Can the man who saved the Shoremont save the Alki Homestead?

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

“It’s fixable, in my opinion.”

So says Dennis Schilling of the historic West Seattle landmark he’s considering buying and repairing, the Alki Homestead (originally Fir Lodge), vacant since the fire that charred its interior six years ago this month.

This Friday, Schilling takes a new repair/restoration/renovation plan to the city Landmarks Preservation Board‘s Architectural Review Committee. The meeting agenda is the first public document pointing to his involvement with the Homestead; after finding the damaged landmark on the ARC agenda for the first time in 3 1/2 years, we looked up the Department of Planning and Development files for the site and found Schilling involved.

If you can’t place his name, Schilling is the Mercer Island man who saved the Shoremont Apartments, blocks east of the Homestead, as first reported here in 2011. That classic brick building was at one point proposed for demolition and replacement with an ultramodern-style building. He bought it instead, fixed it up, and says everything’s “been great” since then.

One day while visiting Alki to go to the Shoremont, Schilling told us in an interview outside the Homestead today, he noticed the big “for sale” sign that’s been up for months. (He explains that every time he goes somewhere, he tries to “not drive home the same way twice.”) The rest was history.

Well, almost history – he has not yet finalized the deal to buy the Homestead; some things remain to be explored, and this Friday morning’s meeting downtown (40th floor of the Municipal Tower, 8:30 am) is among them.

We’ll hear more details at that meeting, but what Schilling summarized for us is a somewhat simpler plan than some of the alternatives that architects working for current owner Tom Lin had taken to the city in 2010-2011 (July 2011 was the last meeting, and at some point after that, the project was shelved).

Some of the log work, as has been previously pointed out, is damaged by rot that had nothing to do with the 2009 fire. If you’ve walked past the Homestead recently and noticed blue tape on some of the logs, Schilling marked some of the spots in need of repair.

That’s a corner where he would hope to take out the old damaged logs and put in new ones – peeled, native, notched fir logs, as were the originals.

So in the bigger picture, what would Schilling do with the Homestead if he decides to go ahead with the purchase and renovations?

The historic building itself, he said, would probably have to be a restaurant. (He does recall eating there once, likely in the 1990s, likely having had its famous chicken.) Because of the site’s split zoning, he is proposing building half a dozen apartments in the parking lot east of the building; its parking would be underground, and parking for the Homestead itself would be off the alley to the west.

But first, he needs to know what the city Landmarks Board – of which the ARC is a subset – would allow him to do, since, fire damage and all, the Homestead remains under the jurisdiction of landmark regulations. He says he’s been working with city staffers already, discussing hypotheticals and possibilities – as well as noting conflicts between city rules requiring bringing the building up to new codes, and the rules governing what can be done to protected historic features.

He’s also been talking with the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, whose Log House Museum a half-block south was the carriage house of the building that is known now as the Homestead but started as the Fir Lodge. SWSHS, you’ll likely recall, has been a strong advocate for saving the Homestead/Fir Lodge, making the point publicly with a group photo on July 4th, 2010:

Even though not yet fully committed to the project, Schilling has already become concerned about some of the Homestead’s features – for example, the old neon sign on its roof, which he noticed was “flopping around” in the wind. He had asked if perhaps it could be taken down and stored safely until renovations began, and says the city told him no. So it’s now steadied with more wires. “I love old neon, I really do,” Schilling smiles, looking up at the sign. As for the entirety of the building: “I’d like to save as much of it as I can,” he says, adding later, “I’ve owned worse,” noting that he’s already handled more than one post-fire-restoration project. Last year, after fire ravaged a marina he owns in the San Juans, he got it repaired and back in operation within just a few months.

The historic Homestead, Schilling points out, “is not condemned; it’s damaged,” and he sees it as fixable, with an improvement or two if the city allows, perhaps a better patio out back – with some extension, he says, some water view might be possible. “If I could break even on it and save it, that would be pretty cool.” First, though, he has to get through a city process that he describes as somewhat “painful” – next stop, Friday’s meeting. He expects to decide within a month and a half or so whether the purchase will be a go.

7 years of WSB’s Alki Homestead coverage is archived here, newest-to-oldest.

25 Replies to "Can the man who saved the Shoremont save the Alki Homestead?"

  • Guy January 27, 2015 (6:09 pm)

    If he succeeds he will be a hero! Please save that old gal!

  • Leslie January 27, 2015 (6:23 pm)

    I don’t understand the city. Why would they want the neon sign to remain in place when it’s obviously not stable? Wouldn’t it have been better to take the sign down so that it doesn’t get any more damage? Why does the City of Seattle always have to make things so difficult? And why don’t their rehab requirements make any sense?

  • SillyGoose January 27, 2015 (6:23 pm)

    God I pray he does, this is so heartbreaking, my 96 year old grandmother just passed and she wanted more than anything to have one more meal here!! We were really hoping it would have been up and running by now!! Bring back our homestead!!

  • wetone January 27, 2015 (6:38 pm)

    I miss my pan fried chicken dinners…….

  • onion January 27, 2015 (6:39 pm)

    Hard to imagine that 6 years have passed since the fire. I only ate at the Homestead once (having lived in West Seattle for 20 years), and the meal itself was not memorable. But to see this building disappear would be very sad. This is not the Kalakala, so the city should do whatever it can to make Schilling’s plan happen.

