Alki Homestead’s owner: “You always want to keep hoping”

Two weeks from today is the 4th of July, the day the Southwest Seattle Historical Society plans a rally of sorts outside the Alki Homestead to take a group photo to publicize how many people are concerned about the landmark’s future. Its owner Tom Lin, meantime, says concern is great, but contends nobody’s contacting him directly to help save it from sitting, idle, indefinitely, as it has for a year and a half since the electrical fire that charred its interior and closed the restaurant. As noted in our original report on the Historical Society’s plan, we asked him for comment – to respond, he sat down with us this past week at an Alki coffee shop:

First, to recap what’s happened over the year and a half: The fire was ruled accidental within hours, blamed on Christmas lights (see our original story from the day it happened). Days later, Lin told WSB he expected it to be closed at least six months, but also hoped to move ahead with a purchase he said was in progress at the time. Two months later, the Historical Society issued a public statement of concern about the building’s condition and future; we subsequently published Lin’s response, and some cleanup/repairs followed.

In May of last year, the Washington Trust for Historic Properties put Alki Homestead on its “most endangered” list. Then in September, Lin showed the Alki Community Council a proposal for the site – the first time it was unveiled in public – including a new Homestead restaurant along with a bar/lounge, spa, and bed/breakfast. The consultants who accompanied him described the project as “reconstruction.”

That’s where the city Landmarks Preservation Board comes in, since the Homestead has been a landmark for more than a decade. If you are a longtime WSB’er, you know we cover the board fairly often (most recently, last Wednesday, as the Bloss House became West Seattle’s newest landmark); as the birthplace of Seattle, West Seattle has a bountiful share of local history. The board comes under the purview of the city Department of Neighborhoods, and its role and processes are unique, and intricate.

If changes are proposed to any city landmark, the Landmarks Board must give its approval, depending on what aspects of a structure and/or site are landmarked. If dramatic changes are proposed to a landmark – which this project would be, whether it’s “reconstruction” or not – the owner/developer typically first goes before its Architectural Review Committee (ARC) to work out possible points of concern before the project gets to a full board vote. (For context’s sake – testimony in the longrunning Satterlee House case, recently rejected for Washington Supreme Court review, indicated that its owner did not take the advice of the ARC before bringing a proposal to the full board, which turned it down, with a 2 1/2-year battle ensuing.)

Two months after the Alki CC presentation, Lin and project consultants brought the Homestead proposal to the ARC in November (WSB coverage here). The committee did not voice a final opinion on the project, leaving the door open to reviewing it again before it goes to the full board, though nothing is on the schedule before either panel. Several weeks later, on the one-year anniversary of the fire, we noted that the city Department of Planning and Development page for the site had two new entries, for the potential reconstruction project.

Since then, those entries have remained in the “initial information collected” stage. Fast-forward to our conversation with Tom Lin this past week: “The project has stopped until I get more funding,” Lin told us, saying that the Homestead building, and the business it held, were under-insured.

Insuring a historic building alone was difficult, he said: “I had to go to Lloyd’s of London.” But he says he didn’t have “code-upgrade insurance,” explaining that meant insurance to cover not just repairs/rebuilding, but also bringing a building/business up to code requirements, such as accessibility required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, “fire sprinklers, mechanical, all that.”

A month ago, he says, he found out that he wouldn’t get money to cover the business, because it wasn’t covered. He had been hoping for $407,000. “They said, ‘we’re not giving you anything’ – there’s no way to fight that.”

He has received some insurance money, he says, but it’s gone into paying the mortgage, and costs of trying to plan the project he’s hoping for. Additional money, he says, is in “holdback” – no payout until and unless he rebuilds.

He reiterates what he has said before – he believes he has the best possible consultants to evaluate whether the building could be repaired instead of having to be rebuilt: Log-home builder Mark Fritch (who commented extensively here just a few weeks ago), and Todd Perbix, “who used to be on the Preservation Board … he’s done a lot of work for Historic Seattle. … I can’t find anybody more qualified. … I do the best i can to carry the project, do the best to find the best engineer and the right contractor. (But) if you want to get a second opinion and pay for it, be my guest, (just) find the right person, that’s what i have done.”

But what he says he needs to find now is an investor; Lin says one “pulled out” a few weeks ago, because of the attention the Homestead has drawn. “I’ve had some interested people who didn’t want to stick their neck out and get involved with a hot potato … so I’m shouldering everything by myself right now, 100 percent. … It’s getting pretty close to a time when I can’t go any further, it has turned into a black hole, nobody is really supporting the project, (nobody si) willing to step up to the plate and say ‘we can help you … support you .. push this through’.”

And he says the project has to offer something more than the site held before: “This is a tradeoff we have.
For a restaurant, if you bring it back as-is, personally, I don’t think any business can afford to pay enough rent to pay for the building.”

