Alki Homestead future: Restoration or reconstruction?

November 13, 2009 at 11:40 pm | In Alki Homestead, West Seattle history, West Seattle news | 13 Comments

That’s the question members of the city Landmarks Preservation Board will want to see sorted out, as became clear during this morning’s meeting of the board’s Architectural Review Committee. This was the first public meeting at which Tom Lin, owner of the fire-damaged landmark, and his consultants have discussed its status and its future since a comprehensive presentation before the Alki Community Council two months ago (WSB coverage here). The meeting also provided a reminder of the fact the historic building’s future is of interest outside West Seattle – those who offered comments included representatives from the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, which five months ago declared the Homestead among the state’s most endangered buldings, and Historic Seattle; the Southwest Seattle Historical Society was represented as well. Read on for details on what was discussed and what the landmarks board – which has jurisdiction over the site’s future because of its landmark status – will do next:

The presentation was meant to brief the committee on the state of the historic structure as a result of damage from the January fire sparked by Christmas lights – although, as was the case at the Alki briefing in September, consultants also described non-fire-related deterioration, which led to a few questions. Two of the consultants who accompanied Lin also spoke at that briefing.

Architect Jeffrey Smith recapped the fact they’d originally hoped to repair the fire damage, but then found “extensive and comprehensive” damage throughout the structure from rot, “bad remodeling … and bad maintenance” in preceding decades. (Lin bought the Homestead in 2006.)

“So,” he said, “what we thought to be a restoration project with other uses added is what we are calling a reconstruction. The idea is to rebuild the Homestead and add other uses to the site.”

Also speaking, Mark Fritch, a log-home builder whose great-grandfather helped build the Homestead (aka Fir Lodge) a century ago.

“I would like nothing more than to save something my great-grandfather built in 1906, but I can’t see how you can save this structure … it’s been compromised by years of neglect.” Fritch also described the site as being so cramped, work would be difficult to do – “We’d have to remove the entire roof structure and second-floor level; there’s no way to access the log work without getting all of that out of there.”

According to Fritch, only 20 percent of the logs are “sound enough to salvage.” He noted that the log structure means that the same piece of wood – a log – is part of both the interior and exterior wall.

The verbiage used by meeting participants was important to note – as it is also called out in the U.S. Interior Department guidelines relating to historic preservation. Committee members – a subgroup of the full Landmarks Board – repeatedly asked for clarification on what the project team was seeking. Answered Smith: “The goal is a certificate of approval to demolish the structure and to rebuild it,” with the caveat, “we are trying to be really careful about that word, restoration and reconstruction.” He said they’d first thought they could “restore” the area damaged by fire, but when the third consultant present, Todd Perbix, expanded the study to the entire structure, they reached the conclusion that 80 percent of the building was “not intact to use … (so) this is not a restoration, this is a reconstruction of the structure. That’s the goal, to rebuild the structure, versus the impossibility of restoring it, because so little of it is left.”

A board member pointed out two consultant reports seemed to contain inconsistencies, with one of them saying the Homestead structure did not have “significant difficulties” pre-fire. Perbix explained, “My first visit was to look at the fire damage – that’s what’s in that statement – the fire damage is fairly significant but confined to the center of the building … Mark went in several months later,” and, he explained, a more comprehensive survey followed.

The problems detailed by the consultants include areas of the logs where they say the deterioration is so bad, “you could drive any implement through the walls with hand pressure … There is also significant settlement away from the fireplace, due to the compression from the ongoing deterioration of the logs.” In the end, the only parts of the building that are “intact enough to save as their original logs and wood” are the ground-level floor, two original exterior walls on the noth and west “that were enclosed at some time in the past,” and the fireplaces, described as “appear(ing) to be largely intact.”

But even the salvageable logs, they said, would not be reused in the same place post-reconstruction/rehabilitation. Fitch elaborated, “The best possible path is to salvage what we can and reuse it somewhere in the building. … If there was an unlimited budget and no limit to time, you might be able to restore this. But there’s got to be a pragmatic line of feasibility, and I think we’re well beyond that.” Further explaining the nature of how damage affects a log, he said, “To say you have a 10 percent compromised log is to say you have a 100 percent compromised log – you can’t just cut the (damaged) part off” because of the prominence each log holds in the structure.

