(Long-form full report has been added following this first short summary)
Quick summary from Alki Homestead owner Tom Lin‘s presentation that just wrapped up at the Alki Community Council: His architect and engineers say so much of the building was damaged in the January fire, compounding long-pre-existing deterioration, that the landmark would need to be “reconstructed.” Lin proposes doing that and adding 25,000 square feet of other buildings on the 15,000-square-foot site, with the potential end result a new Homestead, plus a bar/lounge “Seattle Auto Club” and a bed/breakfast “The Fir Lodge” (both names from its past), plus a wellness center/spa. The Landmarks Preservation Board will have to sign off on any proposal. Where will the financing come from? Lin says he hasn’t started working on that yet, but says that the perceptions nothing’s been happening at the site since the fire are incorrect, as the evaluation and planning work has been happening all along. Full report to come. ADDED 2:20 AM FRIDAY: Read on for the long-form story, with more photos:
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Eight months after a January fire blamed on Christmas lights shut down the century-old city landmark Alki Homestead, its owner stood before the Alki Community Council on Thursday night, in part to explain why it has stood unrepaired since then.
“I’ve been keeping very quiet about what’s happening, don’t want to get people speculating,” began Tom Lin. “But finally we have all the facts together, and we’re giving you this presentation.”
Though he acknowledged that an observer might say nothing has happened for eight months, Lin contended it’s been a whirlwind. He recounted February and March estimates “just to fix the fire damage” – $1,637,000 from one consultant, $1,850,000 from another.
Meantime, he said, while his insurance company was evaluating the situation, he “really couldn’t touch anything inside or outside the building.” He said he got the green light to “clean it up” in April, but couldn’t get that done till May.
Then, he said, he started working in earnest with consultants and engineers like Todd Ferbix of Ferbix Bykonen — described as specialists in historic preservation — and log-home builder Mark Fritch, whose great-grandfather, he said, built the Homestead (a letter from Fritch was published in this March update).
“We have done a lot of work,” Lin declared.
After that setup, he turned over the presentation to one of the people with whom he’s been working, architect Jeffrey Smith, who told the 50-plus attendees he’s been working on this project fulltime.
His main job before the Alki Community Council: To summarize the fire damage and the building’s condition. “It’s 100 years old,” he repeated.
He began by running through animated 3d graphics of the building’s structure.
He had historic photos, too:
And photos of the fire damage – this, Smith said, shows the center of the building, where the fire went through a stairway and up to the roof:
We published a photo of interior fire damage back in March, in a story about young men who were volunteering their time helping with some cleanup work – you can see a corner of the stone fireplace in our photo from that day:
At the Alki meeting , Smith said engineers think that whole center part of the building has to come out. Meantime, he took time to note some of the Homestead structural points that were “original,” and some that weren’t. Its entrance used to face the water, for example, he said. Its upper floor had been turned into apartments, which he said have fire and water damage. The landmark designation does not cover its entire interior, but rather primarily the dining room interior. The rear additions are “a disservice to the building,” Smith declared, and of “substandard construction.”
He segued into a mix of describing pre-existing flaws in the building – which Tom Lin later clarified were no secret, he’d known about them when he bought the Homestead X years ago. Among them, its concrete foundation, which he said included “beach sand” in the mix, with salt that was breaking down the concrete. That led to even more photos, like this one:
Smith detailed rotted concrete in spots around the building, part foundation, part supports like the photo above. Between rotten concrete and rotten wood, Smith said, engineers don’t believe any of the Homestead’s columns can be reserved.
His list of damage went on and on, including one wall inside the restaurant that was “settling” more than a fireplace, another interior wall that “took a beating,” and logs that had been rotting, like these shown outside the building (look closely at the ones under the window):
With a 3D program, he showed what little of the structure remained usable, in the engineers’ view (what you see at the top of this rendering is the floor of the Homestead’s 2nd story):
At that point, architect Smith handed it back to owner Lin, who re-stated, “we’re talking about the original building PLUS the fire,” before opening the next topic, “So what do we do with this building? (Immediately after the fire,) either I slept 3 hours or 10 hours, it was difficult trying to figure out (what to do). … (But) we need to find additional use for the Homestead to make it economically viable.”