He said he’s read public expressions of support, on WSB and elsewhere, but “where is (that support)?” — specifically, financial support: “Not even one single dime.” And he can’t just get financing, he says, not only because the commercial market remains tight – “in this economy, banks won’t even look at you” – but also because there’s no cash flow right now. And, “I can’t go to the public and ask for donations, because it is a private enterprise … not that anybody has offered.”

So what will he do?

“I haven’t decided yet … I hate to give up.” But – “It’s discouraging.”

As for why he hasn’t given up already, “You always want to keep hoping. You spend it and hope to get some more in
and maybe hope to get people invested in it.”

What about the demonstration planned in two weeks? “Everyone can write letters and protest … it’s not positive and not productive … .” He also notes, “I wasn’t invited … I don’t want to be painted as the person who is trying to destroy (the Homestead). I’ve been beat down so far already, I’m not even in the mood to defend myself. I just think the energy could be better spent finding a way (to make this work). If the historical society wants to buy it, we should sit down and talk. I’d be more than happy (to).”

Meantime, he says, walk a mile in his shoes. “It’s easy to be a back-seat driver. Step to the plate and bat if you really want to have something happen.”

His message also goes to at least one of the elected officials who the Historical Society says will be present for the Fourth of July event. Explaining that the site’s assessed value has remained unchanged despite its fire-damaged status, meaning higher property tax, Lin says, “If Dow (Constantine) wants to come and say something about (the Homestead), maybe he can lower my property tax.”

(You can see the site’s property-tax history on this county webpage. Its assessed value of $1,466,500 has not changed in three years, but almost all of it is assigned to the land, not the building – “improvements,” in assessor terminology – which has been given a taxable assessed value of just $1,000 for more than a decade.)

Otherwise, he says yet again before we take our leave, “I’ve held onto it for a year and a half and done the best I can. … I’ve been spending, spending, spending, but I’ve got a burned building and no cash flow.” He says he does not have a timetable for deciding what to do if no investor is found.

ADDED 3:55 PM: Some additional information from Homestead owner Tom Lin on the insurance situation, via e-mail after he read this article this morning: First, he elaborates that the building itself was insured through Lloyd’s of London because that’s the only company that would insure a 100-year-old log structure, but there was no code-upgrade insurance because no one, not even Lloyd’s, would do that. Regarding the business insurance, he explains, “Business loss is determined by how much profit you would have received if the business was ongoing. Because Homestead was only breaking even, (we) actually did not suffer any profit loss. The insurance did not deny payment. they just determined that there was not enough profit generated by the business to trigger business loss coverage. In conclusion, if I were making more than $407,000 a year from Homestead, they would pay me up to $407,000. But Homestead was only breaking even.”

Previous WSB coverage of the Alki Homestead is archived here, newest to oldest.

25 Replies to "Alki Homestead's owner: "You always want to keep hoping""

  • sarelly June 21, 2010 (2:34 am)

    Historic tax credit financing? Do organizations like the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation or Historic Seattle offer any kind of support (administrative or financial)- ? If a building is on the National Register of Historic Places, can it get federal money? Obviously this building is too important not to be repaired.

  • Vanessa June 21, 2010 (8:14 am)

    We sure miss that fried chicken dinner served family style with a table of friends. Does someone have the recipe or the rights to the herbs and spices and the way they prepared the chicken? If it never happens at the Homestead again, someone should should open a restaurant with it. Us West Seattlites are such foodies, if you build it, we would come. Mmmmmm, more mashed potatoes please and just one more drumstick.

  • Alki Area June 21, 2010 (8:32 am)

    This was a HIGHLY successful and SUPER popular long time business until these folks decided to mess with it. Sad.

    I know this guy has had a rough time, but “Step up to the plate”? YOU’RE the one who bought a historic building, knowing it’s a historic building and not up to modern code, so YOU have the responsibility to up keep it not ME! But as a historic property and beloved landmark, I have some (minor) right to bitch about your destroying this place as a business and physical property.

    “He has received some insurance money, he says, but it’s gone into paying the mortgage, and costs of trying to plan the project he’s hoping for.”

    No, the insurance money goes to FIX the building to keep it from FURTHER degrading. If you can’t pay your mortgage (like lots of folks) that’s a separate issue, and you sell or the bank takes the building back and someone ELSE buys it and runs the place.

  • CB June 21, 2010 (9:05 am)

    The Southwest Seattle Historical Society should be ashamed of themselves. Cancel the rally now.

    Also, shame on the WSB for promoting these thugs.

  • 4thGenWestSide June 21, 2010 (9:06 am)


  • artsea June 21, 2010 (9:21 am)

    I have fond memories of taking friends and visitors to the Homestead for a special time. I do hope Mr. Lin is able to find a way to save the restaurant for future generations. Sadly, I fear that Mr. Lin isn’t the one who will be able to do that. In my mind are bits and pieces of news about various “schemes” he’s had in mind for properties in West Seattle over the years. None of them ever seem to have worked out.

