By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
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By Craig Malisow
Contractors wouldn't touch the project, says Charlie, because "they could never give it an estimate." So he hired two independent carpenters to help put together his dream. The city required Charlie to have the project monitored by a structural engineer, who checks up on the work every six months.
But the work is slow going. Much of the major construction began around 1995, and Charlie's vision is still made up mostly of wooden beams that loom so high they are visible from across nearby Highway 288. The house's outline is so unusual, says Charlie, that he has witnessed passing motorists drive into curbs while craning their necks to get a better view. Even though only the frame exists, Charlie says he will keep at it one day at a time.
"I would really love to get it finished before I die," he says, only half joking.
Charlie figures he has already spent about $300,000 on the house, which is valued at little more than $100,000 on the tax rolls. Most of his funding has come from loans, some inherited money and good luck in the stock market. Despite the elaborate job, Charlie hasn't stopped visualizing further into the future.
"Right now I'm standing here thinking about what I could add on over there," he says, motioning to the edge of the deck.
Despite his perseverance, Charlie is modest about the large amounts of time and money he has put into the home. When a photographer comes to take a picture of him for this story, he initially shies away and wants only the house to be photographed, as if he considers himself only a minor player in this building adventure.
The adventure has not been without sacrifice -- and not just the financial kind. Charlie estimates he has fallen off the house five times, breaking eight ribs, cracking his pelvis and tearing a rotator cuff.
"I was on the roof and it had started to drizzle and it was just slick, and I went off it like a slide and landed on a sawhorse," Charlie says of a fall that ended in five cracked ribs. He credits the sawhorse with saving his life.
"It protected my head from hitting the concrete," he says calmly and with a smile.
He says he just wasn't paying attention once when he stepped off the roof into mid-air, cracking two ribs when he hit the ground. Doctors who don't know his history see his X-rays and "go ballistic."
John Miller, a carpenter who works for Charlie, confirms that Charlie has a bad habit of injuring himself. But at the same time, he also thinks his boss has quite a creative brain to make up for those broken bones. And the work John gets to do at Charlie's house is different from anything he has ever done before.
"It's a constant learning experience," he says. "It's a constant experience in problem solving."
When asked if he thinks the project will ever be finished, John just laughs and says, "God, I hope so."
Charlie's neighbor Earl Nash wonders the same thing. Earl lives next door to Charlie and owns the shoe repair and shine shop across the street. Even though Earl politely describes Charlie's house as "different," he says Charlie is a "good neighbor."
"Would you rather he do something or nothing?" reasons Earl. "There are some houses in this area and they don't do anything but live in it. At least he has a vision."