Gone Sweet Home
Tradition and memory are handy tools for giving life context and, by extension, meaning. Each generation carries its particular set of memories, built on the foundations provided by previous generations. For some Xavier graduates, it may be the old Red Building; for others the post-World War II military–style housing. Still others may recall the houses on Herald Avenue or the old student center.
For the generation of recent graduates, the houses and trees along Ledgewood and Dana avenues may well become part of “the good old days.”
Maybe that’s why the notes, scrawled in black marker on the walls of the houses on Ledgewood Avenue, seemed particularly poignant and, perhaps, ironic.
“Dear physical plant, thanks for always taking care of us. We love you.”—The Ladies of RAK Shak
“Best house ever”
“Bye beautiful house, 2008”
The notes were scribbled by the last students to live in the homes, which were torn down in late summer to prepare the way for the James E. Hoff, S.J., Academic Quad. With Brad Miner of physical plant unlocking doors and several other University personnel in tow, Mike Williams of the Cincinnati-based Wooden Nickel Antiques, systematically worked his way through the 19 University-owned houses in search of anything salvageable that might appeal to his customers.
Some houses had been housing. Some offices. Some private residences. All were easy to pick out: Each had a bright blast of orange spray paint across the front door. Once carefully tended ground cover ran amok in several yards. In some, the remains of spring flowers withered. Large shade trees standing guard in front yards sported pink ribbons that marked them for removal.
By agreement, the University allowed some homeowners to salvage items from the houses, and Xavier donated many of the remaining furnishings to the MAP Furniture Bank of Columbus, Ohio, which provides free furniture to those in need. But in some cases, it was difficult to tell exactly who had been in the houses—and for what purposes—since the last of the students moved out June 1. Holes pocked the walls, the first stage of potential asbestos abatement. At 3724 Ledgewood Ave., some off the second-floor windows were missing. Most of the houses were dusty. Some retained the last vestiges of student furniture, which, curiously, never seems to change in style or eclecticism from generation to generation. One house was particularly trashed, showing evidence of a farewell bash to end all bashes and the lines “Free at last, free at last,” scrawled among many others covering walls throughout the house. In a first-floor bedroom, a freestanding 1970s, leopard-skin bar stood out amongst the riot of junk.
Only the former Women for Women house showed real signs of student care, and it displayed its own set of peculiarities, including a giant, rear-projector TV and a collection of concrete blocks piled almost to the ceiling of the living room closet.
After several hours worth of tramping up and down stuffy staircases, Williams hadn’t found much—just a few Rookwood tiles, some windows, French doors, a pedestal sink and assorted odds and ends. Apparently, most of what was good in these houses was already gone. Except the memories.
Of course, it’s easy to romanticize the past. And while it was hard to escape the idea that the students who wrote the notes were fully aware that they would be the last inhabitants of these houses, it was also clear they had taken their leave, closed this section of their lives and moved on to whatever exciting futures they envisioned for themselves. Within weeks, the University would do the same, surrounding the 19 houses with portable chain-link fences, bringing in backhoes and other earth-leveling equipment, and setting about the serious work of building an exciting future on the foundations of the past.