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LYNNFIELD — Many public libraries across the state may still be closed, but there’s one place in Lynnfield where you can go to browse the library stacks, up close and personal.
That place is 2 Standish Rd., the new home of Henry (Hank) Fandel’s Neighborhood Library, a custom-built, dollhouse-inspired free library.
Fandel said he borrowed the idea from his son, Tim Fandel.
“He had asked me to build a library for him in Scituate,” Fandel said. “So once I finished helping him, I thought I might as well build one for my neighborhood. I spent many years building dollhouses, so I knew my way around a workshop. I knew it would be something special for the neighborhood.”
It took Fandel about five weeks to complete the library, which measures two feet wide and a little more than six feet high. The unit has two shelves, holding about 30 books each, with the top shelf reserved for adults and the bottom for children. A red Solo cup is filled with complimentary bookmarks that read, “Take a Book – Leave a Book, Enjoy, Hank.”
The unit has custom-made cedar shingles and clapboard installed over a plywood frame, complete with a chimney and two glass doors.
“It’s been up for about a week and so far, I’ve gotten at least a dozen visits,” Fandel said. “Some kids on bikes were fascinated by the bookmarks, but later they came back with books to swap.”
Fandel, 87, was a union construction plumber for 38 years before retiring 27 years ago. He began building dollhouses after he quit smoking and his oldest child, Geralyn, told him he needed a hobby.
“She said, ‘You better find something to do before you eat yourself to death’,” Fandel’s daughter Maureen Nimblett added.
“Having worked in the trades, my father always said to pay attention to everything you see because you can put it to work someday when you have your own home,” said Fandel. “A couple of nephews were building dollhouse, so I thought, ‘Why not?'”
Fandel started with a Swiss chalet replica in 1975. Over the next 27 years, he built more than 100 custom dollhouses, all of them to scale with authentic materials.
Fandel marketed his business, “Many Abodes,” by nailing posters along Route 1.
“I built up a pretty good reputation early because I took great pride in my workmanship, so people knew what they were getting,” Fandel said.”People would then contact me to make their dollhouses.”
Fandel’s most-prized dollhouse was a replica of the Ironmaster’s House at the Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site. He donated it to the Channel 2 auction after valuing it at $10,000.
“It only sold for about $2,700 I think,” Fandel said. “I had told them to put it on between 7 and 9 p.m. as the people who would be interested would be in bed after that. They didn’t, so it didn’t go as high as it should have.”
Fandel said the buyer purchased the house to use for advertising in his business, but retired instead.
“It was a little ironic as he ended up selling it to a Revere woman who had bid against him in the auction,” Fandel said.
Fandel always drew inspiration from old-fashioned New England architecture. His favorite style? The bow cape.
“I think there is only one in Lynnfield,” he said. “They are beautiful houses.”
Another Fandel favorite is his replica of the historic Parson Capen House in Topsfield, which Fandel said is displayed at the Grange Building at the Topsfield Fair. The home is generally regarded as one of the finest surviving examples of Elizabethan architecture in America.
“I built it brick by brick and there were a lot of bricks. They were tiny,” Fandel said, adding that the bricks were only ⅞ of an inch wide and ⅜ of an inch high.
An Everett native, Fandel moved to Saugus after marrying his wife, Agnes, in 1959. The couple had six children and relocated to Lynnfield in 1998. Agnes Fandel passed away last year.
“You might say I am a newcomer to Lynnfield, as I didn’t plant my roots here,” he said. “But I love my neighborhood and wave to my neighbors whenever I’m out in the yard. Lately, I’ve really enjoyed the pleasure the library has given me. It’s great when people drive by and give me the thumbs-up sign when they see my library.”
The library will be open 24/7 year-round.
“If it snows, I’ll clear a path with my snowblower,” Fandel said.
Anne Marie Tobin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.