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Temporary tenants unclear on home’s century of history

By TRAVIS DILL
DCN Correspondent

A simple white bungalow sits along the steady incline of 12th Avenue East fighting for room to breathe amongst a patch of tightly placed residences in the East Hillside. It is similar to the houses that surround it as they all have been a part of the neighborhood for decades, but the story of this home’s history has become muddled by tenants shuffling through it year to year.

Miscellaneous boxes stacked in the porch from the four tenants of 1025 N 12th Ave. East and a mound of shoes circling a radiator in the entrance of the house indicate that this is indeed a rental property.

“We really don’t know much about the house,? tenant and UMD student Russell Thyen said.

“I think the house was built in the early 1900s, at least that’s what our old roommate told us,? tenant and UMD student Joe Engebretson said. “He found some information on a Website, but I don’t remember where.?

According to the St. Louis County Auditor’s report, the house was built in 1915 and much has changed over the home’s near century of history.

An untarnished deck is attached to the rear of the home that the renters seldom use. Neither Engebretson nor Thyen could guess when the deck was added, but they agreed it had to be much newer than the old oil tank sitting in the backyard.

“I think it’s about a 500-gallon tank,? Engebretson said.

The oil tank, slightly deteriorated by the harsh Duluth environment, is evidence that the home was once heated with oil. “Now the house is heated with natural gas,? Engebretson said.

Also reminiscent of the past is the garage of the house, which the tenants believe is evidence that an alleyway once ran behind the house.

“They closed off the alley behind the house for some reason,? Thyen said.

However, there is no record of an alley ever existing behind the home according to Duluth’s Office of Engineering. This may be explained by another common practice for residential properties in Duluth. “Sometimes, properties facing the avenue had private driveways in private easements to access the rear of the property,? city employee Bob Forbort said.

Whatever the reason for its desuetude, the space once used as a garage is now merely a barren room leading to the heart of the home’s basement.

The bare concrete floors of the basement and awkward placement of a water heater in the center of the basement make it hard to imagine a bedroom once sat next to the half bath at the bottom of the stairs.

Thyen doesn’t know when or why the bedroom was removed from the basement, but he was told they were and the hearsay of his old roommate lingers with him.

Moving to the main level of the house, the roommates disagree on the home’s history. Three carpeted rooms off of the central kitchen appear to be family rooms.

The one to the rear of the house, they agree, is an addition. Their proof rests in the electric registers used to heat the room. “It is my bedroom, but it is clearly converted from a family room,? Thyen said.

The roommates also agree that the room at the front of the house where they have set up a large television and a small conglomeration of seating has been part of the house since the original construction.

However, they disagree on the space between these rooms as Engebretson believes it is an older addition to the home.

“It has the same trim and windows as the front room, how would it be any newer?? Thyen asked.

It is clear that the roommates know little about the house except for what they can deduce and the hearsay of their former roommate.

This home is managed as a rental by Ship Rock Management. When contacted, Blake Shippee of Ship Rock Management declined to release any information on the property.

Engebretson and Thyen have lived in the house for a little over a year, and lost a roommate along the way. “Our old roommate moved back toward the cities to go to another school,? Thyen said.

They have filled the house as a new roommate has moved in over the course of the summer, and now they all attend classes at UMD.

None of the tenants use the home as their permanent address or expect to stay in the aging bungalow longer than needed to finish school.

Engebretson and Thyen moved in, gained little credible knowledge of the house and are not likely to share their knowledge with future tenants, adding only to the ambiguous nature of the house’s history.

This story may seem of little consequence, yet students are a large part of this community.

Council member Todd Fedora proposed repealing the 300 foot rule in a city council meeting two Mondays ago. Many students are renting residential homes such as Engerbretson and Thyen, and with a repeal of the 300 foot rule many more residences could be converted to rental properties.

One could ask if it possible to have a sense of community without knowing your own home.