By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Tonight, the Alki Homestead reopens as a restaurant, almost 10 1/2 years after a fire shut it down.
While the new restaurant, Il Nido, is in a bright spotlight because of its owner’s reputation and talent, we thought the moment shouldn’t pass without remembering the years of concern that the city-landmarked Homestead – 115 years old and originally known as the Fir Lodge – would never reopen and might not even be salvageable.
We also thought you might want to see inside, since you won’t get a chance without reservations to dine at the restaurant, already booked a month out. (Thanks to Chef Mike Easton for letting us visit briefly today to photograph the interior hours before his restaurant’s first night.)
First – the past decade of history (go here to look even further back). Old West Seattle’s collective hearts sank at news of the January 2009 fire, blamed on faulty Christmas lights. Then-owner Tom Lin had been in the process of selling the beloved home-style restaurant. Post-fire, he told WSB that it would likely take “more than six months” to repair and reopen.
No one likely could have imagined it would take a decade.
The sale did not go through. By March, the Southwest Seattle Historical Society expressed public concern about the landmark’s future. By May, the Homestead was on an annual “Endangered Properties” list. In September 2009, Lin briefed the Alki Community Council on possibilities for the Homestead’s future – maybe a restaurant, bar, spa, B&B.
Its future was still a question mark by July 4, 2010, when 150+ people gathered for that group photo outside the Homestead, declaring “This Place Matters.” The following January, on the two-year anniversary of the fire, preservation groups reiterated their concerns – “Somebody has to speak for the building.” Later that month, Lin and architects brought a new plan to a committee of the city Landmarks Preservation Board, and advocates declared they were “thrilled.” Questions lingered about whether, and how, the building could be salvaged, but proposals went through four public reviews in six months until things went quiet again.
Then in December 2013, almost five years post-fire, the Homestead was listed for sale. A prospective buyer emerged more than a year later, Dennis Schilling, a Mercer Island real-estate investor known locally for buying and restoring Alki’s Shoremont Apartments, once proposed for demolition and site redevelopment. That spring, it was announced triumphantly that Schilling was going ahead with the purchase. He promptly set about doing some of the restoration work himself.
(Dennis Schilling, Alki Homestead owner – May 2015 photo by Clay Eals)
In June 2015, another group photo outside the Homestead – this time celebratory:
(Photo by Jean Sherrard, courtesy SWSHS)
Students from Alki and Schmitz Park Elementary Schools gathered for what the SWSHS dubbed a “group hug.” But while the building had been saved, its future wasn’t yet clear. Its “rehabilitation plan” won city Landmarks Board approval in March 2016. Would it eventually reopen as a restaurant? The answer finally came last September, when Chef Easton announced the plan for Il Nido. A few days later, the Homestead’s famous neon sign returned from 2+ years of restoration:
Inside, the work of turning the Homestead back into a restaurant began. Easton told us at the time, “It initially seemed to be such a big project, just how much restoration needed to happen – I wrote it off as more than I wanted to do. But the building sort of has a haunting effect on you.” Now the work is done, and we visited for photos as final touches were readied for Il Nido’s opening.
Whether or not you ever dine at Il Nido, you might want to see what’s happened inside the Homestead:
(For a kitchen view, here’s Easton’s own Instagram photo.) The grounds have been re-landscaped:
And we’re told they hope to open the back patio in July. But first – it’s opening night, as a new chapter in the Homestead/Fir Lodge’s history begins.