LAWRENCE — As a child growing up in the Merrimack Valley, Rebecca Camargo often drove by 314 East Haverhill St. on the way to her family home.
She never knew the man who owned the home there, Louis Ferraro, but she always took note of the wooden figurines of cartoon characters displayed in his yard.
“It was really a sight to see,” Camargo said. “You couldn't not be drawn to it, it wasn't like he had a few little figures in the lawn.”
Over the years, as Ferraro grew older, the property fell into disrepair, becoming what city officials called an eyesore. Now, however, Ferraro's home and his figurines have disappeared, the house sold to Bread & Roses Housing in Lawrence after his death last year and recently demolished to make way for four units of affordable home-ownership housing.
Yesenia Gil, executive director of Bread & Roses Housing, said the project's benefits were twofold – tearing down a dilapidated property and creating more affordable housing opportunities in the city.
“This property has been on the city's radar for some time, it's been a nuisance, it's been a blight,” she said, adding, “Hopefully this section of the neighborhood will be completely transformed.”
Bread & Roses Housing is a community land trust that works to create and preserve affordable housing opportunities for low-income families. The organization acquired Ferraro's property on June 3 from a trust that Andover attorney Howard Berger had helped the family set up as Ferraro grew sick and ultimately died in July 2014.
Ferraro was born in Tewksbury and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was honorably discharged after a little more than a year of service after being injured, receiving a purple heart with oak leaf cluster and eventually settling in Lawrence, Berger said.
The attorney remembered Ferraro as a pleasant man with a great sense of humor, “a real Lawrence guy all his life.”
“He did the little figurines and was well-known for that, but I think what he was less well known for was how kind hew as and how helpful he was to people all around,” Berger said.
Berger said that Ferraro had been crafting figurines for a long time, noting that it was “really kind of something he liked.” Ferraro created figurines from dwarfs and elves to characters like Mickey Mouse, he said.
“He was artistically talented in the woodworking, there's no question about it,” Berger said.
Camargo fondly remembered the Looney Tunes characters, including Elmer J. Fudd, archenemy of Bugs Bunny, as well as characters that changed with the season. As the house was set to be demolished, Camargo said she took a Snoopy figurine to help preserve her childhood memory.
“He made those pieces of art, maybe just for himself, but something that was certainly a marker in the community and I think was a value add to the community because it was something beautiful and something that we could all enjoy,” Camargo said.
Building the duplexes
The Ferraro family was “very much in favor” of selling the house to Bread & Roses Housing, Berger said, adding, “they thought it was just a great idea.”
The project will develop two duplex-style properties on the 11,761 square foot lot, creating four total units of affordable housing that will be sold to Lawrence families, Gil said. In Bread & Roses' community land trust model, the organization retains ownership of the land in perpetuity to ensure its continued affordability, she said.
One building will face East Haverhill Street and the other will face Josephine Street. Each unit will feature two-and-a-half levels, three bedrooms, one-and-a-half bathrooms, energy efficient appliances and windows, and parking.
Now that the house has been demolished, Bread & Roses is working on building the capital needed for the project, which will cost around $800,000. The city is contributing $194,444 to the project as part of its efforts to improve Lawrence, Mayor Daniel Rivera said.
The property, highly visible from its location at an intersection, is also down the street from Parthum Elementary and Middle Schools, making it a “crucial property,” Rivera said.
“We're trying to make the city better and at the end of the day, what we're going to have instead of a blighted property is new duplexes of owner-occupied housing that will help make that whole neighborhood better,” he said.
Gil said she expects construction to begin next March and to have the duplexes completed and sold to approved applicants in September and October of next year.
“I think this project will fight right into the fabric of this neighborhood,” she said.
Follow reporter Lisa Kashinsky on Twitter @lisakash23