Alki Homestead: 3 ideas outlined for restoration/reconstruction

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The process of discussing with the city how to restore/reconstruct the fire-ravaged landmark Alki Homestead/Fir Lodge is so far as painstaking as the actual project itself eventually may be.

This morning, in their fourth informal appearance before the city Landmarks Preservation Board’s Architectural Review Committee downtown, Alloy Design Group architects Mark Haizlip and Greg Squires presented the three options they’re discussing.

All three options assume that the Homestead’s roof and foundation must be replaced – though committee members indicated they’re not all convinced about the former.

With Homestead owner Tom Lin on hand, as well as observers from the Southwest Seattle Historical Society (Clay Eals), Historic Seattle (Eugenia Woo), and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation (Chris Moore), the architects began by briefly discussing a survey of the state of the century-old building’s windows. The upper windows are in better condition than the lower ones, they noted, but overall, Squires said, the refurbish-vs.-replace plan won’t be clear until the overall restoration plan is.

And that’s what took up most of the rest of the discussion.

First, they mentioned completing a survey of the condition of the logs that comprise the Homestead structure, rating each one good/fair/poor.

Later, that became a bone of contention – with both committee members and observers requesting an explanation of the criteria for each category, as well as the methodology for how they were evaluated – because the logs’ condition is at the heart of whether the Homestead is destined for a future that tilts more toward restoration or more toward reconstruction.

As has been discussed in numerous previous evaluations, it’s not just the fire damage that is reported to have compromised Homestead logs, but also other factors over the years, including weather. Below the top three “courses,” the architects say, “there is a lot of exposure to the weather over the past century – a lot of rotting, a lot of crushing.” Weather isn’t the problem for interior logs, they said, but fire damage is.

And to complicate matters, they reiterated another point made previously, that unless some new technique is developed for some kind of patchwork, logs cannot be partially replaced – if a log is 20 percent damaged, it might as well be 100 percent damaged, for purposes of building or rebuilding a log structure like the Fir Lodge/Homestead.

How the logs are handled is at the heart of the three potential strategies they unveiled: Option 1, “Log by Log”; Option 2, “Support, Strap, Lift and Lower”; Option 3, “Shore Up and Span Over.” These were briefly described at the meeting, but there also was a handout with an extensive paragraph about each, so here’s the transcription. The “Core” refers to everything between the roof and the foundation.

For Option 1:

The existing roof will be removed, exposing the top log of the Core. The Core will be taken apart in separate pieces from top to bottom. Each log removed will be cataloged, tagged, and documented. The logs will most likely be stored and protected on-site while the new Foundation is poured. Once the new Foundation is completed, the restoration of the Core will begin with the replacement of all perimeter logs. Working from the bottom up, the Core will be restored log by log. If any of the original logwork is determined to be compromised beyond reasonable use, it will be replaced with a new log that matches in size and character. Once the Core is completed the Roof will be reconstructed.

For Option 2 (which the architects summarized as “the most aggressive”):

The existing Roof will be removed, exposing the top log of the Core. A large steel support structure will be constructed underneath the existing headers of all window openings in the Core. This structure will span the entire length of the Homestead. The existing Core logs beneath the headers will be hung from the steel support structure by use of industrial straps that wrap from the steel support beams, underneath the logwalls and back up to the steel beams. Once the core is completely strapped, the steel support structure will be raised via hydraulic jacks. The existing Foundation will be removed and a new Foundation will be poured. Logs at the base of the Core will then be examined to determine if they are structurally compromised beyond reasonable use. Any of the original logwork that must be replaced will be done so with a new log that matches in size and character. With the new log work in place, the Core will be lowered onto the new Foundation. After the Core has been successfully secured to the Foundation, the Roof will be reconstructed.

Option 3 (which the architects termed “the most creative”):

The existing Roof will be removed, exposing the top log of the Core. Shoring will be constructed underneath all existing log walls and the existing foundation will be removed. The new Foundation will be excavated and poured while the Core is supported by the shoring above. Once the new Foundation is complete it will support the existing logs and the shoring can be removed. At this time a new steel structure will be erected around the existing walls. The new steel structure will span above the top of the Core, and function to support both the original Core that are structurally unstable as well as and the new Roof structure. Once the steel structure and the Core is secured to the new Foundation, the Roof will be reconstructed.

Haizlip and Squires acknowledged the eventual process may turn out to be a hybrid: “The restoration solution is somewhere within these options.” In all options, they promised, “the chimneys plainly stay, all these options work around them.”

But in a line of questioning pursued by committee/board member Steve Savage, one big “missing factor” emerged – What will the city require in terms of seismic safety, and how would that affect the eventual appearance of the building, as well as the plan for restoration/reconstruction?