Economic viability is a key point when considering buildings that are city landmarks — while it’s the city’s job to ensure a landmark’s character is preserved, it’s also not supposed to impede the landmark’s economic viability.
“We’re trying to save the building and trying to bring the Homestead back,” Lin said. “And to bring additional uses for the site so we can at least break even and have the Homestead for another 100 years to come.”
He outlined four “additional uses”:
*A bar (“more like a lounge, for people getting together”) that would be the Seattle Auto Club, same name as an actual club that met at what’s now the Homestead early in the 20th century (as detailed in May’s announcement that the building is considered one of the state’s most endangered historic properties)
*A banquet facility on the 2nd floor
*A “wellness center” – small gym, spa, hair salon, massage
*Bed-and-breakfast lodging that would be known as the Fir Lodge, the building’s original name, in a new building at the rear of the site. “Every room could have a theme,” Lin suggested.
City permit rules, as detailed here, raise some questions about bed-and-breakfast possibilities for this site, which currently has split zoning – part residential, part neighborhood commercial.
But “the whole focus on this piece of property would be the homestead … we hopefully would be able to bring back the building without the mistakes we inherited from before,” Lin said, adding shortly afterward, “I’m still getting e-mails, people want to book for their 50th anniversary next August!”
With that, architect Jeffrey Smith retook the floor for more specifics, as he clutched massing models for the potential project:
With so little of the building remaining usable, according to project engineers, is it really a restoration? he asked, answering himself – they’re using the terms “restoration and reconstruction.”
Part of that reconstruction would involve moving the rebuilt Homestead, which is “apparently slightly on the neighbors’ property,” Smith explained, so it has to come away from that line, and would also be moved east so that its entrance is closer to 61st SW.
Because they’re looking at covering so much of the lot with buildings, he said, they would be looking at a level of underground parking – “We can go down 9 feet safely. … accessed off the alley.”
By the numbers, the new buildings could total about 25,000 square feet, with about 15,000 square feet of land on the site, and about 6,000 square feet for the restaurant in the Homestead reconstruction; it’s split between NC-1 and L-3 zoning (explained here). Asked how many units might be in the bed-and-breakfast section, Smith said he didn’t know yet, stressing that the plan is extremely preliminary.
“It’s a very bold project,” said former ACC board member Peter Stekel, while expressing concern about access along an alley where neighbors already, he says, are unhappy with delivery traffic and other heavy usage. And, he wondered, where’s the money going to come from, “to develop this?”
“I have not gone as far as that yet,” Lin replied. “We’ll take it a step at a time; with existing economic conditions, really, there’s no money out there. I spoke to a good friend of mine who restored the Arctic Club … he said money is really tight right now but the permitting could take a year or more. Ask me today, I don’t know, but you just do a step at a time … it is what it is … a step at a time … to see how I’m going to finance this whole project, but I think there’d be enough interested parties out there. …”
Another question from an attendee: “So let’s say it’s two years before you break ground, what happens to the property between now and then?”
Lin: “I’d like to secure it, and fence it off.”
Another attendee: Would there actually be more logs involved, so that the buildings all look like they belong together?
Lin: “You want to tie it together but not be all log, to complement each other.”
And another attendee: “Sounds like you’re going to build a new log restaurant and make it look somewhat like the Homestead. Is that where you are going?”
When Lin’s reply vacillated a bit, architect Smith jumped in and said, “That’s why we say reconstruction. Yes.” But, he promised, as much of the material that could be reused, would be.
What about the famous rock fireplace? asked Cami MacNamara.
Smith: “We would take it apart and save it and put it back together.”
Many more questions than answers — including “The spirit of the Homestead is what we’re talking about bringing back,” enthused one person from the crowd.
WHAT’S NEXT: Alki Community Council president Jule Sugarman said now that the group has heard Lin’s plan, it will decide “what our position will be”; he asked for ACC members willing to take extra time to help the council decide that. Meantime, the Alki Homestead project would have to go before the Architectural Review Committee of the Landmarks Preservation Board before getting to the board itself, and if there is any kind of rezoning proposed, City Council approval would ultimately be required.
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