A neater life - like it or not


NORTH BEACH - On the scenic route into town, a town on its way up again after years of trying to shed its bar-on-every-corner image, stood a large and public obstacle to progress: the one-time summer cottage that Junior Lubbes has called home for his 47 years.

The house and its hodgepodge of additions lacked indoor plumbing, central air and a working heating system. The yard was covered in junk - propane tanks, old tires, broken generators, plastic buckets, items that are Lubbes' idea of treasure and his neighbors' idea of something else altogether.

Complaints about the Lubbes property, established by his grandparents in the 1920s, flooded Town Hall for years. It was a health risk, a fire hazard and hard on the eyes, too. The place needed to be condemned.

But what to do with "Junior" Lubbes - Julius Cornelius Lubbes Jr. on his birth certificate - the people of North Beach wondered.

Enter what one called "a stroke of genius" by Mayor Mark R. Frazer, a dentist by day, whose training has taught him something about compassion. Frazer went out and got Lubbes (pronounced Lew-bes) a new house.

"The conditions were deplorable - worse than Third World right inside the limits of North Beach," Frazer recalled recently. "But we did not want to displace him because he has as much North Beach in his veins as anyone in town. That was never an option."

Frazer devised his plan in the middle of winter, about 18 months ago. Around town, he would spy Lubbes coughing like crazy. Frazer knew Lubbes was sick - and knew the man would be going home to a house without proper heating. That's when the mayor decided something had to be done.

He started calling around, gathering a surprising amount of support and promises. He got local businesses and residents to donate time, money and materials to build Lubbes a new home. And he didn't spend a single tax dollar on the project.

The work paid off. On July 19, the town held a demolition party attended by dozens who watched the old structure smashed to pieces.

At the same time, people could see the new house - actually a two-car garage with a small one-bedroom apartment on the second floor - going up beside it. During construction, Lubbes has been living in a 1970s camper in the yard or with friends, he said.

The new dwelling will be ready this month. All that's missing are the appliances and fixtures and such. But eventually it will have a shower and central air and heat and even a washer and dryer ("I'm not a world authority on laundry," Lubbes conceded) - and a view from one window of the Chesapeake Bay. (Unimpressed, he said, "I've seen the bay.")

"Junior has his house, and the old house is razed, so everyone is winning," said Bill Childs, whose Waldorf company, Chaney Enterprises, donated the concrete for the foundation.

"We helped out some because it was the right thing to do for the town of North Beach," said Dave Sneade, president of Sneade's Ace Home Center, which donated lumber.

"Junior by no means was going to do any cleaning up. His house and everything around it was going to stay that way until he was gone. It's been an eyesore for years."

Lubbes, a lifelong bachelor, had never known another home. He grew up on the property that abuts Annapolis Avenue in this Western Shore town of 1,900 people.

He had there lived with his parents and his two younger sisters, but his parents died. One sister lives next door. The other owns the property but has given her brother a lifelong right to live there. Neither is close to Lubbes.

He is known around town as the guy who will do dirty jobs no one else will. People call him in the winter when their pipes freeze and someone must crawl under the house to thaw them. He sweeps up after street festivals. He cleans clogged drains. He mows lawns with his "fleet" of mowers pieced together over the years. He runs a makeshift taxi service - using his camper - for people who are too drunk to drive home after a night out.

"I don't want a lot of money," he said. "I want to be comfortable."

He has always collected stuff he might be able to use someday. That's how his property became a junkyard. Sneade recalls tearing down a house in the 1970s: "Junior took probably half of what I was taking out."

Lubbes says he always wanted a smaller place to live, but he stops short of thanking anyone for his new home. It's not that he's ungrateful. It's just that he didn't think anything was wrong with his old one.

"I wasn't bothered none - everyone else is bothered," he said, giving a tour of his new digs, a cell phone in one hand, a knife hooked to his waist. "It's like someone who lives by himself in the woods and people move in around him and all of a sudden you're not good enough anymore."

The town around him has indeed gone through several incarnations.

"Once upon a time," as Frazer puts it, North Beach was a resort town for Washingtonians during the first half of the 20th century, less than an hour's drive from the capital. It was a bustling place. The railroad stopped in Chesapeake Beach, the next town south.

"When the Bay Bridge opened in 1952, traffic started going to the ocean, and with the removal of slot machines, the economy really collapsed," Frazer said.

The ensuing decades were tough. "It became a town of nightclubs, bars and motorcycle gangs," he said.

Tim Stafford, a contractor who helped with Lubbes' house, said that when his kids were in high school, they were instructed never to go to the beach.

"I just thought it was too rough of a place for them to hang out," Stafford said. "Now we live here [in neighboring Chesapeake Beach]. It's been that sort of transformation."

The place is spiffed up now, and housing prices have skyrocketed in the past 18 months, the mayor said. The valuable waterfront property - the whole town is only a mile by a mile and a half - is being bought up and the older houses are being knocked down to make way for larger homes. It's becoming a destination again, this gem with its expansive views of the bay.

The biggest worry about Lubbes is what he will do once his house is up and everyone has left him alone again. The stockade fence he built two years ago along the more-traveled side of the property in minor concession to complaints is expected to be duplicated on the other side.

But Frazer has told him: "You cannot backslide into old habits of accumulating trash."

Said Stafford: "The big thing's keeping him contained."

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