(WSB photo: New owner Dennis Schilling looks at SWSHS’s Clay Eals holding historic photo of Fir Lodge)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“Is this a dream?”
That’s what City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said was the reaction he couldn’t shake, when he learned that the Alki Homestead/Fir Lodge has a new owner and that its restoration is on a path to reality, six years after the fire that left the landmark closed, vacant, and deteriorating.
He was among those speaking this morning on the steps of the Fir Lodge’s former carriage house, now the Log House Museum, at a media briefing to formally announce the historic log building has a new owner, as first reported here last night. That new owner, Mercer Island builder/investor Dennis Schilling, also was there along with former Homestead owner Tom Lin and historic-preservation advocates including Southwest Seattle Historical Society executive director Clay Eals. (Added) Full video:
In his prepared speech, Eals declared, “Our theme this morning is gratitude, and in our book, everyone involved is a hero.”
SWSHS board president Marcy Johnsen enthused during her turn at the podium, “I can’t tell you how excited I am.”
The historical society’s interest in the Homestead/Fir Lodge included an easement granting parking rights for the LHM, and its agreement to give up some of that made this possible, as Schilling hopes to fund the renovation by building a small apartment building in that lot. He expressed gratitude that SWSHS was “giving up some of the parking so I can afford to pay for the remodel … I’m doing this to try to restore the building … it’s pretty exceptional.”
Schilling also had warm words for Lin, as they worked to make the deal happen. Lin said, “We had many (prospective) buyers along the way, and I turned down many buyers because I didn’t think they were appropriate … when I first met Dennis, I knew he had a track record (from restoring the Shoremont) … It took us six years to find the right buyer.”
Expressing relief as much as excitement were advocates from what Eals described as the “Homestead coalition,” the regional organizations who have been working on this. One of them, Chris Moore from the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, recalled the Homestead being included in the “Most Endangered Historic Properties” list six years ago. “As we all know, preservation does not happen overnight … it has been a long history … we preserve buildings because … ultimately we love what they represent, their stories. What is wonderful about this event is that … all of you are now part of the Homestead and part of that story.”
Michael Herschensohn from Historic Seattle says this building is “critical to the fabric of (the city’s history).”
Also speaking, Flo Lentz from 4Culture, and West Seattle Chamber of Commerce CEO Lynn Dennis, who said she’s thankful that in addition to all the memories people have shared, that there will be future chances to make new memories.
Councilmember Rasmussen was the final speaker: “All of us have been hoping for this day and weren’t sure we would see this day. … I hope the (new owner) realizes we’re pulling for you, we want to see you succeed … If you should hit a few bumps along the way, call me at any time, and I’ll be there to help you.” He says he has always had a staff person assigned to the project.
Eals concluded by holding up the iconic This Place Matters photo from the event five years ago urging restoration of the Homestead, noting that many of those on the porch this morning were here when almost 200 people were gathered in the street in front of the Homestead for a group shot on July 4, 2010. This was our view that morning:
Eals said other events are ahead, including another advocacy rally on July 4, 2015 – “This Place STILL Matters.” Then he invited questions.
We asked what had been asked in comments on last night’s story – will the day come when people will be back inside the Homestead for fried-chicken dinners? Schilling replied: “I hope so, I don’t know exactly what the commercial business will be on the first floor, I hope it will be a restaurant, I don’t know anything about operating restaurants,” but he would hope to find someone to lease it to to make it a restaurant. By the way, if you never got a chance to go there in its heyday as a restaurant – here’s a video published to YouTube by SWSHS, courtesy of Schilling:
Someone asked about the potential 6-unit apartment building proposed for the parking lot next to the Homestead. “Is anybody speaking for the neighbors regarding ‘giving away’ the last potential open space (on the block)?” Eals addressed that, saying the “prize” is restoration of the Homestead, which will be expensive; the SWSHS had an easement for use of the parking lot and has been involved because of that. “This issue of restoring the Homestead has been before us for six years, and it’s a huge financial undertaking. … There is not a day that goes by that I don’t hear, what’s going to happen to the Homestead?”
What’s next for the restoration? Schilling was asked. He talked about the complicated city process involving the Landmarks Review Board and its Architectural Review Committee, so regarding the timeline, “Your guess is as good as mine.” (We reported in January on his first public meeting with the ARC.)
Eals wrapped up by saying he loved that it was raining because “the best things in Seattle happen in the rain.”
Here’s the official news release:
You can also read it on the SWSHS website. Meantime, we recorded the entire briefing on video that we’ll add to the story when it’s processed later today/tonight. We’ll also continue covering the Homestead’s road to restoration; we have an ongoing coverage archive, in reverse chronological order, here.
9:36 PM: The video of this morning’s event is now embedded in the story, between paragraphs 3 and 4.