(Note that the Photoessay (Select Old Bisbee Properties) was developed specifically to accompany this essay. Many more original photos are shown.)
After getting settled into a routine, including Martha’s healed knee, the summer continued apace. Sometime in late July, I believe it was, Martha began to look at properties that were for sale in Old Bisbee. For some reason she was enamored with vacant lots. There was one on lower Opera Dr. just above Brewery Gulch that she thought an excellent location. There was another on the other side of Brewery right at the top of the commercial district that came complete with it’s own cave, according to Zillow. The address given was 103 Brewery but we could never determine exactly where it was on our own.
After walking around these lots several times and listening to Martha go on about other properties, lots and houses as well, that were for sale in Old Bisbee I began to say to her that if we wanted to get serious about property here we had to contact a realtor. We had met a very nice woman, Eliza Adams, who was the rental agent for the 101 Main apartment so we called her. We arranged for her to take us to see the two lots.
By the time we went out with her the lot on Opera Dr. (shown here) had been placed under contract so we went on to the lot on Brewery. It turned out to be tucked above and partially behind the two story building at 103 Brewery. It is actually closer to OK Street but about twelve to fourteen feet below OK. A set of about thirty steps begin at the corner of 103 Brewery and lead up to two gates. One is directly at the top of the steps and has a sign that says ‘Private Property’. This is the only one visible from the street. When Martha and I were looking on our own, the description of the lot placed it where it actually is but, because we could not see a gate or walkway at the top of the steps we were confused. We never found a way to access it. It turns out that at the top of the steps, at a right angle to the locked ‘Private Property’ gate there is another gate on the left side that opens into the lot. This gate has a realtor’s lockbox on it so even if we had found it we couldn’t have seen much of the lot.
The lot was overgrown and seemingly neglected. A large, unruly pomegranate tree is just to the right of the gate. A sidewalk runs along the front of the lot. Along the front edge of the lot there is a line of trash trees, saplings, that almost completely block the view from the front. It would be a nice view across Brewery Ave. looking west if one could see it. If the trees were cut it would be possible to look right into the bandshell in City Park.
There is a concrete slab where an old structure had been. The back of the lot is a rock wall some fifteen to twenty feet high. A cave as large as a good sized room is in the center of this wall. OK street runs along the top of wall. We fantasized about building a house attached to the rock wall so that the cave became a room in the house.
At the time we considered the lack of any dedicated parking to be the major drawback.
One of my first questions to Eliza was whether there would be a problem if the trees along the front of the property were removed. I think that was when we became aware of the Design Review Board or DRB. Because Old Bisbee has been declared a Historical District, all exterior changes to a property must be approved by the DRB. Eliza couldn’t see why they would not approve cutting of the small saplings that were there but now that we knew about the DRB we became aware of an even greater problem with buying a lot instead of an existing structure.
We had begun discussing what kind of structure we would want to build on a lot should we buy one. The closest we came to agreement was on something like a ‘tiny house’ but a little larger and perhaps with at least a partial second story. We knew we would have enough trouble agreeing between ourselves on the design of a structure. Now we knew that it would also have to go through a review and approval process by the DRB! How detailed would the plans have to be to take it before the DRB. Would we have to have architectural drawings done? Engineering drawings? What if we went to the expense to have even conceptual drawings done and then the DRB said, “Nope. Can’t build that.”
Hence we scrapped the idea of buying a lot and building on it and decided to purchase an existing house. Unbeknownst to us, we were still going to have a run-in with the DRB but that story is for a future installment in this odyssey!
From the beginning of this process, Martha had been looking at a house that sat on upper Opera Drive high above Brewery that had a large sign posted on the front balcony railing that said ‘For Sale by Owner’. This sign and the house were clearly visible from down in Brewery Gulch. (Actually Martha reminded me that she first pointed out the Opera Drive house to me while we sat waiting for the 4th of July ‘mucking’ contest to begin.) Shortly after that she talked me into driving up there one day. We discovered that 226 was three houses from the end of the street. And I mean ‘the end of the street’, not a ‘cul-de-sac’ with a nice big round area to turn around in! It was near impossible to turn around. The street in front of the house has a retaining wall on the upper side, the side where the house is, and a guard rail on the lower side so that one doesn’t drive off onto the roof of the house below. My response was, “Look’s charming. I’ll never agree to buy it.” (Those words tasted horrible when I had to eat them later!
The Opera House being out of consideration for the time being Eliza took us to see a house about halfway up OK Street. It was okay (pun intended!) but not what we were looking for although it did have a garage.
Next she took us to see one at 130 Brewery Avenue. This is a fairly new house, having been built in 2014, with a large, private parking pad right next to it. We thought it was what we were looking for so decided to make an offer, albeit a somewhat lowball one. We weren’t surprised that it was rejected and there was no serious counteroffer. Although it was very conveniently located and that parking pad was nice, we knew all along that it really didn’t have ‘Bisbee character’. (I was surprised only a couple of months later to find that someone actually offered the asking price for it.)
During this process that lasted a couple of weeks, Martha had been working on me to look at the Opera House if Eliza could show it to us. As it was ‘For Sale by Owner’ she had to get their permission and permission was granted. Thus, on a rainy Sunday in mid August we came up to get our first look at what would become our ‘new’ hundred-ten year old house!
The closest place one can park – remember description of this part of Opera Drive from above– was about two hundred feet down the street.
We were enamored with the house as soon as we walked in.
It was small, less than a thousand square feet. This includes the bedroom and spacious bath that were added to the original two rooms around 2005. The original two rooms sit atop a partially finished basement – The basement was original although about all that is actually original today is the back wall (bedrock) and the original door (no longer functional). It was built in 1907. The modernized kitchen is large and well appointed. It was advertised that the furniture would stay. But we weren’t sure about the linens, dishes, cookware, etc. Eliza said she would check.
When we left I think Martha was ready to make an offer. I still couldn’t bring myself to begin eating those words “No. I’m not going to agree to buying this house.” Not yet.
We talked. We argued. We stopped talking. We talked some more. We went back to see it a second time, looking more closely at various features and I was talked into making an offer, although one that was somewhat below the asking price.
Miracle of miracles, it was accepted. The owners didn’t even make a counter. And they agreed to leave all the furniture and everything in place, not only linens, towels, dishes, cookware but also some nice bathroom scales and a pair of binoculars and etc. All we would need to move in were clothes and food!
But first we had to go through the inspection process, and that will be the next installment in this series.
(The photoessay “Select Old Bisbee Properties” has the above photos as well as additional ones that are larger than those above, if you are interested.)