  • Kingfish fan January 27, 2015 (7:14 pm)

    I would love to see Kingfish move into this restaurant space.

  • JanS January 27, 2015 (7:50 pm)

    Kingfish fan..oh, if they only could. I’ve heard rumors that they may go to Pioneer Square. :(

  • fiz January 27, 2015 (8:02 pm)

    Please!, please save it if possible! So many family memories there, from John Gunning trying to sell it to my parents as a family home in the very early fifties to YMCA fundraising kickoffs in the eighties to the countless fried chicken dinners with Doris Nelson over decades it was such a special place. My family is gone but those sweet memories remain. It is worth saving for so many generations of West Seattle families.

  • Eaglelover January 27, 2015 (8:07 pm)

    Re: pan fried chicken dinners, had a few of those meals in the past, pretty good homestyle. The nice lady running the place, would come by and visit each table ( not sure if occasional) and get a feel for each customer, just like the lady that ran Salty’s in ws some years ago.

  • Nostalgic gal January 27, 2015 (8:22 pm)

    Oh, please help this man! So much of the original charm that has defined West Seattle is being lost due to gentrification and it would be so wonderful to retain a token business of the old West Seattle to honor the history. The Homestead is a historic landmark that deserves to be restored and preserved as a way of honoring the history of this wonderful part of Seattle’s past. I for one would be so grateful to support a business that cares about preservation. This one is worth saving!!

  • dsa January 28, 2015 (12:06 am)

    The board would rather let it rot and fall down? There needs to be some flexibility when structures just sit like this.

  • Diane January 28, 2015 (1:38 am)

    oh this is very exciting; wonderful to hear; thank you Dennis Schilling
    ~
    how about if a bunch of us show up Friday morning to offer support; I have a friend on the board; he told me a while back re another historic building that the public rarely shows up at landmark board meetings, and that it can really help; we can let them know we love this building and want it saved, and that we’re thrilled with what Dennis is doing
    ~
    longtime supporter here; I’m in front row of the photo

  • artsea January 28, 2015 (7:21 am)

    I’m one of those who really would like to see this place saved. Used to often take visitors to Seattle here for dinner, just to enjoy the ambiance. I compared it to eating in grandma’s dining room. Sadly, I fear the city would prefer to let one of their developer friends get their hands on it, tear it down, and put up a 60 unit apartment building.

  • Beagledog January 28, 2015 (8:45 am)

    Oh, I hope this happens! It would be a shame if the City does not work with this man to save an icon. And please, secure that sign before it blows off and gets damaged or damages somebody’s property. We don’t need The Homestead to be town down and see more cranes in WS and more ugly tall buildings!

  • Jan January 28, 2015 (8:47 am)

    I love what he has done with the Shoremont – and thank him every time I walk past.

  • 2 Much Whine January 28, 2015 (9:25 am)

    My heart is filled with joy that, without exception, every comment so far has been positive. I felt like the current owner, Tom Lin, couldn’t do a thing without someone fighting him over one thing or another. That’s part of the reason why the place has sat empty for over 6 years. Let’s get behind Dennis and support him on this – his proposed improvements are far better then the empty shell that sits there now.

    I’m taking bets – how many posts until someone says “not another (fill in the blank with pizza, Mexican, burger, nail, etc.) place!”

  • miws January 28, 2015 (11:06 am)

    Yes! I hope this works out!

    .

    Mike

  • AG January 28, 2015 (11:20 am)

    I think I love this guy.

  • ws_suzanne January 28, 2015 (1:22 pm)

    The Homestead is a local treasure that deserves to be brought back to vibrant life.

    Mr. Schilling, if you are willing to invest in its future, I hope that the City, the Landmarks Board, and ARC fully support you in this enormously expensive endeavor. It’s clear that you genuinely care about this community and want the best outcome for all concerned, which gives me confidence in your long term vision for the best use of the Homestead building.

    If you take this one, you will be a true hero to West Seattle. I wish you very well in this, and really hope that this comes together.

  • Kravitz January 28, 2015 (2:11 pm)

    Yes yes yes! Please save the Homestead! Dennis, it sounds like there will be lots of red tape to get through, but if you can get through that mess and need financial assistance in the purchase and remodel plan, there might be enough of a community desire to help crowd fund this project. West Seattle would be forever grateful.

  • Born on Alki 59 January 28, 2015 (2:15 pm)

    Please, not another fried chicken joint! (jk) Seriously, it was so much more than that. My hats off to Dennis if he can save the Homestead. Everyone misses the old girl.

  • An January 29, 2015 (5:21 pm)

    What is wrong with this city?? I love this place and would support any business that saves it. Maybe we should get the mayor ( a west Seattle native) involved?

  • denise January 30, 2015 (12:39 pm)

    God bless you. You should be Mayor

    • WSB January 30, 2015 (12:49 pm)

      I covered today’s meeting downtown, only journalist there, and am writing the story now. – TR

  • Schmitz Park Dad January 30, 2015 (3:47 pm)

    That dude is my hero. The Shoremont Apartments was the first place I lived in Seattle, some 20 years ago. Was devastated when there were plans to demolish it. Schilling saved it along with some cherished memories. Thanks Dennis!

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