By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“It’s fixable, in my opinion.”
So says Dennis Schilling of the historic West Seattle landmark he’s considering buying and repairing, the Alki Homestead (originally Fir Lodge), vacant since the fire that charred its interior six years ago this month.
This Friday, Schilling takes a new repair/restoration/renovation plan to the city Landmarks Preservation Board‘s Architectural Review Committee. The meeting agenda is the first public document pointing to his involvement with the Homestead; after finding the damaged landmark on the ARC agenda for the first time in 3 1/2 years, we looked up the Department of Planning and Development files for the site and found Schilling involved.
If you can’t place his name, Schilling is the Mercer Island man who saved the Shoremont Apartments, blocks east of the Homestead, as first reported here in 2011. That classic brick building was at one point proposed for demolition and replacement with an ultramodern-style building. He bought it instead, fixed it up, and says everything’s “been great” since then.
One day while visiting Alki to go to the Shoremont, Schilling told us in an interview outside the Homestead today, he noticed the big “for sale” sign that’s been up for months. (He explains that every time he goes somewhere, he tries to “not drive home the same way twice.”) The rest was history.
Well, almost history – he has not yet finalized the deal to buy the Homestead; some things remain to be explored, and this Friday morning’s meeting downtown (40th floor of the Municipal Tower, 8:30 am) is among them.
We’ll hear more details at that meeting, but what Schilling summarized for us is a somewhat simpler plan than some of the alternatives that architects working for current owner Tom Lin had taken to the city in 2010-2011 (July 2011 was the last meeting, and at some point after that, the project was shelved).
Some of the log work, as has been previously pointed out, is damaged by rot that had nothing to do with the 2009 fire. If you’ve walked past the Homestead recently and noticed blue tape on some of the logs, Schilling marked some of the spots in need of repair.
That’s a corner where he would hope to take out the old damaged logs and put in new ones – peeled, native, notched fir logs, as were the originals.
So in the bigger picture, what would Schilling do with the Homestead if he decides to go ahead with the purchase and renovations?
The historic building itself, he said, would probably have to be a restaurant. (He does recall eating there once, likely in the 1990s, likely having had its famous chicken.) Because of the site’s split zoning, he is proposing building half a dozen apartments in the parking lot east of the building; its parking would be underground, and parking for the Homestead itself would be off the alley to the west.
But first, he needs to know what the city Landmarks Board – of which the ARC is a subset – would allow him to do, since, fire damage and all, the Homestead remains under the jurisdiction of landmark regulations. He says he’s been working with city staffers already, discussing hypotheticals and possibilities – as well as noting conflicts between city rules requiring bringing the building up to new codes, and the rules governing what can be done to protected historic features.
He’s also been talking with the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, whose Log House Museum a half-block south was the carriage house of the building that is known now as the Homestead but started as the Fir Lodge. SWSHS, you’ll likely recall, has been a strong advocate for saving the Homestead/Fir Lodge, making the point publicly with a group photo on July 4th, 2010:
Even though not yet fully committed to the project, Schilling has already become concerned about some of the Homestead’s features – for example, the old neon sign on its roof, which he noticed was “flopping around” in the wind. He had asked if perhaps it could be taken down and stored safely until renovations began, and says the city told him no. So it’s now steadied with more wires. “I love old neon, I really do,” Schilling smiles, looking up at the sign. As for the entirety of the building: “I’d like to save as much of it as I can,” he says, adding later, “I’ve owned worse,” noting that he’s already handled more than one post-fire-restoration project. Last year, after fire ravaged a marina he owns in the San Juans, he got it repaired and back in operation within just a few months.
The historic Homestead, Schilling points out, “is not condemned; it’s damaged,” and he sees it as fixable, with an improvement or two if the city allows, perhaps a better patio out back – with some extension, he says, some water view might be possible. “If I could break even on it and save it, that would be pretty cool.” First, though, he has to get through a city process that he describes as somewhat “painful” – next stop, Friday’s meeting. He expects to decide within a month and a half or so whether the purchase will be a go.