The architects said they had some preliminary discussion with the city Department of Planning and Development in two “pre-submittal” meetings (before the actual permit application is made) – the Landmarks Preservation Board is actually part of the Department of Neighborhoods – and that they are continuing to work with engineer Todd Ferbix.

Committee members said they would like to hear directly from the engineer regarding some of the issues, including specifics about the foundation and roof, which the architects insist must be replaced. Otherwise, looking at the project now, one quipped, is a “chicken and egg” situation – you don’t know which requirements are going to result in which results/effects.

Ultimately, the end result, according to the architects, is: “Visually, the idea the goal, is to see what you see now.”

The Architectural Review Committee is a sub-group of the Landmarks Preservation Board, and applicants are invited to bring their project to the committee for discussion before seeking a formal board vote, so today’s meeting did not end with any formal action, and in fact, committee/board members said they did not feel comfortable “signing off” on anything, even in this context, without hearing from the engineer.

Before the Homestead’s portion of today’s ARC meeting ended, there was an opportunity for public comment. Historic Seattle’s Woo said Option 1 raises concerns for her because, “What guarantees that the building would actually be rebuilt (once it’s taken apart) because once you remove all that, it’s gone?” She also wondered about the visual effects of steel supports – wondering if they might be hidden inside logs.

Washington Preservation for Historic Trust’s Moore – a West Seattleite – asked Homestead owner Lin about broken windows he said he noticed while walking on Alki last night. Lin said he visits the building frequently and just noticed the vandalism yesterday, so he believes it happened within the past three days, and regarding repairs, “I already talked to my contractor about that.”

There’s no date set yet for the next meeting.

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

8 Replies to "Alki Homestead: 3 ideas outlined for restoration/reconstruction"

  • Diane July 29, 2011 (12:27 pm)

    thanks so much for covering this; so bummed I missed it

  • breezygirl July 29, 2011 (3:25 pm)

    So this is a bit off topic but I’ve always wondered if it was true… My great-grandad told me once that the Homestead was once a place to visit, ummm, “ladies of the night”… just wondered if there was any truth to it…

  • Diane July 29, 2011 (4:03 pm)

    I heard that recently from a very reliable source

  • Immediately July 29, 2011 (7:06 pm)

    Then we must restore and rebuild without haste, so we too may experience this piece of pioneering history…

  • visitor July 29, 2011 (7:56 pm)

    The condition of the house and yard is a crying shame. The previous owner would be turning over in her grave if she could see it now.

  • Diane July 29, 2011 (10:20 pm)

    I’ve also heard that she’s been seen in the house

  • Jo July 29, 2011 (10:43 pm)

    breezygirl – I bet your great-grandad was confused as to which house on Alki housed ‘the ladies of the night.’ It wasn’t the Homestead, but rather the white house on the corner of Alki Ave. and 65th. Used to have a huge hedge around the property. And “The Maestro” lived there for years.

  • David Rogers August 16, 2011 (2:12 pm)

    To whom it concern;

    Re: Alki Homestead / Fir Lodge Restoration Options

    My name is David Rogers, owner of Logs & Timbers, LLC. We have been building with logs, professionally, since 1983. Historic Preservation became a field of interest in the early 1990’s when I became involved with the US Forest Service repairing 1930 era CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) log structures. In the years following, we have become specialized in preservation techniques which comply with each project’s unique issues. The Secretary of the Interiors publications on Preservation Standards and the recommended ideology embodied in the Guidelines are the governing principals we apply to projects we work on.
    When we repaired the Log House Museum for the SW Historical Society, many of the same concerns being discussed, regarding the Homestead Restaurant, were encountered. They were solved to everyone’s satisfaction because of the creative professional experience of the architect, engineer and builder working together to form the plan, along with the trust and confidence placed in them by the owner. The public support and approval was very rewarding.
    Since then we have encountered and effectively solved many unique structural and aesthetic issues which have arisen on Historic Log Buildings. Because of our experience on large and small projects, and because the Homestead Restaurant is of personal interest to me, I am offering my opinion as it relates to the current set of options on the table.

