Easter Sunday, 1962. Two rows of 12 little houses with weathered front porches face each other across a narrow courtyard, as they’ve done since 1911. In the old photographs, Harry Walters smiles forward, at six years old, holding his Easter basket. Harry recalls playing kickball in the courtyard of Dancy Terrace bungalow court in Springfield. When Harry and his brother heard Big Jim, the steam whistle that’s sounded daily across central Jacksonville since 1890, they darted inside for lunch. Harry’s grandmother, who lived in the house across from his, told him not to listen to the long-haired folksinger who sat on a nearby porch and played guitar. A few years later that longhair, Jim Stafford, had Top 40 hits with songs like “Swamp Witch” and “Spiders and Snakes.”
Though Springfield’s Dancy Terrace, bordered by East 9th and 10th, Hubbard and Main streets, may be Jacksonville’s only bungalow court, these houses are more like shotgun houses than the bungalows so often associated with Gustav Stickley’s “Craftsman” movement at the turn of the 20th century.
In the 1980s, by which time most of Jacksonville avoided Springfield due to decades of dilapidation, “white flight” and the influx of halfway houses and boarding houses, Dancy Terrace’s 996-square-foot houses still had fenced front gardens and lovely shade trees. Yet by the time Dancy Terrace’s front porches appeared in the 2006 movie “Lonely Hearts”, featuring John Travolta and Salma Hayek, the entire court was abandoned.
In 2012, Save Dancy LLC, a corporation run by Hailing Zhong and her husband Johannes Ullrich, committed wholly to making Dancy Terrace housing a community once again. One house is occupied, but Hailing tells me the tenant has lived there a year and is renewing his lease. Several houses down, a second house was rehabbed and is on the market for $850 a month. 1901 Redell, a red house near East 9th Street, will probably be the next renovation.
Hailing and Johannes have renovated other Springfield houses since moving to Jacksonville from Quincy, Massachusetts in 2005. They moved here when Hailing accepted a job as an engineer. They quickly fell in love with Springfield, their chosen neighborhood, and just on the cusp of the Great Recession, Hailing decided to change careers and become a real estate investor full-time.
In the past 20 years, Dancy Terrace has changed hands several times. During the foreclosure that preceded Hailing’s and Johannes’s involvement, ownership of individual houses passed to multiple investors. So the couple’s first task was to reconsolidate ownership, since individual owners would have little incentive to renovate if other owners didn’t share the vision.
Hailing speaks of a “tipping point” when enough of the houses have been renovated and occupied with people that the Dancy Terrace will, once again, sell itself as a great place to live.
“I’m committed,” she says. “I live here in Springfield, and I walk and drive past these houses every day. I promise to see this project through.”