  • My two cents ... June 21, 2010 (10:51 am)

    First off I would like to say that I am an advocate of historical and cultural preservation. That being said, I have a concern over contributing dollars to Mr. Lin for his latest idea, or scheme. I feel that if the pubic is to contribute to this, the public needs to have assurances and safeguards with respect to the development of the building. Otherwise, this is handing Mr. Lin a blank check to serve as a bailout. I have three major areas that I am basing this on:

    1. His lack of experience with something of this scale, not to mention the nature of a historical conservation , or re-contstruction causes me some concern. This is not as simple as rebuilding a structure.

    2. There is a perception, right of wrong, that Mr. Lin does not have the full financial capability to undertake this type of project (nor others in his past attempts at development and improvement of his properties). It also would be interesting to see what the cost difference was between his current insurance coverage and “up to code” cost.

    3. His reputation to this point has been one of grand plans that go nowhere. This may be unfair, but it is the record to this point with this project and other initiatives he has had in the past.

  • AlkiMom June 21, 2010 (11:58 am)

    The historical society had the same opportunity everyone else had to buy it from Doris’ estate. They even asked Historic Seattle for funding help and were turned down. The family chose Tom because he wanted to continue the restaurant just as Doris had since 1950. That wasn’t good enough for the community ‘leaders’, and the ACC fought him, trying to deny the continuation of the liquor license among other tricks. Was that because they wanted ONLY a born and bred West Seattlite to own the building? If the historical society is so interested in historic buildings, why weren’t they an active part of the Bloss house landmarking (the owner went to Historic Seattle) and why don’t they do a Homes with History Tour as a fundraiser any more? Is it because they are too busy bullying the owner of the Homestead, hoping he’ll just give it to them???

  • Rick June 21, 2010 (12:02 pm)

    Yeah, that Karma thing is a bitc*. But it works.

  • Dale June 21, 2010 (12:59 pm)

    Okay, I noted on a previous story it sounded like there was an insurance problem otherwise this would have not been an issue and we find out now that is the case. Property not insured for replacement. Some money having already been spent and no further money coming from the carrier till actual repairs are done. Taxes are delinquent by $7,600 and not paid yet for first half of the year. Whose fault is that? The Historical Society? Insurance Carrier? City? Here is another issue just to throw a wrench into the cog. If say he paid the taxes, found an investor, got the zoning changed, rebuilt the property (all highly unlikely) don’t be surprised if your not able to find anyone to insure the property unless of course you sell it or re-title it.

    Hate to say it mate but your not in a good position here.

  • homesweethome June 21, 2010 (1:00 pm)

    seems to me if you buy an historic property and under-insure it, well that’s a problem that you create yourself and shouldn’t be blamed on the community – sounds like a whole bunch of people need to meet with a mediator and work out a solution

  • AlkiResident June 21, 2010 (1:14 pm)

    It is so true that hind sight is always 20/20. I just went through the letter that SW Historical Society issued immediately 2 months after the fire. Looking back, it was obvious they didn’t know what they were talking about. Everyone should read that letter again. SWHS didn’t and still has not done any studies to substantiate their position a year and a half after the fire.

    SWHS wanted and believed everything could be returned to normal immediately. They also believed there was “an economically viable future to the building”. Have they suggested anything? Have they discussed any of that economic futures with Tom Lin? Maybe they want to rent the building? Still a year and a half has gone by. All SWHS can do is carry a sign saying “Yes We Care”?

    Perhaps Tom Lin was a little too optimistic as well. He thought it was going to take 6 months to get everything restored. And only recently has he heard from the insurance company. Now we still don’t have our Alki Homestead Restaurant. I believe what is important is to start taking action. What can we all do to bring Alki Homestead Restaurant back?

    I personally don’t think attending a rally on July 4th is productive. What purpose does it serve? It is like the letter Historical Society wrote 2 months after the fire. “Yes we care” but we don’t want to contribute. Ultimately it is Tom Lin’s call. Can we get him to attend a meeting where we can brain storm? I am sure many of us would be interested in participating in a meeting like that.

  • JanS June 21, 2010 (1:42 pm)

    one of the things I love about this community is it’s ability to come together and try to help in something like this. I’m sure Tom Lin has been feeling very much alone in this, with the criticism from the SWHS, and from many in the community. I like AlkiResident’s suggestion…it’s time for all the people who want this to be saved, to be viable, to come together and meet with Tom Lin and see what can be accomplished. One person alone may feel like it’s an impossible task, but many working together may just get something accomplished.

