Blackened from fire and mold, the Kobayashi House in University Place faces a fate today that’s as obscure as it was eight years ago when the city acquired the picturesque property overlooking the confluence of Chambers and Leach creeks.
The City Council next month will weigh for a second time what to do with the 48-year-old house. The discussion comes more than two years after UP officials adopted a plan to bring in a caretaker and redevelop the site for public use.
The discovery of black mold and a subsequent kitchen fire later in 2010 prompted the council to ask the city parks and recreation commission to revisit the house’s future. The commission recommended a new plan in June 2011 that would gut the house and transform it into picnic pavilions.
Now a small group of residents, including former University Place Mayor Lorna Smith, have come forward to try and save the house, again.
They’re attempting to follow a different local group that kept another notable structure, the Curran House, from the wrecking ball. That group made repairs and listed it on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Kobayashi House group is lobbying the council to restore the house to its original condition using $88,000 in insurance money from the fire, plus donations, county money and grants. There is no firm cost estimate at this point.
The preservationists argue the house has historic value and would be a great venue for events such as birthday parties, wedding receptions and yoga classes.
“There’s a lot of potential for this house,” Smith said during a recent tour with another group member, Ann Castner.
The disrepair of the vacant house is a sharp contrast to its namesake park, a lush landscape with rushing creek water offering visitors a serene soundtrack.
Wooden boards cover broken windows on one side of the house. Unbroken windows are smeared where vandalism was wiped away on another side. The kitchen is the color of tar, with part of the ceiling collapsed and a kitchen cabinet tilted away from the wall.
Smith and Castner contend city officials are allowing the house to deteriorate so it’s easier to sell the argument that it should be mostly demolished.
“They have hardly done anything to the house,” Castner said.
Mayor Ken Grassi explained that it doesn’t make much sense to invest city dollars on a stopgap measure as long as the house faces an uncertain future.
“If it’s gutted, what does it matter that it’s cleaned up?” he asked.
When the University Place Council takes up the matter on Oct. 15, it will have been more than a year since the parks commission forwarded its recommendation. Grassi said completing drawings and calculating project costs meant the recommendation couldn’t come to a council vote last year.
Then the group committed to saving the house stepped forward, he said, and the two newest City Council members had to get up to speed on its history.
“It’s a tough one, honestly, because both plans have merit,” Grassi said of the coming vote to either save or gut the house.
Jim Baldes, chairman of the parks commission, said the majority of the appointed commission is frustrated that the house remains in limbo.
It was designed in 1964 by architect Russell Garrison, who also designed the Lakewood library build and helped with efforts to incorporate the city in 1995. Robert Pauley, an executive at Weyerhaeuser, lived there with his family until 1978, when it was sold to the Kobayashi family, who did business with the timber company.
The Kobayashis approached University Place about selling the property in 2000, Smith said. The city acquired the property in 2004 for nearly $500,000 in city and county dollars.
David Pauley, who lived at the house for three years while attending high school, said he thinks using the house as a public venue is a great idea and is surprised that the debate about its future continues.
“It’s really sad to see it in its current state, but structurally it’s very sound,” he said.
Chris Moore, field director for the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, wrote to the city in May that the combination of the house’s architecture and its creekside location make it eligible for listing on the federal historic registry.
The house, he wrote, stands as a “unique example of post-WWII modernism inflected with nuances of traditional Japanese building.”