Although he never invites them inside, Baki Dazdarevic enjoys the steady stream of visitors who come to get a look at his front yard. They come day and night, he says, "sometimes 10, 11 o'clock in the evening. Two ladies, they visited from Arizona and wrote to ask me for pictures of the house. Another lady, she brought two vans of her friends. They want to see the house. They ring the bell to say hello. They tell me they like it."
There's a lot to see. The lawn is gone, the grass replaced by dozens of inlaid marble rectangles. Several round pits have been left open for spring planting. In the center stands Dazdarevic's large sheet-metal sculpture: a childlike trumpeter, all big head and short legs, her face defined by oversize glasses. A small U.S. flag dangles from the trumpet's bell. She's marching atop a pedestal tiled with tiny ceramic circles in a bright, seafaring blue, which is echoed in the three tile-covered pillars that support the house's second-floor balcony.
People who don't live near the place--it's on the east side of Central Park just south of Peterson, right across from the northeast tip of Peterson Park--often catch their first glimpse of it when they notice the chairs on the balcony. Shaped like giant hands--one green, one orange--the chairs echo the vibrant hues of the main attraction: a woman's head splashed across the facade at the level of the second floor. What stops traffic is the lady's hair: painted in flaming orange and yellow, accented with acid green, it flows across the building like lava.
Dazdarevic, who owns the Aloha Cafe on Montrose, designed the portrait, and though he had no specific model in mind, he acknowledges some influence from a Hawaiian goddess. The square, whitewashed stucco house itself evokes warm places--perhaps a sunny Mediterranean island where the sea would sparkle like those blue tiles and the wrought-iron fence surrounding the balcony would hint at the influence of long-gone Moors.
"I was a metalworker, like my father, back in my country," Dazdarevic says. His country is Bosnia, but he's been gone so long he still calls it Yugoslavia. He left young, lived in the Middle East and in Hawaii, and finally decided to come to a big city in America. Here he met and married Janna, who is Bulgarian and a registered nurse; they have a construction business, the restaurant, five daughters, and a new puppy.
Behind another wrought-iron fence, the backyard is as homey as the front is dramatic. Paved with bricks, it features a swing and the usual piles of bikes and toys. A wood-burning stove is up but not running; Dazdarevic hopes to have it ready for bread baking by next summer. A little bridge spans part of the yard, and overhead a catwalk connects a balcony to the roof deck atop the garage. Inside the garage is Dazdarevic's metal shop.
"I know, it's totally different from American style," Dazdarevic says cheerfully. "I do what I like. Some neighbors maybe think it's strange, but most people like it. My daughters sometimes bring home kids from school who can't believe they live in that house. They were always wanting to see inside it, and now they can."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Robert Murphy.