Tim Francis sits on the gray green porch of his sage green home in the Hawley Neighborhood.
He moved here to T Street — a few blocks west of the busy 27th Street corridor — 35 years ago.
He gutted the little 1880s house and built it back up again.
A few years later, he left his job at the Lincoln Action Program to sell real estate. He encouraged his friends to move into the neighborhood and told other real estate agents about the possibilities in this overlooked part of the city.
He watched the trees grow up around him, his ferns and peonies and hydrangeas creating an oasis.
Tuesday morning, we sit and talk about possibilities — for people, for houses, for community — from the shady comfort of this kind and dry-witted man’s front porch, the chirp of birds a soundtrack.
In a few days, this street will be bustling during the Malone/Hawley Historic District tour.
This 1,200-square-foot house has been featured before in NeighborWorks Lincoln’s annual effort to show the rest of the city what people already here know.
That this is a great place to live.
“One of the benefits of these home tours,” Francis says, “is it brings in the mothers of the young buyers.”
He raises an eyebrow. Moms and dads look around at the part of Lincoln longtime residents once called “T-Town” with disdain in their voices and see, Oh, isn’t this nice.
“They can see that we’ve got kind of a good thing here.”
His neighbors will tell you that this man, lean and long-limbed with interested eyes behind owlish glasses, is a big part of that.
“He is the godfather of this neighborhood, he absolutely is,” says Tim Rinne. “It is the fact of the matter.”
Francis was already settled here when Rinne and Kay Walter bought their big house down the block in 1986.
They watched Francis work his magic with the neighborhood association and NeighborWorks. They witnessed his easy charm, professionally and personally.
“You could not have found a better person to establish a community where there wasn’t one before,” Rinne says. “He has this incredible gift to put people at ease and be interested in the minutiae of our lives.”
Francis shakes his head when he hears "the Godfather of Hawley."
No, no, no. He’s a collaborator, he says. He had more help promoting older neighborhoods in those early years than you could imagine — forward-thinking mayors like Helen Boosalis and Coleen Seng. Block grants that allowed new homeowners to improve properties and turn crumbling brick and bowed walls into homes.
“Now we’re getting people putting their own money into these homes,” he says. “I’m very confident in what’s happening.”
The man who grew up in northeast Lincoln became a real estate agent for two simple reasons. “I’m nuts about houses and I love people.”
His career at Woods Brothers took off and red signs with his name on them sprouted in yards across town — many in front of old bungalows or turn-of-the-century two-stories.
Francis was Marianne Baskin’s agent when she and her husband went house hunting in 1989. They had their eye on a stately home in need of updating at 17th and C and they were ready to make an offer, even though it was pushing their budget.
Then the realtor came to them with an idea. This house was on a busy intersection and they had a young daughter. He knew about a nearby house, a for-sale-by-owner property on a quiet street going on the market the next day, maybe they should have a look?
The Baskins agreed to look. And they loved it.
“We got our home and we’ve been here ever since,” she said. “Tim gave away a good commission because he’s a visioner with a huge heart and he cares about people and that’s the bottom line.”
All these years later, she considers her realtor a “dear friend.” A man who sees potential.
“He wants these neighborhoods to come alive with families again.”
Homeownership is good for everyone, Francis says. People buy property and take pride in it, they paint and fix and settle in. Property values go up. The whole city benefits.
“Homeownership is such an empowering force,” he says. “And Lincoln doesn’t have any bad neighborhoods. It has stigmatized neighborhoods.”
Francis helped establish the historic designation for Hawley, said neighbor John Struwe. “He worked hard to keep homeowners in the the Hawley/Malone neighborhood for years.”
Francis said he played a small part. Happy to do it.
And, look, he says. Lincoln is spreading its wings.
He points east to the revitalized North 27th Street corridor and south to the Antelope Valley. West to a thriving downtown.
“What else could you want?”
There’s nothing else Francis wants.
He spreads his arms.
“From here, I could walk downtown to a movie or over to Village Inn for coffee.”
Then he leans forward from his comfy chair on this shady porch in a house the color of calm on a quiet street in a lovely Lincoln neighborhood.
He raises that eyebrow.
“My idea of a good day is when I don’t leave my zip code.”