City hauls 17 vehicles out of Mattapan man's back yard

City workers pull a junked car out of the mud behind 14 Hannon Street last Tuesday.

In a situation inspectors called "unbelievable," over 17 cars and trucks were hauled out of a residential backyard in Mattapan on Friday. The "junkyard," as assistant commissioner Darryl Smith called it, broke several zoning codes and presented a fire and safety hazard, he said. Neighbors said they had lived with it for more than 20 years, but never knew it was illegal.

"We thought he had the wherewithal to get things out of there," said Smith, whose Inspectional Services Department staff warned Elsey to start moving things out several times last month to no avail. "He doesn't have the capacity to clean this place up. It's a complete blight to the neighborhood. Even the neighbors didn't know how bad it was."

Two weeks ago, Elsey told the Reporter he had five cars and two commercial trucks in his yard, but beyond a chain-link fence covered in tarpaulin material, inspectors discovered over a dozen cars, a rowboat, a speedboat, a pile of ten speed bicycles, two precariously listing garages, several snowblowers, the occasional rusted-out lawnmower, a few randomly-placed flowerpots, a cement mixer, a stack of truck tires on top of a stack of car batteries, a jeep, a throw rug, a hat-rack, a ladder, a snow plow blade, a few Chevy pick-up trucks and orphaned truck beds, a 10-wheeler dump truck, a large Kodiak commercial oil truck from Elsey's days as the proprietor of Bill's Oil - "The housewarming service that makes warm friends," a corroded wheelbarrow, a decorative steel frog, dozens of Heineken bottles, numerous 55-gallon oil drums, two empty jugs of Carlo Rossi Burgundy wine, and, in one corner, a rusty old basketball hoop with the remains of a chain net dangling off of it. A basketball, faded white by the sun, sat on top of a refrigerator around 20 yards away, with no clear spot of asphalt to bounce it on, until Friday.

"Some of this stuff needed to go," admitted Elsey's wife, who declined to give her name.

A mechanic from a garage around the corner gave Elsey the number of a junk dealer who might have paid to haul the mess away for him around three weeks ago, but Elsey said he had instead put the stuff for sale "online." Nothing had changed in the backyard since in the last month, Smith said.

City crews and private towing services worked in shifts starting at 10 a.m. on Friday, worked all day until after 6 p.m., and vowed to return again on Tuesday, much to the chagrin of Smith and crew, who had hoped to finish the job in one day. The Neighborhood Response Team, chaired by Smith, first learned about the property through community members at their weekly meeting at the Mildred Community Center - held every Thursday at 2 p.m. All city agencies are represented to hear community needs, suggestions and complaints.

In preparation for the raid, the ISD obtained search warrants for the two garages on Elsey's 14 Hannon St. property, one of which was connected to the house with electrical wiring, and the other of which was propped up by old city street sign poles.

On Tuesday, when inspectors returned, Elsey was already cleaning up, so ISD told him to get a dumpster for the remaining detritus and either shore up or demolish one of the garages.

Asked when he parked any of the vehicles on the lot, Elsey replied, "a couple, three years ago," even though some had trees growing through, around, or in them. One Jeep Cherokee was completely surrounded by an alianthus-tree rib cage. Other cars had sunk into the earth. By Tuesday, all the vehicles, save those in the garages, had been removed.

In a quieter moment last Friday, in-between hassling work crews who kept flipping his ancient cement mixer end-over-end to get it out of the way, Elsey said of his collection, "In a way, I'm glad they're gone. No more headaches."

The neighbors, he explained, had been complaining.