Hardy Groening didn’t set out to create a neighbourhood legend. He built it in stages over the years, adding elements according to whimsy or to celebrate family members’ life events.
His family home on Victor Street is most noticeable for the round, hobbit-style door, but that’s only the latest iteration of the house’s infamy.
“When the first Spider-Man movie came out, we did a Spider-Man, a larger-than-life Spider-Man on the front of the house,” Groening says. “And so we were known as the Spider-Man house.” They took him down to paint the house, but that didn’t go over well.
“People came by and complained that the neighbourhood didn’t feel safe … because there was no Spider-Man,” Groening says. After adding the hobbit door and changing genres a bit, Spider-Man moved to Groening’s sons’ place on Maryland Street.
Groening’s wife, Nellie, grew up on Victor as well, which makes Groening’s children the third generation to live on the street. The additions and unique renovations were all done by Groening, in collaboration with different members of his family, and often while Nellie wasn't home.
While not working on his own home, Groening uses his handyman skills to do building maintenance at Siloam Mission. He used to have a truly unique office in the basement of the St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, where he invited a 16-year-old volunteer to paint whatever he liked.
“He painted larger-than-life Calvin and Hobbes comics over every wall and the ceiling. It was fantastic, and then they started the renovation. So, we were going to sneak in there at night and tear out a wall,” Groening jokes.
1) Hobbit door "I wanted it swinging in, because swinging out it’s hard to get in, and I didn’t have enough room here. And the other thing was this, (the bolt and handle hardware for the door) took me two years to find ... I just didn’t know at the time, when I was chainsawing a hole in my house. I didn’t know how to get so it was (functional)."
2) Monet’s kitchen "All that happened in the house started because in 2002, for Valentine’s Day, our daughters and their friends wanted to do what they call a “while you were out” renovation. ... I got my wife out of the house for the weekend, and then they painted it the colours of Monet’s kitchen in Giverny, France."
3) Chalkboard walls "This is for our grandchildren, and hopefully by Monday next week, I’ll have the chalkboards ready, let them draw on the walls … I’m attempting to make this look sort of like this classroom that my mother would have taught in in the 1940s."
4) The climbing wall "Exactly a year ago, our grandson, who was five at the time, said to me “Sometime, when Granny isn’t home, we should build a climbing wall.” And the important part of the story is he understands when we do things is when Granny’s not home ... Our son Ben used to belay at Vertical Adventures, so that’s his rope and his belay device and his harness."
5) Writing on the wall "This is the wall where people can write … See, that’s the thing. If I’m ever right, because it happens so rarely, I make someone in the family sign it."
6) Cat on the ceiling "Oh yeah, there’s a cat on the ceiling. It’s sleeping there … Higgins. It’s my childhood cat."
7) Ship deck "(Our daughter) Amy, for her 16th birthday party, wanted a Pirates of the Caribbean party, and so then because my wife was in Germany visiting relatives at the time, Amy and I built a ship."
Published in Volume 71, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 26, 2017)