• Was Seattle's Edith Macefield the motivation for Disney's 'Up?' Here's the backstory

    By: Casey McNerthney

    Updated:

    Edith Macefield was a woman who lived in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood for decades, and when developers offered her $1 million to sell her two-bedroom house she declined. 

    A commercial building was constructed around her home, and many people think she was the motivation for Disney's movie 'Up," which was released in 2009, the year after Macefield died.

    She wasn't the motivation for the movie, but promotion for the film was tied to the house -- literally -- when the Pixar animated film was released. 

    Here's a Q-and-A about Macefield and the home Seattleites now affectionately call the "Up' house. 

    What is the Edith Macefield House?
    Edith Macefield lived in the two-bedroom, 1,050-square-foot home and rejected a $1 million offer to sell to developers. When she didn’t, people perceived it as Macefield standing up to Seattle’s rapid, increasing development. The Ballard Blocks commercial building -- which includes a Trader Joe’s and an LA Fitness -- built around her home, with concrete walls a few feet from the kitchen Macefield used.
     
    Where is it located?
    1438 N.W. 46th St. in Seattle. Macefield’s home can be seen from the northbound lanes of the Ballard Bridge.
     
    When did Edith Macefield live in the house?
    Macefield bought the home for her mother in 1952, though in one interview she said it was 1955. She told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that she moved into the home in 1966. Macefield lived in the home until her death there on June 15, 2008, from pancreatic cancer. She was 86.
     
    Will the house be demolished?
    As of April 18, 2018, no demolition permit was issued despite reports, according to Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development. Craig Ramey, the managing director of Regency Centers which developed the Ballard Blocks, said the company has no intention to demolish the house. Ramey told MyBallard.com that the company is exploring ideas to update the house and tie it into Ballard Blocks II, which is under construction. Some of the ideas include turning it into a community and event space, a pop-up space for local eateries and a flower shop, MyBallard reported. When contacted by KIRO 7, the company confirmed the report and said they’ll reach out to the community in the coming months for ideas. 
     
    When was the house built?
    According to county property records, Macefield’s home was built in 1900. That was seven years before Ballard, then a separate city, became part of Seattle.
     
    What does the inside of the house look like?
    Follow this link to see photo of the inside of Edith Macefield’s former home. You also can see a floor diagram here.

    Was the house the reason the Pixar movie “Up” was created?
    No. The "Up" story was developed before the Ballard Blocks building started construction, and at least two years before Macefield received the $750,000 buyout offer.
     
    When did people start associating the house with “Up?”
    As part of a May 2009 marketing event to promote the movie, Disney paid to have dozens of balloons tied to the top of Macefield’s house, and that made headlines across the country. In the movie, the curmudgeonly main character Carl Fredricksen refused to sell his home to developers. He and a boy took a ride to South America after tying hundreds of balloons to his house. Macefield's story paired well for marketing efforts. The movie was a box office hit, making more than $735 million, and urban legend made Macefield the film's perceived main inspiration from day one. Supporters of Macefield’s story have often put balloons along the fence since the 2009 release of “Up.”
     
    Did Macefield call it the "Up" house?
    No. She called the home Whitewood Cottage, according to a story about her life by Seattle Times reporter Jayson Jenks. 

    Is there a Disney ride about Macefield's house or the movie 'Up?'
    There isn't a display about Macefield's house. In April 2018, Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort debuted UP! A Great Bird Adventure. Follow this link for details about that exhibit
     
    Was Macefield taking a stand against developers or changing Seattle?
    That was more of what people assigned to her instead of something Macefield spoke against. But she did like old-school Ballard over new-age Ballard. More than anything, Macefield just wanted to stay in her home. “I don't want to move,” she told Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Kathy Mulady in October 2007. “I don't need the money. Money doesn't mean anything," She also told The Seattle Times she didn’t care about the money and she was “perfectly happy here.” 

    What did she say about the changes in Ballard?
    “I liked the old Ballard,” she told Mulady in 2007. “The new one – you can have it.” 

    Who did Macefield leave the house to?
    Barry Martin, the construction superintendent with whom she became friends. He took her to the doctor, picked up her prescriptions and helped her with meals, among other tasks.
     
    Why is the exterior plywood now?
    Martin sold it for $310,000 in June 2009 and used the money to pay for his children’s college educations, according to property records and a Seattle Times story. In March 2015, the house went up for auction but no buyer would assume the $300,000 in liens. Those liens were dropped from a new listing, and a broker for the anonymous seller said the home would go to the person who made the best offer. But the seller also required a buyer to find a way to honor Macefield at the site. The house was sold again in 2015, and the woman who bought it hoped to open a coffee and pie shop to be named Edith Pie, according to seattlepi.com. But city rules require that the home comply with the current city of Seattle building codes, a task that Paul Thomas, the broker behind the home sale, said was “virtually impossible.” The house went into foreclosure.
     
