This is a question we get often. In August of 2013, the Salem News ran an article written by Tom Dalton titled, A Handy Man’s Dream. The somewhat cheeky article described a zany situation: the City of Salem was seeking a caretaker to live in the house in Mack Park – a five bedroom, two bathroom, three story fieldstone complete with a marble fireplace, broken windows, missing downspouts, tired shutters, rotting wooden gutters and a beautiful overgrowth of ivy – for just $500 a month plus the cost of utilities. The home had not been a residence since the 1980’s, and was last used as a park and recreation office until 2006.
The wheels were spinning. We lived around the corner from this park. I walked my dogs there often. Sometimes I would walk right up to the house, pull back some ivy, peer into the windows and think to myself, “Geeze, what’s the story with this big old place? Why isn’t this used for anything?” I loved this house long before I ever knew that one day I’d be on the other side of the window.
John did not need convincing. We are both dreamers and usually on the lookout for a grand adventure. This one, we felt immediately, might be the grandest of all. “So, how do we make this happen?” he said.
A few days later, we attended an open house. The place was a beautiful mess – dust and dirt and signs of mice, but also really redeeming things, like floor-to-ceiling windows, elegant beamed ceilings and meticulously laid wallpaper. The turnout was impressive, and I’ll admit, I spent half the time sizing up the competition and planning our next step.
The next step was responding to the City’s RFQ (Request for Qualifications) It is a document that outlines some of the City’s requirements. Essentially, John and I needed to submit a written proposal; this document needed to summarize our intentions, but also give the City a glimpse into the kind of caretakers we intended to be. John and I knew a few things for sure – we wanted to care for the house thoughtfully and responsibly, we wanted to nurse it back to health, we wanted to share our experiences with others, and we wanted to explore the rich history of the house and the park. There was a quick turnaround for the proposal, about a week, so I had to act fast.
I should say that by profession, I am a proposal writer. I respond to RFQs/RFPs in the health care sector. This one was certainly of a different breed, but I felt so lucky to know my way around somewhat complex government documents. It also seemed like a sign – maybe this was meant to be? We submitted our proposal to City Hall, four bound copies as specified by some fine print that I ALMOST overlooked, with just hours to spare on the due date. A few weeks went by and then we heard—we had been selected for an interview.
In October of 2013, we were notified that we had been selected! Thus began a year’s worth of repairs completed by the City in order to make the home habitable – mold removal, roof repair, gutter replacement, pest control, etc. These things take time!
We moved in a year later on October 1st, and yes, we love it so far!