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Originally published Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Hemmed-in Ballard house to rise above

The cottage once owned by Edith Macefield, an elderly woman who turned down an offer of $1 million to sell her home to developers, has been sold to a company run by a motivational speaker who says he intends to raise the home into the air — both literally and philosophically.

Seattle Times staff reporters

The strange and inspiring tale of the Little Ballard House That Could took another bizarre twist Tuesday.

The cottage once owned by Edith Macefield, an elderly woman who turned down an offer of $1 million to sell her home to developers, has been sold to a company run by a motivational speaker who says he intends to raise the home into the air — both literally and philosophically.

King County property records show the home — now hemmed in on three sides by the five-story Ballard Blocks retail and office complex — was sold Tuesday to Reach Returns for $310,000. The seller was Barry Martin, the construction supervisor who became Macefield's friend and caregiver before her death last June at age 86. Macefield left Martin the home in her will.

Greg Pinneo, the co-founder of Reach Returns, said he intends to remodel the interior of the home and then raise it to the height of the surrounding building, using a steel supporting structure. Underneath the home would be a two-level open space accessible to the public called "Credo Square," Pinneo said, where for $250 to $5,000, people could etch their credo into tiles to be installed at the site. The home, meanwhile, would become the offices for Reach Returns.

"This endeavor is much more philosophical in nature than it is about real estate or construction," Pinneo said. "It's continuing to think deeply about what's important. That's what Edith put out there ... to consider the great questions in life."

Back in 1997, Pinneo was sentenced by the U.S. District Court to 13 months in prison and a $20,000 fine for running a real-estate-loan scam. He was one of four people sentenced in a so-called "no-money-down" real-estate-financing scheme.

Pinneo said Tuesday that his past has "nothing to do with this particular endeavor in any way."

He said it may cost about a million dollars to complete the project. The first step is to put the cottage up on blocks and weigh it, so engineers can figure out the structure's specifications. He said he doesn't believe he needs any special permits beyond routine construction permits for raising the home 30 feet off the ground.

"I recognize that in the city of Seattle, this has never been done before," he said. "We are walking into a challenge, but it's just construction and engineering."

The home was recently used to promote the Pixar movie "Up" — in which an elderly man ties thousands of balloons to his home to escape encroaching development and fulfill a lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America.

Barry Martin said one thing Edith didn't want was for the home to become a memorial or shrine. He said that after talking to Pinneo, he felt the project was suitable.

"I like the fact that the house is going to stay," Martin said. "It'll make me feel good every time I drive by there. It will remind me of Edith. She's been gone a year now, but she still touches me."

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Martin said he got to know Edith by being friendly when working on the project. Soon he found he was running her to hair appointments, and then making her three meals a day, taking her laundry out and doing whatever else she needed.

He said her legacy has sometimes been misinterpreted.

"Everyone liked to think she wanted to stick it to the man," Martin said. "But she really just wanted to do what she wanted to do, and money didn't mean anything."

Martin said that when Macefield told him she was leaving him the house, she said he'd need it to put his two kids through college. With a son and daughter both in college now, Martin said, that's where the money will go.

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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