When Kari Lusso and her trio of girlfriends flew from Seattle to Boston for the New Kids on the Block concert, they had to make a quick detour. On a rainy Saturday night, the friends drove their rental car to 10 Melville Ave. As they stood in front of the Victorian house, they shrieked and giggled like little girls. The commotion? They were at the former home of the band's brothers Jonathan and Jordan Knight. When they rang the bell, they got a quick tour.
"It was going from 31 to 13," Lusso said. "We took pictures of their stove. We took pictures of their floor. We took pictures of the banister, the living room, and their bedrooms. What a dream come true to see such an intimate part of their childhood."
The Knights haven't lived there in more than a dozen years. The family sold the house to the Salvation Army in 1996, but staffers there have been busy rolling out a welcome mat to rabid NKOTB fans. Ever since the band reunited last spring, fans have discovered one of Boston's best pop secrets - the Knight family's old crib.
In the past year, the Salvation Army has seen a spike in the number of unannounced visitors ringing the doorbell and people pulling up in the driveway to snap photos on the front lawn. Fans learn of the address through old books, blogs, and Internet searches. The Salvation Army lists the house on a MySpace.com page that celebrates the home's history. One recent Saturday, roughly 50 fans trickled in and out of the house to marvel and reminisce after they learned about the place on the Web and through word of mouth.
"We don't charge them," said Major Susan Dunigan, who runs the Christian-based social service center in Melville Park with her husband, William, also a major with the Salvation Army. "We welcome people. It's part of the purpose of being an outreach ministry."
Diehard fans drop by with cameras, memorized biographies, and hearts filled with nostalgia for the Boston-bred quintet of crooners who were wildly popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s with hits such as "Hangin' Tough" and "Step By Step." Once inside, these gawkers don't want to leave. They pose in the rooms where the Knight brothers rehearsed, slept, ate, and showered.
Sally Wisbey, 31, of London and her girlfriend stopped by the day before the Boston concert in September. "It was kind of like reliving our childhood days," Wisbey said. "I took photos of Jordan's room, the outside of the room, and out back at the big shed where [the 1994 video] 'Games' was shot and where Jonathan was washing his dog. The whole experience was amazing."
Salvation Army officials hope the band's renewed momentum will help them raise money to renovate the residence's rear carriage house, which has been featured in old band photos and music videos. The Salvation Army wants to convert the carriage house into an arts and community space for local children. Although agency officials don't ask for donations in exchange for a tour, Dunigan said: "We accept donations from anybody."
A famous backdrop
The three-story house, which sits on a hilly acre of land, has a famous history. The Stick Style residence with the gabled roof was built in 1880 by George Meacham, a landscape architect who designed Boston's Public Garden in 1860. The house was originally owned by John W. Field, a member of the mercantile family for whom Fields Corner is named.
The Knights bought the house in 1972, said Sharon Knight, one of the six children of Allan Knight, an Episcopalian priest, and Marlene Putnam.
"We went from a Brady Bunch neighborhood house in Westwood to this huge Victorian house which had 20 rooms," said Sharon Knight, the second oldest sibling. During the years at the house, her parents ran a group home for teenagers. "The house was spectacular. It had a lot of details and space."
The property gained pop-culture notoriety after the band exploded into a pop phenomenon in the late 1980s. Band photos, biographies, and music videos feature the residence as a backdrop.
Sharon Knight remembers how fans climbed trees and clamored outside the property to get a glimpse of her dark-haired brothers. "People were camped out there all the time and coming to the door," she said. "We had to put up a big wrought-iron fence."
That fandom was one of the reasons the family moved to Essex, where Jonathan and Jordan Knight bought an estate, their sister said. "We moved to a house that was four times the size in Dorchester," she said. But her family considers the Melville house their childhood home. "That's where all our memories are. It is very much missed."
'The Jubilee House'
In 1996, Marlene Putnam, who by that time had divorced, put the home up for sale and sold it to the Salvation Army for $340,000.
"Rather than sell it to someone that would condo-ize it, [my mother thought] what better way to keep it going than to serve the community," said Sharon Knight, who now lives in Danvers. Her five siblings live nearby in Essex, Milton, Quincy, and Providence.
The Salvation Army directors christened the property "The Jubilee House," a biblical reference that alludes to a festival by God in the book of Leviticus.
The place has 23 rooms, nine fireplaces, and a deck that offers a panoramic view of the city. The house is home to 15 people, including the Dunigans and their grown children, and students from Gordon College, who spend a semester living there while working with city youths. Three golden retrievers also sleep here.
Despite the recent increase in fan traffic, the Salvation Army is used to unexpected visitors. The house has hosted summer camps, Bible study groups, tutoring for children, and support groups for men and women. Staffers provide free meals each Wednesday night for the community as well as weekly prayer services.
For some residents, watching the parade of obsessive fans snooping in their bedrooms can be a little disruptive.
"We get a lot of British fans," said Lauren Folden, 20, a college student who lives in Jonathan Knight's old second-floor bedroom. "They come and want to take pictures."
Added Allison Dunigan, 19, another resident: "We're kind of used it. It's weird when they [the fans] take pictures of all the rooms and the toilet."
That credit belongs to the spirited Seattle group of girlfriends.
"We had to go to the bathroom and say we went to the facilities that Jordan had used," said Stacy Howard, 31. A publicist for the Salvation Army in Seattle, she snapped photos of the stairwell banister, kitchen stove, and Jordan Knight's bedroom.
The women said the tour was a childhood dream come true.
"I have never met them but now feel I have," Lusso said. "Personally for me, the house tour was as great as going to see them in concert."
Johnny Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.