It was drizzling on November 1 as I wandered through the Loop in a northwesterly direction. I couldn’t decide how to get home. Should I take the train, catch a bus, grab a cab?

My suit was wet; my head was swimming. I’d just come from a hearing at 33 N. LaSalle, the office of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, where I’d argued–with more passion than composure–that a 19th-century house in my neighborhood should be named a landmark. The hearing had pitted me and two dozen supporters against the city’s notoriously tough landmark criteria, a landmarks committee predisposed to shoot down as many cases as possible, and the developers who owned the property and intended to raze the house to make way for a seven-unit condo complex. We lost.

Moments after the meeting ended, someone urged me to chase the developers and their attorney down the hall and ask for a meeting. I reached them just as the elevator doors closed in front of their impassive faces.

“It’s not over yet,” a neighborhood activist assured me. Others promised to call me later to discuss next steps. One man who’d come to the meeting on his own said he had a few ideas about how to save the house. He said he knew the mayor and that “Richie” appreciated “vernacular neighborhood architecture.”

A Sun-Times reporter wanted to know whether I thought we still had a chance to save the house. In the story that ran the next day I was quoted saying, “This house means a lot to this neighborhood, and if we’re going to discount the fact that the house is important to a neighborhood, then we discount the fact that Chicago is a city of neighborhoods.”

Who the hell did I think I was, talking like John Callaway?

For most of the three years my wife and I have lived in Chicago, we ignored the old house next door or disparaged it while giving out directions. “When you get to Pearson and Paulina,” we told friends, “you’ll see this hideous green house on the corner.”

I hardly reacted in the fall of 2000 when I was approached by Stanley, an old Polish widower who rented a room there. “You know the lady who owns this house?” he said. “She died last week.”

I knew that would be the end of the house. The estate of the woman, Jean Ziegler, would sell the big corner lot to a developer, and the developer would tear the house down to build condos. New condo buildings were sprouting up at an impressive rate and, in the summer construction season, a deafening volume.

The house really is ugly. Green shingles serve as siding, and the roof isn’t shingled at all–it’s covered with gray sheets of tar paper. The window frames are rotting, and the front porch looks like it’s about to fall down.

Stanley and a pair of widows were forced to move out in the spring, and by the middle of the summer the house sat vacant with the yard growing wild.

Then late last July someone put out a crude flyer that announced: “The old green farmhouse at 836 N. Paulina (corner of Pearson) is scheduled to be demolished at the end of the summer.” I was intrigued by the flyer’s claim that the house dated all the way back to 1853.

My wife, Cristie, and I visited our alderman, Jesse Granato. We handed him the flyer and asked whether he might persuade the developer to hold off demolishing the house while we did a little historical research. Surprisingly, Granato said, “No problem,” as if we were complaining about a pothole in our alley. If I wrote a formal request, he said, he would ask the city’s Building Department to put a hold on the demolition permit.

A couple of weeks later, on September 7, I was in Granato’s office, facing the developer, Bob Ranquist, and his father. Barely civil, the Ranquists stared holes in my forehead as I asked for an extended hold on the demolition permit so I could make sure they weren’t tearing down a building of historical importance.

Granato didn’t refuse the Ranquists their permit. He merely reminded them that they’d been doing a lot of building in the neighborhood–right across the alley from the green house they’d demolished another old home to put up three condos priced between $309,000 and $490,000. He implied that a temporary stop on this permit was a small price to pay for the community’s goodwill.

As we filed out of Granato’s office, Bob Ranquist acknowledged that construction of the condos wasn’t set to begin until 2002 but that he wanted to do the demolition as soon as possible. “I’ll be perfectly honest with you,” said the thirtysomething developer with a smirk. “This is why we wanted to knock down the building right away.”

I went directly from the meeting to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds to dig up the original paperwork. I was now determined to make a case that the house was historically important and should be made a landmark and saved from the wrecking ball. I hoped to have enough time to do the research before City Hall shut down at 5 PM.

Two months later–after two trips to City Hall, three to the Newberry Library, two to the Chicago Historical Society, one to Chicago Title and Trust, one to the UIC library, one to the Harold Washington Library, one to the Eckhart Park branch library, and two to the Polish Museum, not to mention countless hours on the Internet–I’d become convinced that the house was a crucial link in the history of West Town.

