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Ryan Johnson, Published February 22 2014

New chapter for 1930 home

FARGO - There’s a lot of history in the big white house with green shutters at 1530 Ninth St. S.

Audra Mehl wrote the latest chapter in its history when she bought it with her first husband in 2004.

After they divorced three years later, Mehl said she assumed she would stay here forever.

“I have cried in this house, I have laughed in this house, I have raised my children in this house, and I really never wanted to leave this house,” she said. “But the unspeakable happened, and I fell in love. When you fall in love, you’re open to lots of different possibilities.”

She met Matthew Mehl in 2012 when he dropped off his daughter for a play date with her daughter. After dating for a year, they married last July, and while they’ve since lived in the house, she said it doesn’t accommodate Matthew’s outdoors lifestyle, complete with a boat and two hunting dogs.

“It’s time to move on in life,” she said. “Life is a story, and this was a chapter, and now there’s a new chapter beginning.”

A history of changes

The family that built the house in 1930 lived there for 20 years, selling it to John and Sarah Dixon, who stayed there into the 1990s and raised three kids, according to Mehl. The Dixons added to the house in the 1970s, converting the former back entryway into a bathroom and adding several rooms.

After changing hands a couple of times, Stan and Claudia McGrath bought it and stayed for six years, giving the house many of the updates that made Mehl fall in love with the property.

Stan McGrath was a financial planner, but also a handy guy, she said – and his work is everywhere in the house.

He added recessed lighting and judge’s paneling to a sitting room on the main floor, installing a new façade and marble accent to the room’s wood-burning fireplace and converting a small cutout where the Dixons had kept a couch into an alcove with permanent seating to enjoy the warmth of the fire.

“This was a house built in the ’30s, so it didn’t have the character of the 1900s,” Mehl said.

McGrath also removed a door that separated the small front entrance, replacing it with an arch that opens the space up, and refinished the hardwood floor on the main level to bring out some original character. The addition of central air conditioning throughout the house helped modernize the building, as did a new garage, fence and fully landscaped backyard and a new finish on the kitchen cabinets.

“He just did a lovely job,” she said.

Stan McGrath’s updates helped Mehl decide this house was the right fit, though she had fallen in love with the neighborhood years before, saying she had often thought of the large, distinct homes as picture-perfect “dollhouses” when she’d drive down Ninth Street.

Mehl put her own stamp on the house after buying it in 2004, updating the main floor bathroom and adding new kitchen countertops and appliances. The kitchen and family room got new hardwood floors in 2004, and Mehl’s husband replaced a sliding glass door with French doors to make a former three-season porch into a welcoming home office that faces the backyard.

It was a priority to bring out even more character in the house, which is why Mehl had the old shag carpeting removed from the stairs and redid the hardwood on the stairway and upstairs.

A full bathroom is upstairs, and one of the bedrooms leads to a large finished attic that now is a bedroom for the Mehls’ two 12-year-old daughters and used to be the stomping grounds of her 19-year-old daughter who has since moved out to study at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

The next chapter

The house was put on the market Jan. 31 for $289,900. Realtor Laurel Mahan with RE/MAX Legacy Realty said she hoped to quickly sell the four-bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom home that adds up to just under 2,000 square feet, not including the attic.

While much of the new residential development is happening further south in Fargo and in West Fargo, Mahan said there’s plenty of demand to live in more established neighborhoods like this area of Ninth Street.

Older homes with character are certainly a draw, she said, as are the large, established trees – and a relative lack of special assessments that can add up to $40,000 or more in new neighborhoods.

“You’ve got the character here,” Mahan said. “It’s warm, it’s homey and it’s real.”

Mehl appreciates that each house in the neighborhood “has a story,” and over the years, each property has taken on its own identity.

“This isn’t like any other house in Fargo,” she said. “Every house is unique, and every house has a story. With new construction, it’s just starting a story.”

After a relatively brief stint on the market, Dane and Gwen McCartney found the house and made an offer that was accepted. They’re tentatively set to close on the property in early April, and Gwen McCartney said it was the character that drew them in.

“There’s the arches right when you walk in on each side, and then the wood-burning fireplace,” she said. “We’ve always wanted a wood-burning fireplace.”

She also liked the paneling throughout the main floor and the main floor layout that opens up to a large family room and leads to a backyard that will be perfect for their 2-year-old son, Lawrence.

The neighborhood also helped make it a good fit, McCartney said, and she’s kept an eye on this area of town most of her life while growing up in Fargo.

“It’s not cookie cutter,” she said. “Everything is unique and original.”

The McCartneys don’t plan to make major changes to the house, other than adding a carpet runner down the front stairs and beefing up the banister on the attic stairway to make it safer for Lawrence.

If they have more children, she said they might remodel the upstairs to add a proper master suite with another bathroom. But she said the unfished basement will give them space for an exercise room, something they had to give up when they sold their former house in West Fargo and moved into a two-bedroom condo near downtown Fargo.

The house also is within walking distance of an elementary school and two parks, providing an added bonus for this property, she said.

Mehl said it would be hard to top the Ninth Street house. But just one day after accepting the McCartneys’ offer, she found the perfect custom-built home from 1997 located 4 miles south of Fargo on the Wild Rice River.

“We found our rural dream house, and we’re really looking forward to the next chapter in our lives,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587