Since the committee was running late after an earlier item ran long, they didn’t spend much time looking at or asking about Lin’s proposal for the property; what was mentioned wasn’t much different from the presentation on Alki in September – add an “Auto Club“-themed lounge, an “events space,” underground parking, new structures wrapping around the west and south sides of the lot, maybe a bed-and-breakfast, though Smith acknowledged current zoning doesn’t permit that, and said “a little bit of residential” might be an alternative. He also said they would seek to have the “reconstructed” Homestead further north and east of its current location.

When the committee invited public comment, that’s when they heard from reps of three groups focused on local history. First, Chris Moore, a West Seattleite who is field director for the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, who said he’s wondering “how important is it to parse out the damage done by the fire versus what we might call existing conditions prior to the fire, and how does that actually, through the process, inform what can be allowed or not allowed … do we use the fire as the reason to get rid of an entire building? Really, to me, it sounds like reconstruction.” He also pointed out that while Firch had made a point of saying it would be difficult to work on the site in terms of restoration, “if you are talking about a reconstruction, you need to have the same dimension of logs brought in – if you demolish the building and rebuild it according to its plans, that’s a reconstruction, according to the standards, so if you need to bring in logs, that’s the same site – I don’t quite follow how new construction is suddenly easy.”

Next, Judy Bentley of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, which is based at the Log House Museum, West Seattle’s other surviving historic log structure, barely a block from the Homestead: “I want to point out that (the LHM) was built by the same bulider, in the same style, and was successfully rehabilitated in 1997. Some of the same difficulties were mentioned, access wasn’t easy, new logs were needed on the second floor, a whole wall was replaced … we have a video that shows the restoration.” She mentioned the video was on YouTube, where we found it tonight:

“If you’re looking for a comparable structure and wondering if it can be restored,” Bentley concluded, “I encourage you to look at the museum and see what we did.”

Committee member (and Landmarks Board chair) Stephen Lee asked Bentley her opinion about the situation in general.

Bentley said she’d been inside the Homestead since the fire, adding, “I’m not an engineer but I don’t know that I can answer that … I know there was similar rot at the Log House Museum … I would hope that (the Homestead) can be restored.”

After her, Eugenia Woo of Historic Seattle, who disclosed that she had worked for a consulting firm before joining HS in June and, in that job, had been offering advice to Lin and his consultants, “talking to them about the process, directing them to the standards … I’ve become really familiar with the project … we have always encouraged looking at alternatives to demolition from the beginning, and looking at what possibly can be done to rehabilitate the building, looking at the potential costs of rehabilitating it … The existing condition isn’t great, I understand; it’s important, as Chris (Moore) said, to distinguish the difference between after the fire and pre-fire – if the fire hadn’t happened, the building would still be there right now, the restaurant probably open, and people would still be eating the fried chicken dinners.” She suggested the pre-fire deterioration couldn’t, or shouldn’t, have been something Lin only learned about after the fire: “He bought it just three years ago knowing it’s a city landmark, knowing it’s a historic structure – I’d think somebody buying the building would want to assess it. We’re interested in looking at alternatives to demolition, and what are they. I know he’s got a good team, but it’s like asking for a second opinion. Maybe there could be another review of it, peer review, perhaps?”

Then Tom Lin spoke: “I think it is important for everybody to come to the site and take a look. I have been to the site and looked at every log. Ultimately, to form a really good opinion, it’s important for you to come and take a look firsthand.”

Committee members agreed, with Vernon Abelsen telling Lin and his team, “I don’t think anybody’s questioning your assessment — it’s our responsibility to see what can be saved. One of the things we may suggest as a next step, more of a careful marking of where the damage is, maybe through that process you can determine more closely what can be saved, so if you do demolish to do reconstruction, you have materials left. Right now it’s a pretty good assessment but not piece by piece. I agree that going to the site will be very helpful for all of us – there are many interested parties, not the least of which is you, the owner.”

Lin: “Yes – for eight, nine months it’s been a living hell.”

In addition to the committee members agreeing to visit the site. Fritch also urged speed, saying “If anything is going to be done this coming year, we have to move immediately and harvest the timber” – for the logs – “when the sap is down – Either we harvest by February, end of March, or we wait a year.”

Landmarks Board coordinator Beth Chave said dryly, “I think you also have to check with DPD [which grants construction permits], because I don’t think they are tuned in with the harvesting schedule.”