From big dusty ledgers and microfilm I’d learned that the house was built in 1859 by an east-coast architect and master carpenter named Nathan Huntley. He’d moved here from New York with his wife in 1853, and after securing a job on the railroad, he’d bought the property. At the time, West Town was farmland just beginning to be sold off in parcels to make what appears to have been intended as a suburban-style neighborhood. A horse-drawn streetcar line started running northwest on Milwaukee Avenue from Halsted in 1859.

Huntley went on to become an alderman and a state representative during the Civil War. He sold the house in 1866 and moved to Wisconsin after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

As far as the landmarks commission was concerned, that was the end of the house’s historical significance. The rules for making a building a landmark are written to exclude all but the most obvious choices. An old wooden house on a corner in West Town? No chance. Which didn’t stop me from shrieking at the November hearing, “This house is the history of this neighborhood, and if you destroy this house you erase that history.”

I’m not from West Town. I’m not even from Chicago. I grew up in Ohio and moved to Oak Park after college, in 1992. Six years later my wife became a teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, and we moved into the city. We found a great condo in a turn-of-the-century graystone on Paulina a block north of Chicago with a view of downtown.

The working-class neighborhood made the condo affordable, but the area was culturally opaque to us. Chicago Avenue is lined with discount stores with names like “Pretty,” western-wear shops, and strange hybrids such as a combination hardware and medical-supply store. Many of the liquor stores double as bars.

Once I was walking down an alley to pick up dinner at the corner taqueria, and a white homeless guy said, “Hey, brother, you speak Spanish?” I shook my head no. “You speak Polish?” Again I shook my head. He laughed, “Then you in the wrong neighborhood, man!”

We were in the wrong neighborhood, and we were grateful to be tolerated. Some of our neighbors coexisted with us only grudgingly. “You yuppies,” screamed one on the day we moved in. “You’re all stupid!” We mostly kept to ourselves.

The only person I talked to in the neighborhood was Stanley, who lived in the Huntley house. We’d have the same conversation several times a week. I’d ask how he was doing, he’d reply “half-and-half,” and then he’d say he was heading to the hospital to get his blood pressure checked and eat lunch at the cafeteria. He didn’t hear very well, so I didn’t bother to say much about myself.

When he learned he’d have to move out of the old house he complained bitterly. He’d lived in the neighborhood all his life, and now his only option was a nursing home near relatives in Wisconsin. “Way up there,” he said. Before he left last spring, he invited me into the vestibule, where in a kind of farewell ceremony he gave me two plastic swords he’d been keeping on his wall. He suggested I might arrange them in an X pattern.

William and Jane Higgins bought the house in 1880 for $3,000. Records indicate the money came from Jane. Perhaps she had an inheritance, since it’s hard to see how they could afford such a monstrously big house on William’s earnings as a passenger agent on the Illinois Central Railroad. The Irish Catholic couple–he was born in New York, she was off the boat–had seven children: Nelly, Jenny, Frances, Flora, Stella, Gertie, and William Jr.

I have a map showing all of the buildings in the neighborhood in 1886. Even at that late date–after an influx of immigrants had caused the city to swell westward–the neighborhood was still spread out. There was no building on the lot next door to the Higgins house.

By 1900 William had died, and Jane had apparently also lost two children–Flora and Gertie don’t appear on the 1900 census.

“Didn’t you ever go to the library in college?” my wife asked one afternoon when I came home from the Newberry Library chirping about my discovery that William Higgins Jr. had followed his old man into the railroad business.

If the worst part of this experience was the politics, the best part was the research, which at times required almost as much persuasion. A lot of staffers in research libraries are smart people who are qualified to do important work yet spend their days fielding requests from ignorant people like me–people looking for their ancestors, people researching the history of their houses. We ask clumsy, often irrelevant questions, and the answers are usually much harder to find than we assume. And at most of these places the librarians are dealing with staff shortages, forcing them to hurry at work that shouldn’t be hurried.

My visits became exercises in trying to persuade a dispirited and sometimes surly librarian that my cause was worthy of her passion. “I’m trying to save this house,” I would begin with an earnest grin. Then I’d breathlessly explain what research I’d done, detailing the many dead ends I’d run into and what I was hoping to find. I got good at this; by the end of my speech I usually had the librarian on the case.

