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.