Op-Ed: 109 Year Old West Seattle Home Slated for Demolition to make room for yet another Townhouse development
By David Baum
I live on Vashon Island and have been working in a hotel downtown for over 20 years now. Over that time I have often contemplated selling my home and moving to the West Seattle area just to be closer to work and to cut down on my commute time as well as save a lot of money from the rising costs of the ferry system.
Now I am so glad that I didn’t, for over the last few years, all of the runaway development of multistoried townhomes and apartments have in my opinion invaded the West Seattle area. Ever since the city rezoned these areas it has been one gigantic giveaway to the developers. Built with skimpy greenspaces, no yards, little to no parking, they push the foundations of these structures right out to the sidewalks. They call them "Townhomes" and "Rowhouses". With a fat profit, the developers move on to their next project but after the construction dust clears it is the residents who are left behind to live and deal with the lasting effects as well as the sense of loss to their communities. More often than not these units do not fit in aesthetically with their surroundings.
Up until now I have tried to ignore the malignant growth of these new developments for living on Vashon I haven’t really been affected by it or taken it personally that is until one of my favorite old homes was targeted. I drove by this old house for many years not even noticing it was there for it is well hidden from the street by large old trees, no doubt planted around the same time the house was built.
I knew that someday it would fall prey to a developer and that time has now come. When I drove past a week or so ago I noticed that it was all boarded up and now sits empty. I did some research online and found to no surprise that it had fallen prey to a developer who plans to demolish it to make room for three rowhouses. After more investigating I found out that it was built over a century ago in 1909. Although its owners obviously neglected it over the years it still looks to be in sound condition. Had they kept it up and in good shape it could have fetched a decent price and might have stood for many more years to come. No doubt the developers were courting the owners and drooling over this distressed property for a while. When they offered the right amount of money the owners accepted, and with that sale they signed this old historic home's death warrant.
This house is a window into our local past that will soon be smashed to pieces. These historic structures can’t speak for nor defend themselves from their poor or lazy owners, greedy developers and the unwise decisions that our city planners make; I for one resent the fact that this house will soon be a pile of rubble in a landfill and shame on anyone who allows this kind of thing to happen.
As private property the owner has a right to do with it as they see fit however it was the city’s rezoning and the incredible amount of cash that these hungry developers are offering that will ultimately take these pieces of history away from us. Hey City Planners! How about eyeing a project a little more scrupulously and protecting a piece of our local history when the plans include demolishing a 100+ year old historical structure unless its deemed unsound and unfit to live in that is. How about regulating how many lots in a row they can build on instead of letting them build one right after another until the entire street is lined on both sides as one by one the homeowners give in and sell out. Either of these ideas could have protected and saved this historic old home. Without any restrictions and free reign on development we will lose many more historical homes and buildings. All in the name of what the city keeps telling us is for the common good.
I was so frustrated and moved by this old house's plight that I contacted the Seattle building and construction office. Initially I spoke to a very nice and sympathetic receptionist who spent a great deal of her time with me. Giving me info and telling me how I could voice my concerns to the city's construction and development department in 'open to the public' meetings.She commiserated with me on my concerns over the runaway and rampant destruction via construction that parts of West Seattle in particular is experiencing.
She told me that the city planner might be a source of help or information to me. So on her suggestion I spoke to Travis Saunders, the person who is currently working on this project. I think for the good of our city the receptionist and Mr. Saunders should switch jobs for she seemed far more compassionate and understanding about my concerns than he was. I do give the man credit; he did return my call after I left him 2 voicemails. When I told him how much the loss of this old house meant to me he must have thought that I was a nut. I couldn’t sense any hint or trace of interest, empathy, compassion or concern in his voice whatsoever. "Is there anything else that I can help you with," he asks me. 'No thank you Sir apparently not.' is what I should have said. During my conversation with him he told me that with a small one lot project like this there is no opportunity for public comment. That is not entirely true. You can go to the city meetings and speak your piece. It won’t do much good but at least you can have your voice heard. Unfortunately your voiced concerns will be drowned out by the sounds of crunching wood, plaster and glass and the roar of the demolition equipment that they have set loose upon us to destroy our neighborhoods in the name of progress.
I do not live near this home nor am I related to it in any way but somehow when I look at it, it speaks to me and soon that voice will be from the grave.