A notable exception was the guy who worked in a basement office at City Hall for the Cook County Recorder of Deeds. As I asked how to translate the numbers on the tract books into documents in the microfilm room, he nodded vaguely and answered my question correctly–without once taking his eyes off the rear end of a file clerk across the room.

“You’re fooling around with somebody who owns a piece of property, and private property is a holy thing in these United States of America,” West Town activist Marjorie Isaacson told me after the landmarks commission decided against making the house a landmark. “You’d better decide if you want to take this on.” What she didn’t have to say was: Don’t get me involved if you’re not willing to put up a fight.

In the early stages of my campaign I tried to keep my distance from the likes of Isaacson and the East Village Association, of which she’s a prominent member. I wanted to try to save the house in a civil, intelligent way, without the kind of brute force the group used when it saved the Goldblatt’s department store building near Ashland and Chicago and Saint Bonifice Church at Noble and Chestnut. “EVA is so evil,” said one former member who stopped going to meetings a year ago. I wanted her help, but she resisted crossing paths with her former allies. “I just can’t take the way they treat people–anyone who comes to their meetings. It’s like a war zone.”

I couldn’t see myself picketing, getting signatures on petitions, running letter-writing campaigns, passing out handbills, or shouting at aldermen in community meetings. I wanted to work this out rationally, talk with the developer constructively and flexibly, go through official channels, create a win-win solution.

I was naive and dead wrong on two counts. I vastly underestimated the intelligence and experience of these neighborhood activists, and to just as great an extent overestimated the intelligence of the city.

“This city is like a big, dumb guy,” I bellowed to Cristie one night. “You just have to throw rocks at the son of a bitch for long enough that he gets sick of it and takes a swing at you.” Of course, I still had no idea what I was talking about, but I already knew the main thing: You need to be tough to fight City Hall.

“It survived the Great Chicago Fire; but will it survive the developers?” read the headline on the 2,000 flyers we jammed in mailboxes, rolled into wrought-iron banisters, and slipped under windshield wipers all over the neighborhood. The flyer drew about 65 people to a special EVA meeting with Alderman Granato five days after the landmarks commission’s decision.

After an hour-long grilling–in which residents begged, urged, and demanded that he do everything in his power to stop the developers from razing the house–Granato left knowing that many of the most vocal and influential people in his community expected him to do more than shrug his shoulders.

Granato had become alderman of the newly created Hispanic First Ward in 1994 with the backing of the old Rostenkowski-Gabinski machine. But he only narrowly won his last race. With his ward rapidly gentrifying, he has to work hard to keep track of voters. He promised to convene another gathering at his office with EVA leaders, the developers, and me.

Channel Seven’s report on the meeting aired the next morning. It began with an elegant description: “The original residents would have seen the Great Chicago Fire from their front porch.” It concluded with a grim prediction: “The case will ultimately end up in court.”

On the phone with my old roommate from Kent State, I mentioned that I was going door-to-door delivering flyers and trying to persuade people to save the green house.

“What’s happened to you?” he exclaimed. “You’ve become the block asshole!”

By the early 1900s, West Town was no longer the sylvan setting in which Nathan Huntley had built the house. In 1910 the neighborhood’s population, teeming with working-class Polish and German immigrants, peaked at 220,000. The house at Paulina and Pearson was full of Poles and Germans too, because Jane Higgins was sharing her home with 16 renters. The house had been cut up into apartments.

The Siemieniewski family lived in the front. Husband Anton was a shoemaker who’d emigrated from Poland in 1881; his wife, Mary, came over the following year. In 1910 they were in their mid-40s and had ten children, the oldest 21-year-old Kasimir, the youngest a small child named Gertrude.

Another boarder was Costas Sarelas, a Greek widower who’d emigrated from Germany. An elevator operator, Sarelas also had two grown children living in the house.

No matter how cheerful and even-tempered I imagine Jane Higgins to have been, it’s hard to believe she relished sharing her house with so many. Alone at 61, she was surrounded by strange languages, smelling strange foods, putting up with all those children.

Jane was suddenly in the wrong neighborhood. In his book Boss, Mike Royko describes “neighborhood towns” that were “part of the larger ethnic states”: “To the north of the Loop was Germany. To the northwest Poland. To the west were Italy and Israel. To the southwest were Bohemia and Lithuania. And to the south was Ireland.”

