property’s tax bill tops $3,800. Whether you live in Falmouth or not, that’s a substantial amount of dough to be shelling out every year for zero return. Luckily, there’s a great local paint store right down the street.
— Chris Busby