I appreciate this structure very much. It is something that matters to me. It was built three years before the Titanic sank for crying out loud. It saw horses and buggies passing by on Fauntleroy Way when it was new. Go back 100 years and it was already 9 years old and standing where it still sits today, albeit sadly not for much longer. The things and events that it has seen over the years as it stood there, a sentinel and witness to the changing times. The families that it has sheltered and kept safe from the elements for over a century. The hot summer nights, windows open with a gentle breeze blowing and the crisp, grey, winter days with a roaring fireplace keeping it warm, cozy and safe inside. And soon it will be here no longer. I personally will attach Mr. Saunders name to this particular loss. He is not the one who changed the rules that made this all possible but he is the one who will ultimately issue a building permit as well as the demolition permit to the developer that will allow them to take this special house away from me. Not just another unimaginative box put up in a few weeks time by a crew using modern pre fabricated materials and equipment but a plot of land cleared, prepared and thoughtfully planned out and then an elegantly designed and unique home built by hand purposely and painstakingly erected upon it over 100 years ago. One-of-a-kind. It probably took a year or more to complete and yet it will all be splinters in an hour or two. I for one will feel a great sense of loss when it is gone. I equate it to knocking over an old lady, smashing her to pieces, and then hauling her remains off to the dump so that you can make room to build some ugly new boxes upon her grave. I doubt that any of these cheaply built eyesores will be around in 100 years from now.
If you are interested in seeing a piece of our local history that will not be with for us for very much longer, I suggest that you see it now before it is gone. She sits at 5447 Fauntleroy Way SW in West Seattle. Right across the street from the school and park. It’s a classic ranch design with some Victorian influences. It looks like a brick structure but it is actually shingles. Old shingles, more than likely original and asbestos. Watch out neighbors when that dust starts flying from the demolition. The roof looks in decent shape but I'm sure it is on at least its 4th or 5th replacement by now. Everything about this house looks original. Old sash single pane windows, shingled siding, original wooden eaves soffets and facia boards. That is very rare for a 109-year-old home. Most people would have at least replaced the windows and siding by now but that’s what makes this house so interesting to me. It is historic and for the most part unaltered from its original construction.I am not condoning anyone to "trespass on this property". I took my pictures of it from a legal distance. For some reason I feel compelled to capture and collect as much of it as I can before it is gone. Photographic evidence is all that will be left after this oughta be a crime is committed.
Although the city is trying to entice people to move into the west Seattle area and live closer to where they work, use public transportation and leave less of a carbon footprint. I for one will remain on Vashon Island, for even though it is a farther commute and the ferries can be quite costly, at least I don’t have to worry about this kind of ugly, runaway development threatening my neighborhood any time soon.No bridge and a limited water supply will keep Vashon safe from the nasty construction and development plans emanating from the city of Seattle for now. Some people may like these new structures, young folks with no kids who work a lot and don’t want or need a yard to take care of. Individuals who don't enjoy open spaces, yards and their privacy. Peeping toms and voyeurs or perhaps people with bad taste and or poor vision, but many people, myself included, will avoid these expensive, unsightly and overdeveloped areas like the plague and choose somewhere else less oppressive to live. So once their dirty work is done and this precious house is no more, when I drive by I will no longer be compelled to glance over to where it once stood for in its place there will only be one more modern, ugly, unimaginative box to look at. As long as these structures stand they are portals to our past, a tribute to our heritage, a connection to those who came before us and the lives that they led. They are something to be appreciated tended to and protected for they provide benefits that these new developments can never offer us.
Call me crazy (a word that a lot of mainlanders call us Vashonites) but I personally would have been willing to sell my house and move from a nice quiet neighborhood on a little, quaint and rural island to a noisy over developed Fauntleroy Avenue. And I would have done it in a heartbeat to be closer to my job, spend less in time, energy and money commuting to work and to own and save a historic home like this. It is sad how the previous owners gave in, I am sure that they made a bundle but that’s when I would have stood my ground and fought my hardest for this houses right to stand where it has since 1909.
Now she sits and waits for the end to come. Rest In Peace 5447 Fauntleroy, You will be missed. I fell in love with your beauty and recognized your importance from the day that I first noticed you hiding behind those overgrown trees. It was like looking back in time over 100 years. It instilled in me a wonder and fascination of wanting to know more about you as well as your inhabitants past and present. You stood out so much from the modern cookiecutter structures that now surround and tower above you. Sadly you are probably better off being pushed over instead of being left behind like the rest of us having to deal with this ugly change and watch our neighborhoods character, history, privacy and charm be destroyed. Mark my words. The chickens will eventually come home to roost on these unwise decisions made by our city planners. And when those chickens arrive they will most likely find that a 3 story Townhouse has been built where their coup once stood. Then they will have no other alternative but to circle from above and crap all over our neighborhoods. Just like what our city planners are doing to us now by allowing these ugly, overdeveloped projects to rain down upon our landscape. They seem to think this is the answer to our housing needs and perhaps they are onto something at that. Build expensive, unremarkable, flimsy, tight, oppressive housing and folks will choose to live elsewhere. I may not be able to fight city hall but I sure have grown to resent it for what it is doing to our neighborhoods.
