By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
A briefing about the proposal to move the Harbor Avenue “Stone House” to Alki Beach filled the gallery at the Board of Park Commissioners‘ January meeting.
No vote was taken – the board is advisory only – but commissioners heard from a Parks staffer as well as, during the meeting’s public comment period, supporters – and one opponent – of the idea.
Backstory: The 80+-year-old house at 1123 Harbor SW is best known for its exterior of beach rocks, scavenged by the family that built it. Preservationists have tried for many years to secure its future but its owners finally sold the site – and adjacent buildings – to developers who plan a condo project. As reported here last year, its new owners have agreed to donate the building if it can be moved off their site. Preservation supporters say they could move it to an interim site while details are worked out with Parks for a permanent site, potentially adjacent to the Alki Bathhouse.
That was noted by Max Jacobs from Parks’ Property and Acquisitions as he opened the briefing at Thursday night’s meeting.
He mentioned that the interim-site plan means they’re not in a do-or-die situation. He also stressed that the Southwest Seattle Historical Society would pay to move it and to pay for whatever upgrades the building needs.
Parks does not yet know what kind of upgrades will be required to make it accessible, safe, and usable. Its potential use – as a visitor center? – is also up for discussion. They want to ask the community what the space next to the bathhouse is used for now.
If the beach site wouldn’t work, Jacobs continued, there are alternative sites, both public – he mentoned one near Seacrest – and private.
Next steps would include:
-Land use/oermitting research
-Assessing the building’s condition
-Conducting “pretty significant” community outreach and bringing results back to the board before developing a recommendation
Board questions/comments included: Would this have to go to the City Council? Reply: No – since they’re not buying land, for example, … What about sea-level rise – given the waves that can and will hit Alki? “If a fair amount of money is going to be spent on something like this and it’s going to look different in a storm … that needs to be considered,” was the comment. Also: Since Alki is a regional draw, will outreach get to people from outside the area? A second commissioner echoed that … One commissioner said it sounds like a “neat opportunity.”
Then another question: How do opportunities like this get presented – yes or no on this specific proposal, or could there be a choice of what goes in the space? “We try to make our outreach really inclusive,” Jaccobs replied. Parks Superintendent Jesús Aguirre said this is more a yes-or-no question, describing it as a “complementary” concept more than strictly on-mission. He also cautioned, “We don’t want people to think Parks and Recreation land is ‘the’ place to move things,” so much discussion is warranted.
Another commissioner wondered if people had previously expressed a desire for a visitor center at Alki, while another expressed hope that the building would be preserved “wherever it winds up.”
PUBLIC COMMENT: Because of the meeting’s format, comment on this and other items was taken at the start, before the presentation. Alki resident Phil Hoffman spoke first. He s against moving the “cobblestone cottage” to Alki Beach Park. He cited issues from “view preservation” to flood and earthquake risks. He said that Alki buildings have been removed and downsized over the years to “open up” a view that is open to all. All other speakers were supporters, starting with Mike Shaughnessy, who spoke on behalf of the group working to save the house, citing an 18-year-old video in which the current turn of events was foreshadowed. (We later found the video online:)
He recapped the effort to get the new owner to donate the house. Supporters meet weekly, have talked to elected officials, community groups, and “everyone is excited about the project.” He was followed by preservationist/entrepreneur John Bennett, who said, “This house has been in my sight for a long time.” He cited his history in preservation: “I’m the kind of guy who can make this physically happen.”
Next was Kathy Blackwell, Southwest Seattle Historical Society board president, who noted that SWSHS has a long history of helping save historical buildings, including its own Log House Museum, plus the Homestead, Admiral Theater, and The Junction’s Hamm and Campbell Buildings. “We know from past experience that this can be a win for all of us.” SWSHS curator Tasia Williams gave background on the house, built in 1931, and notable for its background as well as the house itself. Original owner Eva (as described here) grew up “in a cult,” left it, hit the road, married a man half her age when she was 47, and she and her children scavenged the building’s rocks from the beach, and paid Hooverville residents to do the masonry work. “To me this home is a syjmbol of the resourcefulness” that was a hallmark in the ’30s, Blackwell said.
Taking history much further back was the next speaker, Ken Workman, a descendant of Chief Seattle. Hw spoke of his ancestors’ welcoming nature and how they were asked to sign a treaty to give everything away. “The hills, the valleys, even the rocks resonate with the memory of the Duwamish” – an ancient village was not far from where the “Stone House” stands, an area where he was born. “Our memories are embedded in the rocks of that little stone cottage … it is the living memory of the Duwamish people.”
West Seattleite Bill Reid said it would be good to save something in this time of rapid growth. Eugenia Woo of Historic Seattle spoke briefly to lend her support. She also had warm words for the developer supporting saving the house and for the partnership with Parks – there are other partnership sites she noted such as the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford. “To have something like this … that really tells the story of West Seattle … is really important.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Preservation advocates have to move the house off the site, as the developers are proceeding with permits. As for whether Alki is its eventual destination – as described above, consultation with the community would be needed before a specific plan can advance.