To be honest, when we had basement houses, they used to make me look away.
As a girl coming from a part of the country that had no basements, I thought these roof-on-a-foundation homes reminded me too much of those legless men on skateboards in Tijuana. Interesting, really interesting. But you don’t want to gawk.
So I didn’t look close. And I didn’t take pictures. And I so far haven’t found anybody else who did. And now the bad news for the curious is this: They are all now history in Fort Collins. The last 3 fulfilled their destinies and became regular houses in the past 5 years.
Here’s the only local picture I could find. I’m making it big because it’s hard to see:
Don’t let the grainy photo deceive you. This isn’t a quaint pre-70s A frame or some elaborate farm outbuilding. Rather, it’s really a regular roof capping a concrete cellar where people live. Note the steps leading to the attic door under the eaves. The full-size door appears to send you to the right, and then down.
Built in 1926, this model appraised for $1300 by 1977. And that was AFTER they added plumbing in 1960s.
That’s how it was. People built basement homes because they didn’t have money to build the whole thing at once. Called “Hope Houses,” these ultimate starter homes were meant to go full size, but only after YOU COULD AFFORD IT.
(See in the 1920s, interest-only mortgages, which worked, then as now, only so long as home values go up, were both available and popular. The resulting, and by now predictable, foreclosures then fueled the depression. But maybe the basement-house owner couldn’t get one. Maybe in the 20s banks required credit, reputation, or income. Or maybe the basement homeowner was old-fashioned and thought that kind of usury imprudent.)
A final bit of trivia about this house: When the owners built the first story in 2003, the city required them to remove the original kitchen. I suppose in order to prevent an illegal student duplex–a more enduring form of budget Fort Collins’ housing.
Update. Since I wrote this post, I feel compelled to look for basement houses in small towns when I travel. Here’s a great example of one I found ….
Basement house in Lusk, Wyoming. August 2008
Note: It took a lot of digging to find out only a little about these houses. So, I’m going to link you to what I could find on the web so far in case you want to see more:
- Photo of basement house in Kansas
- Photo of basement house with Realtor’s pitch (incredibly energy efficient and cheaper than condos!) Scroll down if you don’t see it at first.
- Photo and definition from architecture newsletter. Scroll WAY down. Looks a LOT like the basement house we used to have at 147 N. Roosevelt (on Laporte Ave).
- Photo of lost Utah basement house.
Also, big thanks to Pat and Lesley at the local archives for helping with my dig! We have an incredible resource both in materials and in staff there.
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