WHAT’S NEXT: The Landmarks Board’s visit; a determination whether the Architectural Review Committee will meet with Tom Lin and team again before the Landmarks Board itself decides whether to grant the Certificate of Approval required for the proposed reconstruction of the Log House Museum. Lin also would have to apply for city permits to build the project itself; here’s the city page where any such applications would show up.

13 Comments

  1. Let’s just hope Mr. Lin doesn’t get wrapped up in so much red tape – and so many demands from the community – that he eventually gives up and walks away from it. His proposal would be a great thing for the neighborhood.

    Comment by Patrick — 8:01 am November 14, 2009 #

  2. I agree fully. Mr Lin wants to restore and enhance the Alki neighborhood. If he gets tired of all the negative stuff being thrown his way, we better be prepared for the developers that I am sure have already contacted him about the property… Trust me, they will not come to the table to see what we think of their plans…..They won’t care in the slightest.

    Comment by Dano Beal — 2:57 pm November 14, 2009 #

  3. Everytime I see another piece in the news about the Homestead, my mouth starts watering and my stomach starts grumbling about a endless plate of great fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy….

    Comment by Vanessa — 5:19 pm November 14, 2009 #

  4. First of all, Tracy, I think that that is one of the best, most accurate reports of a meeting that I’ve ever read. Your quotes were very close, if not right on the money, from what I can tell. Thanks for your accuracy.

    *

    The second point that I’d like to make is that the Log House Museum is not as representative of the Homestead as it might seem. They were both built within a couple of blocks of one another and about 2-3 years of one another, but there are many differences as well. The size of the logs between the two structure is quite different. The both LHM and the Homestead were built using Douglas-fir logs, but the size of the logs used in the LHM were quite a bit larger in diameter and shorter in length than the logs in the Homestead. I have a sense that this came about as a result of the way that the logs could be lifted into position on the Homestead. The Homestead required a lot of longer logs. I’m guessing that this probably had to do longer logs would need to be smaller diameters to be of equal weight.

    *

    The notching style on the LHM is also quite different than what is seen in the Homestead. I have no idea why this is so. The third house that I’ve been in that was built by my great grandfather in 1931 was built near Fort Lawton and is again quite different from either the LHM or the Homestead in its notching style. I have a feeling that he was learning a lot about logwork during the 25 years of his career that I can assess. I know that my work has also changed and improved over my 40 year career.

    *

    There is one other difference between the LHM and the Homestead that makes a profound difference. The LHM is a relatively simple four wall, rectangle. The Homestead is a very large, complex structure. The LHM had to deal with only decayed logs beginning at the bottom of the affected walls. The Homestead has to deal with decayed logs in the same way, but the fire damaged logs compound the problem. The rot still starts at the bottom of the wall, but the fire caused problems that are either all the way up the wall of just several logs in the middle of the wall. Settling issues of logwork need to be dealt with. The LHM restoration was quite simple relative to the Homestead whose damage was far more extensive and the settling issues would be very complex. Where only about 20-25% of the logs in the LHM were replaced, only about 20% of the logs in the Homestead are potentially salvageable.

    *

    Chris Moore said, “‘if you are talking about a reconstruction, you need to have the same dimension of logs brought in – if you demolish the building and rebuild it according to its plans, that’s a reconstruction, according to the standards, so if you need to bring in logs, that’s the same site – I don’t quite follow how new construction is suddenly easy.’” (I’m Quoting Tracey here) To try to restore the Homestead would be done on site with many limiting factors. If the Homestead was recreated, it would be done offsite in a building yard, tagged, loaded on to trailers, delivered to the site and reassembled. The differences between the two are enormous. Not only that, it would be far less impact on the community to do the work offsite, it would be more cost effective and the site preparation and foundation could be done while the logwork was being created offsite. It means that all of you could have the fried chicken and mashed potatoes far, far sooner!

    *

    Again, Tracy, good job! I hope that the next steps are taken as quickly as possible so that any work on the Homestead is completed in a timely manner. Oh, how I wish that we could find a way to get the City of Seattle to let us rebuild the Homestead under the same regulations that were used when it was originally built,……..none! Once the City has established what it is that they want to see done with the Homestead, it would make the job move far more quickly if there was the freedom to do the logwork at a pragmatic, git-er-done pace. I have a sense that my great grandfather would be amazed at distance between his Seattle of 1906 and the Seattle of 2009. I’m pretty sure that no one in 1906 had any idea that the Homestead would be so highly valued and deeply loved. I’d bet a lot of Kroner that Anton would be amazed and humbled. I also have an idea that he would be quite pragmatic and just want the building honored to the best of our ability. I have to put myself in his boots. If it was my great grandson rebuilding the “New Homestead” in 2109, I’d want him to put his heart and soul into it and add what has been learned about log building since 2009.

