Last month I wrote about how Munjoy Hill is slowly being overtaken by what I referred to as the “Maine Home+Design set,” moneyed trend-chasers who are buying up old apartment buildings and refashioning them into modern living quarters fit to be pictured in those glossy pages. Turns out the buyer of this month’s dump, at 29 Atlantic St., is Susan Grisanti, the editor-in-chief of Maine Home+Design (and its companion lifestyle mag, Maine).
Not long ago, the house belonged to Phillip Swegart, a carpenter and locally renowned musician known to his friends as Fiddlin’ Phil of Munjoy Hill. The Hill was a much different place when Swegart paid $37,000 for the two-family dwelling in 1983. “He moved up there when the neighborhood was really sketchy,” said longtime friend and bandmate Troy Bennett, a photographer for the Bangor Daily News. As the years went by and the neighborhood improved, Swegart’s health declined. Numerous medical problems, including diabetes, eventually made it too difficult for him to work.
It was around this time that the condition of Swegart’s house went downhill, as well. When housing inspectors came knocking in August 2009, following a complaint from the fire department, they found multiple problems with the property, including an unsecured electrical meter box, unsanitary living conditions, and trash covering the walkway. The house was still in rough shape when the inspectors returned in February of 2012. They took photographs of rooms packed with boxes of junk. The backyard was covered by a high pile of old lumber, yard waste, several doors, at least one car wheel, and something under a tarp.
Bennett said Fiddlin’ Phil never talked about his struggle to keep his home up to code. Swegart was “secret and cantankerous” even among close friends, Bennett said. When Swegart passed away in late October of 2012, at 62, his heirs put the place on the market. Grisanti swooped in a few months later and bought the place last summer for $285,000, about $37,000 more than its tax-assessed value.
Grisanti, who seems to make a point of including pictures of herself (with the same precocious smile frozen on her face) in every issue of her publications, is apparently too shy to talk to me. She did not respond to repeated requests for comment. But building permits on file at City Hall give us a general idea of her plans, and the fact 29 Atlantic is listed as Grisanti’s address on the city assessor’s webpage suggests she intends to reside there someday.
The original two-family home, which was subsequently subdivided into apartments, will be converted to a single-unit structure, but otherwise the building will remain largely intact. Plans call for some new windows and a larger front stoop.
The property is already a bustling construction site. When I visited this winter, workers were hustling around outside and I heard the buzz of power tools coming from inside. Plastic trash bins were overflowing with demolition debris and a portable toilet sat in the driveway. Funny how you never see pictures of those in the owner’s home-improvement magazine.
— Patrick Banks