I know that many would say that I am crazy, after all it’s only an old run down house, why are you taking this so hard, what’s the big deal? But I will mourn its loss like the loss of an old, treasured, neglected, and abandoned friend. If you love these old buildings and want this cycle of destruction to stop as I do, don’t rely on your local preservation society or the City to protect these historic treasures. Buy and save an old house like this one yourself. Take a stand, defend and protect it. Tend to its needs and treat it right and in return it will shelter you well. Then, after the new shiny boxes are all built up around you, it will be your home that stands out like a rare jewel from all the rest. It will surely be the house that people will be drawn to look at, admire and appreciate as they drive by.
Personally, I am terribly bothered by watching something that I value and cherish be torn apart and smashed into oblivion. It would be like viewing a murder scene for me. I may take another route to work for awhile. It would be far too difficult for me to witness its grisly, destructive demise.
I would probably stop, get out in tears and then promptly get arrested for punching someone in the face.
I am impressed with the emotion poured out on these pages. I had to skip threw some of it (for which I apologize), but it was well written. I feel you. I grew up in West Seattle but chose to settle in Idaho. Boise is now the fastest growing city much like Seattle has been. How lucky the title companies, realtors, developers , and government are. What do the rest of us get. OVER POPULATION.
Good luck developing your Utopia. I'm sure we are next now that Seattle, Portland & Salt lake have had their growth. That thought frightens me. I feel like we are a retirement community for the Democratic utopia they call California. The US has the third largest population in the world and growing. Let's bring everyone here to the promised land to cure all of their problems and house them in some crappy apartment building. I love refuges. As Joni Mitchell's song goes, " Pave paradise, put up a parking lot". Personally I look at it as Seattle (West Seattle) has sold its soul a long time ago. I'm afraid we are next. GOOD LUCK. Ken Baskett
Want to cut down on the number of single-family teardowns? Upzone around transit centers so developers can meet more housing demand on fewer lots. It's the insistence on keeping single-family zoning close in that's driving so much low-rise redevelopment further from downtown.
If you really want to know who owns the house so you can ask permission to take pictures of the inside, all you have to do is check the property records with the county and it will be listed right there. Pretty sure you can do that online nowadays.
But beyond that, not everything that's old has value or is worth saving. There are thousands of houses of this era all over the city in better condition and more well cared for that do offer tours. In Ballard there's even a "Ballard Historical Society" that does annual tours of private homes that are excellent examples of architecture. I'm pretty sure West Seattle has something similar.
"I do not live near this home nor am I related to it in any way but somehow when I look at it, it speaks to me and soon that voice will be from the grave."
No one has the right to tell you what to do with your property and you don't get to tell people what to do with their property. In the mean time, I think you should mind your own business.
Disguised under all the over-the-top heart-wrenching tears, the lofty language and the noble sentiments is the selfish message: "I got mine, sorry, you can't have yours."
Frankly, I would much rather live next door to the folks in this proposed townhouse than those who burn the midnight oil trying to keep people out of West Seattle.
@Benjamin - Sure Jan. That’s what all the developers say.
Or in other words, Mr Rich Fancy Pants here from Vashon Island wants to tell people what they can do to their property so they have a pleasant looking commute. Meanwhile, people like me are being driven further and further away as we sent building enough housing to meet the population growth. That means regular folk can't afford to live anymore. But by all means, keep complaining Vashon and pound sand.
As a lifelong West Seattle resident of over 65 years, I want to compliment the author of this excellent story conveying a picture of the demise of West Seattle. I consider it to be totally irresponsible of our city council and our city planners in not considering any true balance in their callous approach of true future development.
I didn’t mean to sound like the owners of this property can’t do with it as they please. I only meant that with the rezoning of these areas by the city and the vast ammonts of money offered by the developers it doesn’t give anyone much of a chance to save an old house like this one even if they wanted to.
HEY there Lonnie now you just hold your horses right there. . Me, Mr Fancy Pants from Vashon Island works 2 jobs at minimum wage + tips to pay the mortgage on my home. In fact I purchased my home from the government with a subsidized loan for when i bought it 20 years ago I was under what the government considers poverty level.. I worked hard and kept my home in good condition. refinanced it recently and took it off the government books. I also paid back evey dime of the subsidy when I refinanced it back to the taxpayers looking iike you Sir. I am not a rich stuck up Vashoner. I make around $45,000 a year. Not all vashonites are rich. I was only saying that I could buy and live in a run down old house in West Seattle cause it’s about all I could afford but not when everything is built up and too pricey for me to live there.
Well the city has finally placed the change of land use sign at this property. The lot has been split into 2 parcels. The plan calls for demolishion of existing structures then replacing it with 3 townhomes and 2 residential structures. That means this once zoned single family lot will now have 5 new familes living on it with 5 cars allotted. You know the residents will have more cars than that. The city is letting the developer pack them in like sardines on this one.