    *

    Just my thoughts. Mark Fritch

    Comment by Mark Fritch — 11:41 pm November 14, 2009 #

  5. P.S. For anyone that would like a Christmas gift, here a recipe that I have developed over the last five years that I call Papa Borgen’s Swedish Belly Warmer in honor of my great grandfather.

    *

    1.5 liter whiskey, brandy or a mix of the two
    1.5 Tablespoons vanilla extract
    2 cups sugar
    2 0z. Orange extract
    1 cup Lingonberry juice concentrate (IKEA of course!)
    1 Teaspoon each of the following ground spices: Cardamom, Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Cloves.

    Mix it all together and allow to sit in a warm place for a week or two. You will want to stir it every day and taste it to “make sure that it isn’t going bad.” Filter twice through coffee filters, bottle in Grolsch bail top beer bottles (QFC) and give away to your friends. It is great warmed, over ice, in coffee and on vanilla ice cream. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! Maybe I can get Tom to serve this at the Homestead!

    Comment by Mark Fritch — 11:53 pm November 14, 2009 #

  6. Mark, thanks for sharing your detailed thoughts. And your recipe! – TR

    Comment by WSB — 2:46 am November 15, 2009 #

  7. I think the most interesting statement here is:

    “The goal is a certificate of approval to demolish the structure and to rebuild it,”

    Demolish the Homestead? Really?

    Comment by Cami — 9:04 am November 15, 2009 #

  8. This is the best and most unbias article I have read regarding Alki Homestead Restaurant so far. Here we are dealing with the facts and passion about the the restaurant. They seem to go hand in hand.

    We have heard the facts about the state of the building. We have also heard comments that express the passion we have about the building. It seems to me that everyone is trying to reach the common goal, to bring back Alki Homestead one way or the other.

    I hope that the city can move the process quickly so we can have our restaurant back. I also hope we don’t drag out the politics that all parties lose interest. It is about time that everyone work together and make it happen.

    Comment by Alki_resident — 1:28 pm November 15, 2009 #

  9. To quote Cami, “I think the most interesting statement here is: “The goal is a certificate of approval to demolish the structure and to rebuild it,” Demolish the Homestead? Really?”

    Cami, I can accept your comment. Can you accept, “Recreate the Homestead? Really?” Yes, it could be done in a way that truly honors what The Alki Homestead has been in the community for many years. I am confident that the building could be recreated in a way that most of the people visiting the restaurant would be amazed at the authenticity of the logwork in a new structure. Many people wouldn’t know that it wasn’t the original building.

    *

    If you have questions, please pose them and I’d be willing to answer them either publicly or privately. I cannot and would not speak for Tom Lin in this matter. What I can do is speak to the actual log building issues and questions that you may have. Feel free to ask. I’ve been building log homes for over 40 years now and there is probably nothing that I can’t explain for you. Thanks for posting.

    Comment by Mark Fritch — 10:26 pm November 16, 2009 #

  10. I have had countless friends and relatives come in and out of town and have not been able to go there and get their grub on. It’s a damn shame, so to all you developers and owners, enough already!! Handle your business!! Get it done I’m hungry!

    Comment by Smokage — 10:59 am November 19, 2009 #

  11. Thank you, Mark (!) for posting on here. Mark Fritch is as he seems– very easy to discuss what he discovered in his assessment of the Fir Lodge/Homestead and his log building experience. He knows his stuff– which is building new structures, so is an excellent resource in that regard. There are also architects and building professionals that specialize in restoration and rehabilitation of landmarked log structures with similar smoke damage and condition problems as the Homestead. 80% of the logs being damaged seems high in a log structure that is of old growth douglas fir and only 105 years old. There are many buildings world-wide that are much older than our Seattle landmark that still stand. Search for examples of this online : the Scandinavian countries have log buildings from the 16-19th centuries still being used, and our own Old Faithful Inn, ca. 1903, is a massive structure with a first floor of load bearing logs.
    If you have questions, I invite you to come over to the Log House Museum and see what rehabilitation was required on this building. In the late 1990′s the museum needed:
    -a new corner foundation (SW side, same as the drooping Homestead corner foundation)
    -a new south and west wall,
    -foundation work,
    -two main support pillars and
    -the center interior support augmented (the building was going to collapse inward from unsupported second floor weight)
    Detailed photographs and documentation are here for the public to peruse during open hours or by appointment at other times.