    Option 1 – Log by Log

    As a concept, this approach isolates and addresses the complex issues arising from the stated need to entirely remove and rebuild the Roof, as well as the stated need to entirely remove and rebuild the foundation. It does so in an apparent sequential order which keeps the onsite tasks relatively simple. Each of the noted sections or parts will, at some point, need to be precisely defined from a structural perspective. And, arguably, each part should be assessed and evaluated to the same ‘Standard of Rehabilitation’. The grey areas that are in the shadows in this general summary, in my view, are in regard to where exactly the lines are drawn between the ‘roof’ and the ‘core’ and the ‘foundation’? For example, does the ‘core’ include the main floor system? The second floor support system? What is the “top log of the core”? How does the bottom log of the core interface with the floor and foundation? How will it interface with the new foundation? How much of the existing floor systems are to be preserved? What is the assessed condition of each of the logs? What techniques were used to determine the condition? I expect there has been an exhaustive and accurate “as built” set of drawings created which would make these questions easily answerable. If not, one needs to be commissioned.
    Disassembly and reassembly of log buildings, when the roof and foundation are to be completely reconstructed, is an efficient method. An important part of that process is to protect the surfaces of the historic fabric being handled, presuming the goal is to preserve the character and appearance of the logs.
    If it is important to keep the logwork onsite, the replacement log inventory is usually prepared elsewhere and brought in when the actual reassembly process begins. Depending on the number of pieces identified to be repaired / replaced, this can require a large area for sorting and preparation activities, including the lifting equipment, etc. Noise from chainsaws and other tools can have a dampening effect in residential / commercial settings.
    From a public interest perspective, this onsite activity can be a positive connection. Signage and perhaps a daily scheduled narrator for questions and answers would decrease the distraction and work delays due to the public’s interest throughout the day.
    Offsite preparation and preassembly adds efficiency to a schedule. The onsite logwork reassembly process is usually very interesting to the public. If repair proceedures and techniques are an important part of a public interest interpretive presentation, perhaps demonstrations on selected components could be scheduled.

    Option 2 – Support, Strap, Lift, Lower

    The shoring of the building, in its entirety, at one time, would present some tricky problems to overcome, in my opinion. Assuring the stability and alignment of the short sections of logs between openings, designing & establishing cribbing positions that don’t interfere with current and subsequent work, breaching and/or supporting the main floor diaphragm from underneath at interior cribbing stations, (what happens to the existing main floor system?), unnecessary difficulty during the logwork “repair/replace” phase, especially so with “scribe fit” workmanship, potential danger to the masonry fireplaces and a decision as to if a vertical lift of the wall logs would be possible, how would weather protection be accomplished? Other technical problems could be posed but are probably not appropriate in this general response. This method can be efficient, depending on the extent of logs to be repaired / replaced. It is usually utilized when a limited and localized area is isolated and supported.
    When everything above and everything below is to be reconstructed, this procedure can become more problematic than beneficial, particularly because the logwork itself needs to be at least partially removed as well.

    Option 3 – Shore Up & Span over

    This seems to be more of a “Stabilization” method being given permanent status. Stabilization is usually the forerunner of a Phased Master plan. The goal being to protect until such time as the rehabilitation and/or restoration work can be completed, at which time the stabilization treatment is removed or designed in such a way as to be not visible in the end.
    Traditional Log structures depend on gravity and the weight of the walls, upper floor and the load path of the roof structure to keep them in place and functioning as an integrated system. Logs are reactive to the seasonal changes, shrinking and swelling in response to moisture, sunlight, temperature, etc. They are not static. If the wall logs are to become a ‘curtain wall’ or ‘siding’ of sorts, new problems are introduced which are significant. Connections, attachments, shrinkage, movement due to unrestrained log tensions, separation at the notched corners, weather tightness, window & door stability, masonry flashings and other technical details would become issues. Admittedly, these issues can be solved, the question is if this technological solution, and all it entails, is worth the cost in terms the permanent and irreversible alteration of many of the “Qualities of Integrity” (referred to in National Register Terms) of this Landmark Structure.
    This idea effectively ‘freezes’ the building in its current form, keeping the decayed and failing logs in place, without benefit of repair or replacement or realignment or corrective treatment or preservation action at this time. One would need to inquire as to how a future maintenance plan for the wall logs would be implemented and/or if future repairs are allowed.


    If the prevailing guideline is to Restore or Rehabilitate the building, (in accordance with a fairly strict interpretation of the “Standards”), then the original and/or existing configuration, and/or design, along with the connection details, should be given due consideration and preserved, even if they become redundant from a code compliant perspective.
    The site is very small as it pertains to the scope of work envisioned. I suggest a variation on Option 1 with the following;

    Option 4 (Hybrid) – Support, Strap, Lift, Lower

     Design & Install shoring in such a way as to allow the lifting of the Roof and the upper portion of the Core as a unit, to the extent of 2′ – 3′. (This unit being defined as that part of the structure above the ‘header logs’ of the building, including the upper floor system).
     Disassemble the remaining logwork from the top down to the main floor & Foundation.
     Design & Install shoring to allow the lifting of the existing main floor system as a unit to provide enough clearance for the new foundation design and installation.
     Return the existing floor system to its connection with the Foundation, with required / desired repairs.
     Reassemble the logwork with desired / required repairs.
     Lower the Roof & upper Core assembly onto the reassembled walls
     Remove and Reconstruct the Roof
     Repair the upper Core as required / desired.

    This sequence would keep the majority of the building weather protected until the final Roof reconstruction could be accomplished.



    David C. Rogers
    Logs & Timbers, LLC
    503 622 5316 – office

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