EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s been almost a year since we first reported that the distinctive log-house-turned-office at 5458 California, where WSB sponsor Ventana Construction has long been the tenant, was planned for demolition and rebuilding. Commenters wondered if the house could be moved rather than demolished. Then in December, we published the announcement by Jeff McCord from house-moving firm Nickel Bros that the property’s owners had given approval to look for someone to buy it for moving to another site. And someone did! Clay Eals from the Southwest Seattle Historical Society found the new owners before we did, and tells the story:
By Clay Eals
Special to West Seattle Blog
To house mover Jeff McCord, it’s “a creative way to slow the loss of neighborhood character.”
To Seattle University urban-planning professor Marie Wong, it’s an illustration of “our responsibility to historicism.”
And to Admiral couple Neil and Holly Bauersfeld, it’s “a little crazy … but we hope it will be really cool.”
What they’re all talking about is the saving of a beloved log building that was headed for the wrecking ball this summer to make way for a six-unit live/work complex.
With its prominent porch and stone chimney, the log building has stood gracefully for 109 years at 5458 California Avenue SW, on the northeast corner of California’s intersection with SW Findlay Street, midway between the Alaska and Morgan junctions. (The longtime tenant is Ventana Construction, whose lease ends in July.)
Last fall, McCord, a West Seattleite and “house rescuer” for the Washington and British Columbia-based Nickel Bros house-moving firm, received permission from the owner of the property to advertise the opportunity for someone to acquire the historic structure and move it prior to its scheduled demolition.
The opportunity quickly caught the eye of the Bauersfelds, who live near West Seattle High School.
The two, who are the parents of two children ages 9 and 12, had been considering a remodel of the 1942 home they have owned and inhabited since 2001 or a move to a bigger house. But the financial costs of either option were daunting.
Then the light bulb turned on. They could buy and move the log building to their backyard and attach it to their current home. The purchase price was just $1 – plus the cost of the move, about $60,000.
They signed paperwork Jan. 30 to acquire the building, and this summer, workers for Nickel Bros will inch the 1908 structure north along California Avenue to its new site.
Neil, software engineer for the MilliporeSigma life-science business, and Holly, administrative assistant at the Aging Wisdom home-care consulting firm, are delighted with this creative plan.
In Neil’s eyes, it is the ultimate in recycling, and for Holly, a history major and a fan of historical fiction, the move of the building to their property is a snug aesthetic fit.
“I just fell in love with how it looks,” she says. “If you can get a historical building that is so beautiful, and so much cheaper than other options, why not? Something as cute as that, you just can’t get that look any other way.”
A big factor in their thinking was that they didn’t want to move from their neighborhood, which is walking distance to schools, grocery stores, the Admiral Theater, and the West Seattle Farmers Market.
“It’s an ideal spot, and we didn’t want to give it up,” Holly says. “We feel a part of the West Seattle community, we’re involved in the schools, and that community feeling is really important.”
The Bauersfelds won’t be able to take the entire log building to their property because Seattle’s land-use code won’t allow such a large addition to their home.
But they will be taking the historic front portion of the home, including its fireplace and sunroom, which amounts to more than two-thirds of the structure’s 990 square feet. Only the rear bedrooms, added on more recently, will be left behind for demolition.
“It’s too bad we have to cut it up,” Neil says, but the chance to merge the 1908 structure with their current home was the greater good.
They say their architect, Ryan Adanalian of Board & Vellum, is excited about the fusion, a feeling that they share. “It fits beautifully,” Holly says. “It’s almost weird.”
The two also were impressed by McCord’s “infectious” enthusiasm. McCord, who has been in the house-moving business since 1999 and has worked for Nickel Bros since 2006, is an evangelist for his work.
“I feel like we’re the secret saviors of historic preservation, the unspoken representatives of endangered homes,” he says. “It’s historic preservation at the street level. We’re talking about the character of our neighborhoods, and if it’s gone, we can never get it back.”
In McCord’s court is Wong, whose undergraduate urban-planning practicum course at Seattle University this spring will examine preservation policies in other cities and complete an intensive survey of three Seattle neighborhoods – including Alki/Beach Drive.
The students’ survey, she says, will reveal the potential for saving historic homes by moving them away from up-zoned corridors. “We’re in a very fragile period,” she says. “We don’t want to lose the character of our neighborhoods that is embedded with our housing.”
Wong throws out the astounding statistic that 20 to 40 percent of landfills consist of the remains of demolished single-family homes from multi-family zones.
Big cities across the country are facing massive in-migration, and Seattle is no different, she says, except that its landlocked geography makes such a trend more acute.
“Given all the growth, we obviously need more development,” Wong says, “but we also need to have balance.” She adds that a focus on house moving can create “a golden opportunity for our city to think in terms of our commitment to sustainability.”
The house-moving ethic also has attracted the attention of Tom Rasmussen, who since his 2015 retirement after three terms on the Seattle City Council has worked behind the scenes to seek ways to preserve the 1908 log building and is thrilled by the example provided by McCord and the Bauersfelds.
“We need to encourage people to donate their homes for this purpose,” he says, “and we want the city to support home moving and preservation.”
McCord, a former chair of the Southwest Design Review Board, is thankful that owner Paul Anderson of Alki’s Bauhaus Partners allowed the 1908 building to be saved.
“It has been a pleasure to work with Paul,” McCord says. “He has actively made it possible to take the time to find willing recipients, resulting in our finding Holly and Neil.”
Also deserving appreciation, McCord says, are Anne and Clarence Higuera of Ventana Construction.
“The Higueras and their staff have been helpful and gracious to allow us to show the house while they are there as commercial tenants,” McCord says. “They have had to field many questions from curious fans of the house who quite frequently have come to their office to learn what was happening with it.”
The move and fusion of their current and new houses obviously will be the highlight of the Bauersfelds’ summer.
“It feels like we are a little crazy,” Holly says, “but we’ll see how it turns out. We hope it will be really cool.”
Clay Eals is executive director of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, whose mission is to promote local heritage through education, preservation and advocacy. Want more information on house moving on the West Seattle peninsula? Contact Jeff McCord of Nickel Bros at 206-234-4357 or firstname.lastname@example.org.