    I have stayed out of this comment queue due to the volatility that folks feel happy to share by virtue of their anonymity. The Alki Community Council meeting/Homestead report comments were the most obvious for glaring innaccuracies and flame throwing. (comment section, not reporting section) I hope in the future that this could become a safe online outlet for community discussion (Tracy?)… consider getting rid of the anonymous comment option? Both the Homestead owner and the SW Seattle Society board president have bore the brunt of nasty unfounded gossip.

    When we buy a landmarked structure there are certain obligations that come along with the property. The Log House Museum and SW Seattle Historical Society recognizes the value of historic and landmarked structures on the Duwamish Peninsula to a community. Where could the Log House Museum be without that designation? Condominiums.

    Comment by Andrea Mercado — 5:09 pm November 21, 2009 #

  12. Thanks, Andrea, for adding your thoughts.
    .
    Unfortunately the belief that there is some way to require people to identify themselves “non-anonymously” when commenting online on any news site is a mirage. You can require that people register – but they still wind up registering under any name they please, seldom their own. Implementing some kind of identity verification would be resource-intensive (we work 20 hours a day as it is) and more to the point, a violation of privacy – what would we have people send? Fax their driver license? Social security number?
    .
    Worse, registration puts an undue burden on the discussion that the Internet facilitates. For every thread that becomes difficult, there are a thousand that do not, many helpful and vital – look at the 300-comment threads from last year’s snowstorm, sharing urgent information about road conditions and bus statuses.
    .
    Requiring registration does not elevate dialogue. And believe it or not, as difficult as some of these topics have been, our site has vastly higher standards than 90% of news sites – and we enforce them. We have killed some comments in these threads and others that did not meet the standards that we keep for this site – where people who are PARTICIPATING IN THE ONLINE DIALOGUE cannot call each other names. There are few other news sites where you will see that – just look at a Seattle Times, P-I or Slog thread sometime – they are sewers – even though some of those sites require registration (having worked at Web operations both national and local, I can tell you the major reason websites ask you to register is that they want to put you on a marketing list so that when they have something to pitch, they can pull up every address of every person who’s ever participated in their site – something in which we have no interest – or they want to serve you ads targeted at the info you provide – like your age or address). It doesn’t fix a thing.
    .
    What we have advised and counseled people who bring up this issue is, participate in the discussion – if you see something you know to be wrong, then speak up. If I see something obviously wrong in a comment thread, I play “truth squad” – and I have done so in the Homestead stories, having covered it more closely in the past year than any other journalist working in West Seattle – but you know a lot more about what’s being discussed than I do, aside from some aspect of a story that we’ve covered, and it would be far more helpful to readers and the dialogue (and isn’t it great that the community CARES!) if you corrected something you saw that you knew to be wrong.
    .
    Finally, remember that something written online is usually not something brand-new that’s never been discussed anywhere before. It’s more like a rare chance to get a window into what previously people might discuss in ways that you would never hear about until it was too late and damage was done.
    .
    For a personal example – I would rather read people’s criticism of us (and believe me, we deal with criticism ourselves, occasionally constructive, more often unfair, unfounded, and defamatory to the point where we’ve almost had to sue) and deal with it, than wonder what’s being said over backfences and coffee counters that never came to light before the Internet.
    .
    This site is run more responsibly and safely than most news sites – and even at that, we’ve taken a huge amount of flak for enforcing our comment policies and for banning a few people permanently because they refused to follow the rules.
    .
    Thanks – TR

    Comment by WSB — 6:00 pm November 21, 2009 #

  13. Ah, Tracy, I get it now. I appreciate your response, and am well aware how much you must work (Really? you only work 20 hours a day?? We have often wondered how little sleep you must need)
    As you note, I shall participate if I see glaring mistakes in the public comments. And, will never be an anonymous post’er.
    Andrea Mercado, Director, Log House Museum
    http://www.loghousemuseum.info

    Comment by Andrea Mercado — 2:24 pm November 24, 2009 #

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