West Town’s population steadily declined. In the last census it stood at 87,435. By the 1940s an urban survey found West Town’s residential areas in “blight or near-blight” conditions. Between 1960 and 1980 the neighborhood lost almost a quarter of its housing. The decline would last through the 80s, when the Puerto Ricans and Mexicans who were then the majority began to be joined by people like me.

One afternoon when I was getting ready to go to another library, the buzzer rang. Donna Poljack Kurcz wanted to know if her mother and father, Josephine and John Poljack, could come up to my condo and have a look around. Josephine had lived there as a girl in the early 1940s.

I invited them up, hoping Josephine would remember something about the old house next door. We had a great time as she recalled the old floor plan and how she and her sister used to slide down the long hallway “on our behinds.” But she didn’t remember much about the Huntley house, only that there were big windows back then. “We used to gawk,” she told us conspiratorially.

She said she’d played there with the neighbor girls. Her daughter pressed her mom about who exactly lived in the house. The old woman became impatient: “The little girls!”

Everyone tried hard to be cordial at the mid-November meeting in Granato’s office. He smiled. “I just wanted to get us all together to see if we can come to any compromise,” he said a dozen times.

Granato used weightless words to make everyone more comfortable and to buy time to think about what to say next. It’s a habit of his. “There’s things that you have to realize and understand,” he told me on the phone one morning. “The legal parameters of the law are the legal parameters of the law. And those I have to stay within.”

At the meeting Jack Guthman was also smiling, but he saw no need to fill the air with words. As one of the city’s most prominent zoning lawyers, he’s too cool for that. Guthman, whose nickname is “Smiling Jack,” worked on a few high-profile preservation issues this past year. On behalf of downtown business owners along South Michigan Avenue, he fought the idea of making that stretch a landmark district. The Chicago Cubs retained him to help clear the way for their controversial Wrigley Field changes. And developer Bob Ranquist and his wife, Karen, hope he can help them tear down the old Huntley house.

Preservationists gripe that Guthman is good only because he’s well connected, but I’m sure he’s well connected because he’s good. He’s everything he needs to be at any given moment, moving effortlessly from cool to hot to cold to warm. Whatever mood the situation requires, he calls it up without hesitation.

While Guthman smiled, his clients looked uncomfortable. They let him launch the opening salvo.

Technically, Granato’s hold on the demolition permit was good for only ten days, Guthman said, and now the hold was coming up on three months. He also pointed out that his clients had looked into the possibility of restoring the house and had found it “financially nonviable.” They’d paid $750,000 for the land, he said, and they figured by the time they finished rehabbing the place they’d be into it for $2 million. The Ranquists, he said, were not there to discuss fixing the place up. “We are at loggerheads,” he declared with an air of finality. I didn’t know how to respond.

I was glad I wasn’t alone. Our side had firepower too: Jonathan Fine, the architect who led the campaign to save Saint Boniface Church from the wrecking ball; Scott Rappe, a local architect whose calm knowledge lends the voice of reason to overheated preservation meetings; and Brenda Russell, president of the East Village Association. Of course, they didn’t have nearly the firepower of the mayor, which is why we’d launched an assault on his office. Isaacson wrote and called incessantly, and finally someone gave me the direct fax number, warning me not to give it out to anyone else.

I called the guy from the landmarks commission hearing who’d said he knew Daley. After telling me he’d lost his enthusiasm for keeping the house in its current location–he said it was aesthetically unpleasing juxtaposed with the much larger masonry buildings surrounding it–he graciously dictated a letter he thought I should send to the mayor under my name.

“All of us know of your keen interest in all Chicago issues great and small,” began the letter, which included photographs of the house and a time line of its history, “but it occurs to us that a certain 142-year-old house in West Town might have escaped your attention; in fact, its extraordinary age and rich history have only come to light in recent months, as several members of this community have attempted to save the house from the developer’s wrecking ball. Our mutual friend has convinced me that you’ve been the major force in Chicago architectural preservation, especially for the purpose of maintaining the distinctive look and feel of old neighborhoods.”

The mayor’s friend then dictated a line saying he’d convinced me that “these sorts of preservation projects don’t always work out. But I just wanted to make sure you have all the facts on this one.” I was haunted by that line. Was it meant to make me look reasonable and friendly? Or was it code: Let this one go?

