First-person accounts from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford
"I love the bricks and sticks—that's what I call buildings. In 1977 my father bought for $30,000 a building in the 5400 block of North Kenmore that had had a fire to cover up an ax murder. It was a 32-unit beautiful courtyard building, a lot of terra-cotta to it. I had just finished college, and I went to work for him for five dollars an hour. We rented our first 18 apartments in the fall of 1978, and we brought young professionals to that neighborhood for the first time ever.
"I took that thing and ran with it. It was my second education. I slept with my tools, and I had an intercom wired to the boiler in the back, because in those days, somebody'd break in and steal the boiler. They'd steal the radiators. You didn't have the gangbanger element that you have today, but it was plenty rough. There were a lot of vacant buildings. The girls working the street would be so bold as to knock on your window when you were driving.
"Anyhow, we sold that building in 1986. Now I own a few different buildings, including the one I live in on West Ardmore. Most landlords say, 'You live in your own building? What are you, crazy?' Yeah, but look who my tenants are. I know everybody on a first-name basis. They don't want to leave, because they know they get good service. One woman is like, 'You're taking me out feet first,' and I've got plenty of people like that. We have a lot of tenants recommend other tenants. It's like Facebook, only it's Ardmore.
"There are tenants out there who really know how to play the game and work the system, but I don't have those problems. I have been in eviction court only three times in 30-plus years. If a tenant loses his job, it's like, 'OK, what's going on, for real?' If you've got a history with me that's positive, we're going to try to make it work out. If I think you're a problem, I'm going to lose you. We don't lose people very often.
"Last summer I had a situation where I'm in the garden putting plants in, and I see some kid up and down on the street with his bicycle, and he's counting his money. He's selling drugs. How do I know? I know. I've been on the street too long.
"I said, 'Listen, you can't be doing this here. This is my corner.' The young guys have short fuses. I'm standing there with a little spade in one hand and a plant in the other, and this kid smacks the pot out of my hand so fast I never even see it happening. Fortunately, a policewoman on a bike was coming up the street. She pedals off and gets this kid, and we call his mother. She comes running over. We've never seen him since. And he put the plant back in."