Hobart Street leads to a secluded corner of Portland that juts into the Fore River just west of Thompson’s Point. City government apparently doesn’t pay much mind to this spit of land, since workers haven’t bothered to plow, or even pave, the final stretch of road. So few people notice 162 Hobart, a boarded-up hovel at the dark end of a dead-end street.
This dump — or “neglected fixer-upper,” as owner Raymond Foote would prefer we call it — is surrounded by a dense thicket of brush and weedy trees. On the step-less front porch there are piles of damp lumber, a rusty bathtub and a decaying couch. What appears to be a boat of some sort sits in the driveway, but a moat of hip-deep snow discouraged me from taking a closer look when I visited last month.
The city’s inspections office doesn’t have much on file for the place, though documents indicate the house was deemed unsafe for occupancy in 2006, and illegal dumping and trespassing kids caused problems in 2011.
Foote described the property as “a young man’s dream that went sour.” He discovered the house while riding his bike one fine June day back in the ’80s, and was immediately smitten. He negotiated a sale with the estate of the previous owner and got to work on the structure — no small task, given that the house had been damaged by a small fire and was, apparently, in even worse shape than it is now. Foote said he made a lot of progress by repairing the roof, rebuilding the porch and clearing a colossal pile of junk.
Then life got in the way. Foote spent much of the ’90s helping to run the American Journal, the Westbrook community newspaper his father Harry founded in the ’60s. Meanwhile, a series of setbacks undid much of Foote’s hard work. A group of hooligans broke in and went on a vandalism spree, then others helped themselves to all the plumbing, and the power company shut off the electricity after the meter box caught fire.
The aggravations didn’t stop there. Foote said the Portland Water District botched the job of rebuilding the road after a new water main was installed, so the end of Hobart Street becomes a mud pit during spring and summer. “I don’t believe it’s drivable down there anymore,” said Foote.
Foote said he spent much of the past decade taking care of his aging parents before they passed away. Those responsibilities, coupled with the catastrophes that have bedeviled the house over the years, took the wind out of his sails. He said it’s been enough of a struggle just to pay taxes on the property, which he described as absurdly high considering its condition.
Despite the disasters and delays, Foote said he’s put too much sweat equity into the place to give up now, and hopes to resume work on his “neglected fixer-upper” once the snow melts. “I have every intention to make it a nice, cute little house,” he said.
— Patrick Banks