I never heard back from Daley, though I did see him at a performance of They All Fall Down, the Lookingglass Theatre Company’s play about preservationist Richard Nickel. On the way out I passed right by him. I thought about stopping him to talk about the house but feared he’d find that tacky. Of course Isaacson and company excoriated me for not taking advantage of the opportunity.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks is part of the city’s Planning Department. A handful of staffers considers potential landmarks and makes recommendations to a volunteer board of architecture experts. The board decides which buildings will then go before the City Council for a final vote. Because the process is political, few structures make the final cut. In all, Chicago has only 168 landmark buildings.

When you call the landmarks commission you deal with the staffers. The one I dealt with throughout the process was Terry Tatum. An architectural historian, Tatum taught me how to do the research. He sent me a book explaining how to find the history of a house, he reviewed some technical information I faxed to him, and he spent a great deal of time with me on the phone, encouraging me in a chummy way. “Keep going, kiddo, you’re on the right track.”

I was thrilled when I heard Tatum would deliver the official presentation of the facts before the November 1 hearing. I was shocked when he delivered that presentation in a robotic monotone.

The city’s rules for designation seem designed to filter out most buildings. Potential landmarks must meet at least two of seven broadly defined criteria–such as historical or architectural significance–and all candidates must meet a nebulous “integrity” criterion, meaning the building has to be in close to its original state.

At the end of his presentation Tatum was asked his opinion of the house as a potential landmark. “The house is definitely old,” he said, “and it certainly has significance for many people in the near-northwest-side neighborhood. Unfortunately, despite the history that has been documented, I am not at all convinced that it can meet the criteria for designation.”

Tatum’s presentation was so damning that Guthman, who followed the historian to the floor, opened with a smile, telling the assembly, “If it wouldn’t disappoint you if I did, I would almost rest and say Mr. Tatum has made my case.”

I was stung by what I saw as Tatum’s betrayal, yet I knew landmarks commission staffers often must play both sides–they’re political animals with city jobs who constantly have to look over their shoulders. When I returned to his office a week later to pick up some documents, Tatum almost apologized. “Sometimes I find myself supported by the prince of darkness,” he said. “I have to do my job, but if you guys can manage this without us I’ll be very happy.”

They don’t use a wrecking ball to tear down houses anymore. A giant excavator with a big bucket and a hydraulic “thumb” reaches out and effortlessly tears chunks out of the building like a baby attacking a birthday cake. The bucket drops the chunks on the ground and then its tank tracks drive over the pile of rubble to crush it. In a day the house is just a pile of wood, plaster, and glass.

Surviving records don’t show how Jane Higgins lost her house, and they don’t show what happened to her after that. But in 1919 a circuit court signed the house over to Judah Noble, who transferred it to Jozefa Chudzynski, a 60-year-old widow, and her 34-year-old electrician son, Henry.

Jozefa and Henry lived with Henry’s sister Josephine, his wife and two sons, and his son-in-law, an automobile mechanic. After a long illness Josephine died in the house on June 11, 1931. She was 39 years old–“in the bloom of life,” according to the death notice in a Polish newspaper. As was the custom, her wake was held in the house.

“Most of us kids thought the place was haunted,” says 74-year-old Ann Loeding, who grew up on Paulina a half block north of the house. Loeding heard I was looking for information on the house, so she called one night to relate what she remembered from her childhood in the 1930s.

She thinks a Mrs. Busse lived on the first floor. Mrs. Busse was forever canning food, and Loeding rarely left the house without a jar for her family. The man who lived on the second floor was a plumber; his kids played with Loeding. They played golf on the lawn, where the plumber had set up a course by burying soup cans in the ground. “We went hole to hole,” Loeding recalls.

She remembers climbing a spiral staircase to the “big, boxy rooms” on the second floor. “There were little unlit aisles that ran from apartment to apartment up there.” The dark corridors reminded her of Aladdin’s Castle at the Riverview amusement park.

I asked if she had any pictures from her childhood that show the house. “Who took pictures back then?” she asked. “Nobody had money.”

In September, several months after the house was vacated, I’d called Stanley in Wisconsin. How was he doing? “Half-and-half,” he said.

I needed the number of Jean Ziegler’s daughter to fill in the rest of the house’s history. Ziegler’s husband, Edward, had died in 1970–around the time Stanley and the widows moved in and began paying rent, which allowed Jean, like Jane Higgins so many years before, to stay in her house.