    Wasn’t there an effort to preserve it and move the house?
    Yes. In 2015, OPAL Community Land Trust, an affordable-housing nonprofit, tried to raise $205,000 to move and renovate Macefield’s former home to avoid demolition. But only $18,649 was raised in an online pledge drive and OPAL dropped the project. “We gave it our best shot,” Lisa Byers, OPAL’S executive director, told The Seattle Times. “We’re sorry that it can’t be” possible. 

    Why do Seattleites care about it so much?
    Longtime Seattleites loved Macefield’s stubbornness that was especially seen as Ballard’s blue-collar vibe rapidly changed in the years around the development around Macefield’s house. As the Ballard Blocks building was being constructed in April 2008, the neighborhood’s beloved bowling alley, Sunset Bowl, closed after 51 years to make way for a six-story apartment building. Nine days after Macefield died in her home, the beloved Denny’s building nearby was demolished after a yearslong fight -- one that that included a designation from the Landmarks Preservation Board -- to keep the space from becoming high-rent apartments and retail. Around that time there also was a revitalization of Ballard Avenue Northwest, which changed from a sleepy street in the late 90s to a nightlife hot spot. So at a time when Ballard’s staples were disappearing and the feel of the neighborhood was shifting -- and when all signs pointed to increased development ahead -- Macefield’s house and her perceived stand against development was a rallying point. 
     
    Was Macefield friends with the developers?
    Yes. In the last year of Macefield’s life, she forged an unlikely friendship with a kindred soul, Barry Martin, the senior superintendent on the construction project engulfing her home, Mulady reported. He drove her to the doctor, to the hairdresser, and picked up her prescription and groceries and even cooked dinner, according to the P-I.
     
    Who was Edith Macefield?
    Macefield was born Doris Edith Wilson on Aug. 21, 1921, to Chester and Alice Wilson in Oregon, according to HistoryLink.org. She grew up in Seattle and New Orleans and lived for a time in England in the 1930s. Macefield told one reporter she learned French before she learned English, and spoke seven languages by her 80s. Macefield also loved opera and music and national politics, and she was a story writer under the pen name Domilini. Macefield claimed clarinet player Benny Goodman was her cousin and gave her a clarinet, which she played. She also told friends she was a British spy in Nazi Germany and met Adolf Hitler. According to HistoryLink.org, Macefield married Leonardo Simon Genn on June 29, 1958, in Cardiff, Wales. When her husband died, she returned to the Ballard to care for her mother, who also died in the same Ballard home where Macefield died. Macefield was married multiple times and told friends she raised 27 war orphans. But she didn't discuss her marriages. To read in-depth stories about her life, check out this story by Jenks and this profile from HistoryLink.org, which provided many of the details in this paragraph. You also can read Macefield’s obituary here.
     
    What did Macefield say about the construction noise?
    "I went through World War II, the noise doesn't bother me," Macefield told the P-I in 2007. "They'll get it done someday."
     
    How do we know Macefield was offered $1 million?
    That was the figure told to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper staff in 2007, and the figure was also included in Macefield’s P-I obituary in 2008. Two years earlier, Seattle Times colunist Danny Westneat reported that Macefield was offered a buyout package worth an estimated $750,000 for the home and property that was assessed at $101,000. “They said they would buy her house, then build her a brand-new bigger house with a wheelchair ramp and pay for her health care for the rest of her life," Macefield’s friend, Charles Peck, told Westneat in 2006.  
     
    Did Macefield give interviews?
    Rarely. She talked to Westneat for a column about Ballard car-camping in 2005, and again for a column about her home offers in 2006. That led to requests from around the world, which she rejected. She even kept CBS News waiting outside an rejected flowers sent to coax her into talking. After multiple attempts for an interview, Macefield finally agreed to answer questions for the Post-Intelligencer's Mulady, who wrote a front page story about Macefield and her home in October 2007. Macefield was close with her friends, including nearby construction workers and staff at neighboring Mike’s Chili Parlor, and shared her stories with people she trusted. But she didn’t ask for the spotlight.
     
    Did Macefield have family?
    Months before she died, Macefield told reporters most of her friends and family were gone. She didn’t talk to reporters about her husbands. Macefield's only child, a son, died of meningitis at age 13, the P-I reported. In spring 2007, her dog of 17 years, Mimi, died. “She wasn’t a personable dog,” Macefield told the P-I that year. “When my dog died, I bawled my eyes out.” That is part of why she asked that instead of a funeral or flowers that people remembering her donate to the Humane Society.
     
    Where is Macefield buried?
    Macefield is buried above her mother in the same plot at Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park. At the time of her death, the P-I reported that she picked out a casket but didn’t want a funeral or fuss or flowers. Instead, she asked that people donate to the Humane Society.

    What is the Macefield Music Festival?
    The Macefield Music Festival is a Ballard event that started in 2013 using the symbol of Macefield’s two-bedroom home.


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