    The 4th of July is not the time to hold a rally of the type that’s been advertised. It’s negative, accomplishes nothing. Maybe instead they could get a work party together and help with the aesthetics surrounding the building so it doesn’t start looking too derelict.have a local 4th of July celebration in front of the Homestead instead. Come together and celebrate positivity as a community Be productive, be community…contribute, don’t tear down.

  • West Seattle Art Attack June 21, 2010 (2:05 pm)

    I got an awesome rake and some clippers for Father’s Day. I’ll donate a couple hours of maintenance effort to help bring back my beloved chicken dinners. Where do I sign up? Plus, we have some guests coming from Europe next summer and I won’t know what to do without being able to bring them to The Homestead for a real American dinner.

  • visitor June 21, 2010 (2:38 pm)

    Mr. Lin under-insured the building and now he wants the community to chip in? What is wrong with this picture? Sounds like Mr. Lin wants the community to shoulder the risk that comes from any business undertaking. Not good business sense, like his other schemes.

  • KT June 21, 2010 (3:32 pm)

    You know, I hate to be the party pooper but what is with this guy’s whining about no one giving him any money. It’s your business pal. I could use some $$$ for landscaping my home but I am not expecting anyone to throw any nickels my way. Am I missing something? This goes way beyond being a “good neighbor”

  • WSB June 21, 2010 (3:56 pm)

    For anyone interested, we have added a couple additional paragraphs about the insurance situation after an e-mail exchange with Tom Lin following the story’s publication this morning – TR

  • Dale June 22, 2010 (1:23 am)

    I’m interested but for some reason I’d rather see an actual copy of the insurance carrier letter/s I doubt that or any other letters will be made available. He raised this issue and I can confirm dealing with WA state law, as it applies to first party claims, is not always understood by outside carriers. It seems alot has been left to chance..

  • Mike June 22, 2010 (2:50 am)

    wow. Some people have the audacity to request other people’s insurance policy. First of all, I think Dale should identify himself before speaking further. I am embarassed that potentially I am a neighbor of this individual called “Dale”. Wow. Homestead issue aside, is this country turning into a police state? Or is this just the narrow minded neighborhood I am living in?

  • JanS June 22, 2010 (10:20 am)

    Mike, I am convinced that there are some people who would complain, be skeptical, about Mr. Lin no matter what he does. I think it makes some people’s day to grouse about it, instead of being a positive force in the matter of the Homestead. I am no insurance expert, for sure. It seems that because this is a historical landmark there are many hoops, complications that many people don’t understand It’s really a shame that people who claim to miss this once great landmark can only be negative, instead of helping to solve the problem, or even seeing if it can be solved at all.

  • terri June 22, 2010 (1:10 pm)

    I think everyone needs to start taking care of their own matters before we all jump sky high (like we’ve all been told we should do)when someone needs help whatever the circumstance! We are a nation of “neighbors to the rescue” even though a big percentage of us can’t solve our own problems. Are we going to die just because the Homestead is closed? Let Mr. Lin solve his own problems.

  • Baba June 22, 2010 (1:51 pm)

    In my view everyones opinions about the reasons for the Homesteads demise are WRONG!
    It’s not mr. Lins fault or historical societies fault or whomever elses…
    What killed our beloved Homestead is BAD ECONOMY!Period! So stop waisting your time trying to find a scapegoat.

  • Chris June 22, 2010 (8:07 pm)

    Tom sounds like a slum lord to me…I remember seeing the open roof open to the elements for months afterwards and strewn garbage in the front yard and the beautiful trees allowed to die from neglect. He is playing chicken with the building in order to get public funding or it eventually falls down…he wins either way, just wait it out.

  • Dano June 27, 2010 (8:49 pm)

    Holy cow, Tom! …. Just sell the place to the highest bidder and let them put in that fast food place one developer wanted… Or let some out of state company build a high rise…. Shame on the people who think they have a right to tell you what to do with your own prperty… ESPECIALLY when you proposed the reconstruction that maintained the original design with additions that would have allowed the business to be a finacial success (Note to all the “oldtimers” – the chicken didn’t pay the bills, and neither did all of your nostagia for the place…}

    I am most ashamed of the SWHS… They are a creepy, bullying, nasty bunch that do not deserve any attention from the community, and will certainly NOT ever receive support from me. I have visited the log house museum with my elementary students in the past, but will replace those visits with lessons on anti-bullying…. I am simply disgusted by their behavior.

  • Ginny Adams June 28, 2010 (7:31 pm)

    Please restore this historic building. I walk by it every day to catch the bus. I moved to Alki in 2008, and was not able to go to the resturant. Even with no money to rebuild, the owner could mow the grass, weed, take some extra care on the outside appearance. It is an eyesore in the neighborhood now. I would be willing to donate some time to give it the TLC it needs and many other neighbors would, if they were invited. I’ll be there for the photo!

Sorry, comment time is over.