“Tell me the truth,” Stanley said. “Is the house still standing?” I said it was. He let out a soft and sorrowful wail, then said bitterly, “I could still be living there!”

I told him I was trying to save the house and that’s why I needed the phone number. “Yeah,” he said, “but then somebody else will live in it.”

He told me he’d have to rummage around for the phone number and that I should call him back. But a week later he couldn’t give it to me–Jean’s daughter had asked him to keep the number to himself. He said he was sorry.

At the meeting in Granato’s office in mid-November, architect Scott Rappe tried to kill the Ranquists with kindness. He acknowledged that the developers were good people–they’d built good buildings in the neighborhood. He asked them, as residents of the community, to consider an alternative plan.

Bob Ranquist was having none of it. He challenged Rappe to come up with a financially feasible way to save the house on its expensive double lot.

Rappe passed out several copies of a paper on which he’d drawn a bird’s-eye view of the property, with the green house in its original position and a new coach house in the backyard. Suddenly the tenor of the meeting changed. Now we were all looking down at the map discussing how, instead of a coach house, maybe you could build a two-flat with garage space below–a two-flat that the owner could use to make money on the lot. Granato said he’d do whatever it took to make the zoning work for such a plan.

Not about to get carried away, Guthman reminded everyone that his clients weren’t in the business of rehabbing old buildings, and one of us jumped in and agreed, proposing that they put the property on the market to see if someone who was in that business would take it off their hands at a good price.

I pointed out that the very act of looking for a buyer for a rehab was in the Ranquists’ best interests. It would be an act of good faith, and if no buyer were found the neighborhood would be more likely to accept demolition.

Guthman called his clients into another room. For ten minutes the rest of us wondered what was going on. Granato seemed surprised by the turn of events; he intimated that the Ranquists had had “a hearing with the mayor.”

Guthman and his clients returned with a counterproposal: They would get their demolition permit within two weeks, with the understanding that they wouldn’t use it until the end of January. If we could find someone to buy the property for $1.2 million or better with the intention of rehabbing the house, they agreed to take the offer.

Granato said he’d sign their permit “tomorrow” if the developers would extend the no-demolition promise through the end of February. We asked the Ranquists to agree to consider reasonable offers of less than $1.2 million.

Guthman and the Ranquists agreed, to the relief of all parties. No backs were slapped, but we exchanged handshakes, and everyone left smiling. Guthman would send Granato and me a written agreement to sign.

EVA’s Brenda Russell and I celebrated with a beer at the Happy Village Tavern. We told each other we’d done the best we could. The house would stand until March, and we still had a chance to save it.

When I got home I explained the agreement to Cristie. She said she didn’t think it seemed like such a great deal. I exploded. “What choice did we have? There was nothing we could do!”

It’s much easier to get a movement going than it is to escape it. I’ve been repeatedly surprised by how easy it is to make a splash and even sustain momentum. People want to get involved. Most of this campaign took place in the immediate aftermath of September 11, when everyone was supposedly distracted, scared, and obsessed with bigger issues. But if the house comes down it will not be because it lacked the support of good people.

I kept local historians on the phone for hours, begging them for leads. I cringed before asking people to give up part of their weekend to distribute flyers, but they always volunteered cheerfully. Simply because I E-mailed her and pleaded my case, Nan Greenough, an artist specializing in preservation, drove down from her home in Wilmette, took pictures of the property and several other Italianate houses, and drew a sketch of what the house might have looked like before its many alterations. She made sure to write “a gift to David Murray” across the top of the page.

These people carried me along. They don’t want me to quit. “It’s such a noble cause,” a colleague said.

I still hope we can save the house. Maybe the real estate market will continue to fall and the developers will choose to take a lower price for the land to avoid the financial risk of building on it. Maybe some rich person who loves Italianate architecture or Chicago history will read this and spend the big bucks to buy and restore the house. Or maybe the mayor will get sick of Marjorie Isaacson’s phone calls and tell somebody to find a parcel of land to move the house to or to trade with the developers. As long as the house stands–and thanks to all these efforts, it’s stood months longer than it was supposed to–there’s still hope.

But I’m haunted by the last line of the play about Nickel. After spending the night at a condemned building, the preservationist explained, “I felt like I was sitting with a dying friend.” Looking out my office window at the gray roof of the house I used to call ugly, I’m beginning to feel the same way.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Nathan Mandell.