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Mark Hayward's City Matters: Manchester has its share of spooky houses

By MARK HAYWARD
October 21. 2016 11:02PM
This cape-style house on Candia Road in Manchester burned in an overnight fire in June. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

THE front doors are open, as are the windows, garage doors, even the roof — allowing a breezy, unannounced entrance for just about any kind of creature.

The only sign of life is the vegetation that creeps slowly and relentlessly across land and building, like a zombie herd at sunset.

And the properties are vacant and abandoned for so long that names of owners and their fate have faded from memory, like the inscriptions on a century-old gravestone.

Yes, Manchester has its haunted houses.

They haunt their neighborhoods with unsightliness, with frustrations, and with fear that what started their demise — in two cases a fire — could return for a second go-around, like the sequel to a B-horror movie.

Yet, the city has a plan to rid three neighborhoods of abandoned, dilapidated structures. In the coming weeks, the city will spend about $70,000 to bulldoze two houses and one garage.

They could be gone before the snow falls.

That means we have one more Halloween with these eerie edifices.

178 Old Cohas Ave

This house is by far the spookiest.

Five years ago, a fire struck this rambling, 125-year-old farmhouse on Old Cohas Avenue, which is just up the road from two townhouse developments.

The owner of the house, Louise Veiga, had died a year before the fire, and firefighters at the time said the clutter inside the house made it nearly impossible to maneuver through it, according to old newspaper accounts.

The roof is gone; only charred rafters hang over the main house. A tree grows through the front of the house. The porch sags outward and down, like a middle-aged belly. Clutter is ubiquitous.

“You don’t find one of something, you find a half dozen,” said a man who wouldn’t give his name, but said he works for Allways Wrecking, which the city hired to tear down the house.

The owner had an affinity for cookbooks and glass bottles, said the man, whose job was to salvage any metal from the home. He showed off an antique glass bottle with the impression of an old-fashioned, coil-top refrigerator.

Walk into the little-damaged barn, and stuff is everywhere: file cabinets with financial statements and newspaper clippings. Halloween decorations. Folded up cardboard boxes. A pair of figure skates hang from a nail. A meat cleaver.

“I didn’t know it was haunted,” said Joseph Michelin, who recently moved into one of the townhouse units. “It’s amazing to see every time you drive by. What happened? Whose stuff is it?” he asked.

City officials say Veiga’s estate is the owner of record. A mortgage exists on the property, and taxes are up to date, paid recently by a California mortgage-servicing company. But repeated attempts to have the mortgage company tear it down — even board it up — have been unsuccessful.

As with the other properties, the city has pursued a lengthy legal process to tear down the house.

504 Candia Road

Fire struck this house back in the middle of June. That alone would hardly give it haunted status. But the next door neighbor said it had been unoccupied for three or four years. More likely five years. That’s when Evelyn Bernier, the longtime owner, died. Her obituary said she had a son and daughter. And she loved ballet. She was the owner of the Evelyn Howard Dance Studio and a member of the Boston Ballet. She performed for the New York City USO.

This is not some eyesore on an out-of-the way street. Its intact shell and burned interior are for all to see on Candia Road. For months, neighbors have complained about it. It’s not even boarded up.

City Housing Code Officer David Albin said he can’t just walk up to a property and board up an abandoned house.

“It’s private property. There are rules about trespassing in private property,” Albin said.

Unpaid tax bills go back to 2009. So once the house is demolished, anyone who buys the lot will have to pay the back taxes of more than $68,000, as well as the bill for the demolition.

Jeffry South has lived next door to the house since 1998. “It was immaculate. I was proud to live next door to it,” he said. But once Bernier moved away, people started breaking into the house, he said.

Then there was the fire.

“I was going to buy it. It just sits there,” South said.

250 Dunbar Street

A tiny house and a storage shed are also on this lot, but the garage, which tips at a 45-degree angle, is the only structure slated for demolition.

City officials say it partially collapsed after a driver lost control of his car and drove into the structure. The garage is found beside a narrow road that runs along the Merrimack River south of Velcro headquarters.

Neighbors say the accident is not the only odd thing to happen at the property, where a tiny house draws a lot of come and go traffic and at least weekly visits from the police, even SWAT teams.

They take out residents, but they eventually move back in, said Bill Ficek, who lives across the street.

A message written in magic marker on the front door reads “Keep Out! Please.”

“It’s not far from being haunted,” Ficek said.

Ficek said a man had been living in the garage but was not home at the time of the accident.

The last tax payment the city saw was about a year ago, and the outstanding tax bill is about $3,200, and there’s a tax deed on the property.

The owner is listed as Normand Savoie, and city officials tracked him down to a home in Center Harbor to give him proper notice that the garage was going to be torn down. He never hired a lawyer or appeared in court.

Mark Hayward’s City Matters appears Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at mhayward@unionleader.com.


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