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It's historic - and an eyesore

An old Everett house sits in disrepair, but some say its history should be preserved.

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By David Chircop / Herald Writer
  • Historic Everett board members Bill Belshaw (left) and Valerie Steel visit the 1905 house on Rucker Avenue in Everett on Thursday.

    Kevin Nortz / The Herald

    Historic Everett board members Bill Belshaw (left) and Valerie Steel visit the 1905 house on Rucker Avenue in Everett on Thursday.

EVERETT - A dilapidated century-old home built by one of the region's pioneers recently made it to the top of a statewide list of historic properties threatened by the wrecking ball.
The stately home built in 1905 by Howard Sprague Wright, at 2112 Rucker Ave., is no longer a showpiece on the bluff overlooking Port Gardner.
It's now a vacant, weather-worn hulk sitting on a very valuable piece of land - a prime location for a condominium development.
Someone has even customized an upstairs living room, turning it into a makeshift indoor skate park decorated with graffiti.
Wright founded the Howard S. Wright Construction Co., which he based in Everett for many years before moving the business to Seattle.
It became internationally recognized for erecting the Space Needle and the Seattle Center for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair.
While those landmarks continue to inspire visitors to Seattle, Wright's former abode in Everett is a shadow of its former glory.
Some say the run-down house, and the neighborhood's unique character, are worth preserving.
"It's just a vulnerable building," said Bill Belshaw, president of Historic Everett, a nonprofit group that works to preserve the city's architectural heritage through the preservation and rehabilitation of historic buildings.
Belshaw, a former Snohomish County planner who is now a general contractor, has lived across from the Howard S. Wright House in Everett's historic Rucker-Grand neighborhood for three decades.
He acknowledges that he has a self-interest in keeping out new development. But while walking through the musty building earlier this week, he said his concern goes beyond saving a view.
"There are people who just fall in love with a house, and they don't care about how much money they will spend on restoring it," he said, pointing to sturdy ceiling beams that were re-engineered after a chimney fire destroyed the roof in October 2002.
He also recalled spending months with the previous owner piecing back together a custom window frame that was smashed into smithereens by firefighters trying to save the building during the blaze.
Even so, he said it would be almost impossible for his group to raise enough money to buy and restore the building, an eyesore cluttered with old appliances and debris.
Over the years, Belshaw said, he has come to admire the craftsmanship of the house, which he says is still structurally sound, in spite of cosmetic deterioration and water damage from the fire.
With its massive porch supports, an ornate Moorish keyhole window and wide eaves supported by elaborate scroll brackets, he said, it is a good example of an American foursquare or classic box-style home from the early 20th century.
The building's last owner, Arthur Hopkins, died in a separate fire at his home on Colby Avenue in 2004. Before his death, the 84-year-old former B-24 waist gunner was in the process of fixing up the house, Belshaw said.
But the elderly man, who owned at least 15 parcels in the Everett area, also was notorious with city officials for racking up code violations on his properties, which he often used to store junk, including broken-down cars and old appliances.
Before his final years, though, Hopkins took pride in maintaining the Rucker Avenue house, Belshaw said.
Hopkins bought the home in 1959 and had divided it into eight small apartments by 1961. While the inside was transformed, its exterior remained as it was in 1905.
It is not clear whether Hopkins' heirs will keep it that way.
Hopkins' niece, Gail Hopkins, the executor of his estate, was not reached for comment this week.
The house, along with a neighboring house also owned by Hopkins' heirs, could be developed together into a 24-unit residential development under the city's zoning rules.
Dave Koenig, Everett's manager of long-range planning and community development, said the properties have been zoned for a multi-family development since 1956.
There are no development plans for the land, but Koenig said the city has fielded calls from interested developers.
Earlier this week, the Seattle-based Washington Trust for Historic Preservation placed the house, along with nine other properties in Washington, on its annual "most endangered historic properties" list.
"With the potential for it to be a cash cow, that becomes the driver," said Chris Moore, a spokesman for the group.
The designation could garner support to save the home, but Moore said he isn't counting on it.
"You're not going to convince every property owner that preservation is the way to go," he said. "You are always going to have some who say it's a bottom-line decision."
The building isn't listed on any official national or state registries of historic places, and the Hopkins family has the right to tear down the blighted homes and replace them with condos or apartments if that is their preference.
However, the city does impose special building standards on new buildings in the neighborhood, which mainly consists of single-family homes built in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The city set design guidelines for the area in 1993, after neighbors complained about the clashing designs of some newer buildings. The guidelines are intended to preserve architectural elements found on the neighborhood's older buildings.
All multi-family developments must get approval from the Historical Commission, which reviews design details, including roof pitch, front porches and windows.
Even with those restrictions, Belshaw said he isn't comforted.
"When it's zoned for 24 units, you can get something that's out of character, even when somebody has gone through the historical commission," he said.
While tax breaks provide one incentive for fixing up older homes, razing the buildings and putting up condos can turn a much bigger profit.
Even so, some people do choose to go the less lucrative historic preservation route, said Koenig, of the city planning department.
"It really comes down to a value judgment of who ends up with it," he said. "There are a number of places in north Everett where people took properties in disrepair and fixed them up."
Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or dchircop@

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