The gentrification of Munjoy Hill has been a slow process. While rents continue to rise from unreasonable to you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me levels, much of the housing stock still looks like it did when you could still call The Hill a working-class neighborhood and keep a straight face.
But the rehabs and teardowns are changing the character of the neighborhood. On just about every street, the Maine Home+Design set is buying up frumpy old triple-deckers and single-family fishermen’s homes and transforming them into handsome (and pricey) modernist pods.
Case in point: 67 Merrill St. This vacant and gutted house is notable these days mostly for its peeling coat of white paint revealing graying clapboards. But change is on the way.
Inspection records from the fall of 2010 indicate that the home’s last occupant, Marcia Serepy, had modest plans to replace a rotted back deck. If she followed through on those plans, she didn’t enjoy the new deck for long. The property was sold to Merrill Street Restoration LLC less than a year later, for $225,000 — about $50,000 more than its tax-assessed value.
The principal of this aspirationally named company is Walter Juve, who resides in a condo on Portland Pier. Juve also owns the building nearby, at the corner of Howard and Congress streets, occupied by The Front Room and its notorious chef/owner, Harding Lee Smith. An interior designer by trade, Juve has helped design Smith’s restaurants and is rumored to be a major investor in the chef’s culinary empire.
Juve said his original plan was to renovate the Merrill Street house and move in. Then he ventured into the attic. “I found out there was severe fire damage up in the roof,” said Juve. To make the place habitable again, Juve realized he’d have to replace the roof. He decided he may as well start from scratch.
“This spring, we’re going to knock it down — if we can get approval from the city — and put up a new single-family structure,” he told me. All the additional work doesn’t seem to bother Juve. He said the other reason he bought the property was simply to have something to do.
Must be a nice problem to have.
— Patrick Banks