Like the rest of Munjoy Hill, Waterville Street is getting a slow-motion makeover. Recently profiled dumps on Merrill and Atlantic streets are being transformed from shit to chic as you read this. But 54 Waterville St. is missing all the fun.
The best thing that can be said of this vacant three-story house, originally erected during the Civil War, is that it looks to be structurally sound. Beyond that, the place is a mess. The rusted chain-link fence encloses a yard strewn with empty bottles and cans. One of the cellar windows has been boarded up to ward off another boot. Exposed wires dangle from one side, potentially posing a fire hazard in this densely populated part of town. According to neighbor Elizabeth Miller, the sidewalk in front of the property is rarely cleared in the winter and often overgrown with creeping brambles come summer. She also suspects the house is a haven for skunks, woodchucks, raccoons and feral cats. “All of us on the street are disgusted with the situation,” she told me.
Miller said she and other neighbors have complained to city officials about the state of the property numerous times, but inspection records filed at City Hall are few and far between. In response to my inquiry, Inspection Services Director Tammy Munson could produce only a handful of photos and a complaint about overgrown vegetation.
The property is owned by Trevor W. Bailey, whose address on city tax records is in Woonsocket, Rhode Island — in what appears, through Google’s Street View camera, to be a tiny, but tidy, home. Neither of the phone numbers associated with his name that I found online were valid.
Miller said the story around the neighborhood is that Bailey got possession of the house through an older relative, possibly his grandmother, but that this transfer became the subject of a family dispute. County records indicate Bailey purchased the property from Vivian M. Bellefontaine in 1996 for $86,000. (A nameplate on a door badly flaking gray paint bears the name “Wm. Bellfontaine.”) A record I found online indicates Vivian passed away in 1997, at the ripe old age of 98. County records also show Bailey has a bad habit of not paying his taxes until after the city puts a lien on the property. Miller said the city has come close to foreclosing on 54 Waterville at least a couple times before Bailey paid up.
Miller wouldn’t mind a little gentrification in this case. “The street is definitely joining the trend towards the ‘new Munjoy Hill,’ something many of us view with misgivings,” she said. “But better that than abandoned buildings.”
— Patrick Banks