The Alki Homestead, which has stood empty and deteriorating since a 2009 fire is approaching some key decision points in the near future. It's not clear what will happen yet but those central to the actual decisions have strong opinions about it.
Alki Homestead: Bringing it back raises many questions; Its future appears in serious doubt
Log home builder Mark Fritch, great grandson of the builder won't work on restoration but would re-create it
Bringing back any deteriorating building is always a mixed bag of challenges. When it's also a building designated as an historical landmark and the storehouse of many thousands of memories for a community the challenges only increase.
That's the problem facing those who must consider what to do about the Alki Homestead. The meeting between Tom Lin, the owner, and a collection of historical preservation representatives set for Aug. 28 will help define the direction for the building but given the the opinions of two key players, its future appears to be in serious doubt.
Some background is important to provide more insight.
Lin came to America from Taiwan at the age of 20 and studied at Boston University with the backing of his parents. With good grades and 2 years of work experience at Honeywell, he was accepted into M.I.T. Sloan School of Management. He graduated with a Masters in Management and went into the financial services industry in New York. He grew up speaking Mandarin and Taiwanese. Subsequently, he learned to speak English, German, and Japanese. He worked for several of the major brokerage houses, rose through the ranks and ran trading desks in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Taiwan. He worked closely with most of the Central Banks in Asia. In the early 80s he frequently gave lectures to managers of the Central Banks of China and Taiwan on topics such as the structure of the US bond and futures markets.
He left the financial industry in 2001 and moved Seattle to take care of his elderly parents. Lin is a trained classical pianist and now lives with his elderly father in the Alki Beach area of West Seattle.
Mark Fritch is a log home expert builder from Sandy, Oregon and incredibly enough the great grandson of the actual builder of the Fir Lodge/Alki Homestead Anton Borgen. He owns his own company that currently builds finished log homes across the nation, Mark Fritch Log Homes.
Fritch has confirmed his ancestor's involvement through several sources.
Fritch has been intimately involved in the assessment and evaluation of both the Log House Museum (the original carriage house for the Homestead) and the Homestead itself and has come to be a trusted resource for Lin.
In the mix too is Todd Perbix, of the engineering firm Perbix Bykonen who has done an extensive engineering study of the building. His conclusions, drawn from his non-destructive analysis, are essentially the same as that of Fritch in that the roof must be completely replaced, a new foundation created, and from a 2009 memo he wrote, "The areas composed of log construction, in particular, along the south and east elevations are so compromised as to require replacement. The columns along the north elevation require likewise replacement.
Fire damage significantly compromised the interior of the structure. The roof requires full reconstruction and many portions of the interior log structure, particularly near the stairway at the center of the bUilding and the walls of the second floor require replacement. While most purlins and beams have only smoke damage, beams in vicinity of the fire are seriously damaged and must be replaced. In addition, the flooring in the center of the building immediately beneath where the fire penetrated the roof requires replacement, though this is a non-structural problem."
You can download and read the full Perbix-Bykonen report from 2009 at the link above.
But at issue for both Lin and Fritch and for that matter anyone interested in the re-establishment of the Homestead as a functional building, is how to go about it and to what extent there is a difference between restoration and re-creation.
Also in question is how to make the building financially sustainable and at a cost that makes it feasible.
To that end, the assessment of the condition of the building elements is critical but will require some level of dismantling or more destructive analysis. That's been a sticking point for the Architectural Review Committee (ARC) too. They are a subset of the Landmark Preservation Board (LPB) and charged with passing along their recommendation to the larger board. What can be salvaged? What is too far gone? How much exactly of the building is beyond redemption. According to whom?
For his part Fritch said he believes a dismantling, assessment and eventual reconstruction of the Homestead is pointless. "Anyone who tells you that it can be restored is talking through a southern orifice," he said colorfully. He would not participate in a reconstruction effort. "The sheer logistics of that kind of effort are enormous," Fritch said, "You have to first take it apart then move it all offsite to a big field somewhere. Then you have to examine every piece of it, and that takes a long time, then reassmble it off site, before you assemble it back on the site after you prep the new foundation. I want no part of that. You could have Bill Gates come in and pay for it all and I still wouldn't want to be part of it, and I'm the guy whose great grandfather built it!"
Lin said Fritch is the only guy he would trust with the work but if he chooses not to be involved he is "less interested" in going forward because, "It diminishes the historic significance," if Fritch is not involved. Lin has previously stated that it is his wish to have the Homestead return as a restaurant and community icon.
Fritch did say that he's certain he could build a re-created Homestead so accurate that people would swear it was a restoration. Ideally some blend of those approaches may be what is taken, but question is how much of each?
Lin has stated that any cost above approximately $2.5 million would make the project financially untenable. But the cost of a full actual restoration would be in the neighborhood of $3.5 million according to both Lin and Fritch and others they have consulted.
Which brings it back to the meeting on Aug. 28 and subsequent decisions that will flow from it and in turn from the ARC, LPB and Lin himself.
Is it possible to build a re-creation of the Homestead, including ADA access, modern electrical lines, plumbing, earthquake proof walls, modern kitchen and more, and do it using only pieces and parts of the former structure? How much of it needs to be retained to be called a historic structure?
There are national guidelines for this but they are somewhat vague, and ultimately it will still boil down to the decisions of the ARC, LPB and of course Tom Lin.
He may have to pursue having the property de-listed as a historic site, if it is too far gone to save (a conclusion supported by two independent engineering studies) though he said he is extremely reluctant to take that path. "I want to bring the Homestead back," Lin said. But the cost, and condition of the building may mean it's not possible, at least not in the way many think.
You can vote in our online poll to say if you'd patronize a "re-created" Alki Homestead Restaurant here.