Historic home owned by University Place gets new life as picnic shelters

The remnants of a dilapidated house, whose fate was debated for years by local preservationists and the University Place City Council, are finally being renovated and should be open to the public by the end of summer.

Two open-air shelters will stand where the 2,111-square-foot, rambler-style structure known as the Kobayashi house once stood. The council approved the plan in April 2013, but it took more than a year to put into action.

The shelters are intended to bring a more welcoming feel to 4.82-acre Kobayashi Park, nestled at the junction of Leach and Chambers creeks.

The location “is so unique, particularly sitting here in the middle of an urban setting,” said Jim Baldes, who leads UP’s volunteer parks advisory board. “It’s a natural canyon that is quite beautiful. I’m glad we pursued, persuaded and prevailed to get this thing done.”

Already gone is the Kobayashi house kitchen, which was charred by a fire in 2010. In its place will be public bathrooms. Walls with black mold were torn down, but the octagon roof of the living room was left up and will cover one picnic area.

Construction started this month and is almost complete. Modern Builders was hired to do the work estimated at $103,131. The City Council approved a contract with the company June 2 and has $134,000 available for the project. The insurance claim for the 2010 fire will pay for the work.

For years, visitors who ventured down the single-lane driveway off Chambers Creek Road at University Place’s southeastern border with Lakewood would be greeted by a boarded-up, forest-green home that had become a canvas for vandals.

The city rented the home for private use until the 2010 fire. In 2011, the city’s park advisory board recommended converting it to picnic shelters, but a group of residents opposed the idea.

Former Mayor Lorna Smith was one of those leading the charge to save the home that she said has historical significance.

“I just think there have been too many homes that the city has purchased with land and they just have been torn down,” Smith said. “I think it’s a waste of public money.”

Designed by local architect Russell Garrison and built in 1964, the Kobayashi house is viewed by preservationists as an example of post-World War II modernism influenced by traditional Japanese construction. Robert Pauley, an executive at Weyerhaeuser, lived there with his family until 1978 when the home was sold to the Kobayashi family, who did business with the timber company.

In 2000 the Kobayashis offered the home to the city when the family planned to move to Japan, according to UP Public Works and parks director Gary Cooper.

The Cascade Land Conservancy purchased the home for $500,000 in 2002 to preserve the sensitive location at the confluence of two salmon-bearing streams.

University Place purchased the home from the conservancy in 2004 for $656,612, using a combination of city, county and federal money.

Smith and her group wanted the city to repair the home and open it for public use or a caretaker residence. Because of the park’s isolation at the bottom of a canyon, having someone on site looking after it would make it feel safer, she said.

The city determined it was too expensive to keep the home open. But Baldes said the city retained the bones of the structure to frame a picnic shelter, which gives a nod to history while making the site useful to the public.

Eventually the city hopes to run a trail from the park along the Chambers Creek ravine to the county-owned Chambers Creek properties downstream connecting at Chambers Bay.