An excavator punched through the walls of 12 Colombia St. yesterday. And as those walls came crashing down, the neighborhood’s years-long battle over the abandoned home came to an end.
Bill Sanborn, the city’s building inspector, condemned the house three years ago. Since then, the city slogged through the courts to find both the owner and a way to deal with the home, even as neighbors dealt with everything from pests to out-of-control parties at the residence.
Last Friday a judge issued a court order for the home’s demolition and the city hired local contractor Gary Thornton to bring the house down. Demolition, Sanborn said, is usually a last resort. But, for the neighbors, who stood in doorways and sat in lawn chairs outside watching as the walls fell, it didn’t come fast enough.
“This should have happened a long time ago,” said Louisa Scola.
Scola lives across the street from the now-demolished yellow house. She’s lived there for 10 years, and watched the home deteriorate into squalor. A little while after the owner, Anthony Barbara, died, the place started turning into a site for parties and drugs. Barbara’s son owned the house, but lives in Florida. Some of his tenants, Scola said, caused the trouble.
The house at 10 and 12 Columbia St. stood two stories tall, with two smaller additions on each side, just feet away from the neighboring houses. It was a faded yellow building, with two generations of plywood nailed on the doors and windows.
The property sits in the foreclosure process, said Sanborn, though Barbara still owns it at the moment. It took city attorneys a while to find him, he added.
Inside, an ankle thick layer of beer bottles, cans, and trash covered the floors. Who ever lived or partied in that building sprayed graffiti on almost every wall — from a mural-like spray-painting of the word Boston in green and yellow on the second floor to the words “Eric is a snitch” scrawled in bright orange on the flaking interior walls.
“It’s unbelievable what they did to this place,” said Thornton.
Thornton’s excavator tore into the old yellow house, knocking it down with the sound of countless bottlesbreaking— bottles probably collected inside over the years.
Gloucester police Officer Kevin Mackey chased kids out of the building three times in the last few years. He remembers one call there well. Before Sanborn and the city’s Health Department condemned 12 Colombia St., police broke up a Halloween party upstairs.
Mackey said the partiers were mostly high school kids, with beer bottles everywhere. The tenant bolted, he said, and left his dog. Police filed a few charges for underage drinking that day. Mackey said the party brought Sanborn and the Health Department down on the building.
“We had to condemn it ...” Sanborn said, “We threw two men out, they were squatters.”
Boarding up the house didn’t stop people from getting into it. Neighbors remember people living in there, and teenagers partying in there. When Louisa Scola’s husband went through the building with Thornton, she said he saw syringes and other crazy things all over the place.
“If you go up the back staircase, kids were sneaking in through the back windows — they pried the plywood off,” Mackey said.
He arrested three kids for doing that.
The house started falling apart after Anthony Barbara died in 2007. He left the property to his then teenage son, Anthony Jr. who wasn’t around a whole lot, said Willie “Loco” Alexander, a local musician and artist who lives on School Street. He brought a small video camera and watched the demolition. Barbara’s son left for Florida soon after inheriting the house, Sanborn said.
Alexander remembers the elder Barbara constantly working on a car parked out in front of the Columbia Street home. He said the elder Barbara wore Bob Dylan T-shirts and smoked cigars. He could smell them coming in under the windows of his School Street home.
“He was a great guy, his son’s a great guy,” Alexander said. “I could have said less about his dog.”
The dog chased mailmen and the occasional person down Columbia Street. The elder Barbara died suddenly. Alexander said he didn’t know the man had been sick until he read his obituary. He wrote a song about him after his death.
“No more Tony and his car, no more Tony and his cigar, no more Tony and his dog,” Alexander sang, “now, no more Tony and his house.”
Alexander said he didn’t like seeing the house come down like that, decimated by an excavator. But most neighbors were happy to see the building demolished.
Thornton said he would have the house down Thursday and the debris carted into Dumpsters by the end of the day. Barbara Jr., said Sanborn, still owns the lot, with a $35,000 lien on it for the demolition costs.
Ward Councilor Melissa Cox said she and the neighbors are happy the house isn’t there any more. She said she’ll talk with them about what’s going to happen with the property after the trucks leave. Even people who have recently moved there have gotten sick of mice coming out of the old house, she said.
“I think I’m going to take a bottle of champagne over to the neighborhood,” Cox said.
Steven Fletcher can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3455, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StevenGDT