You can’t just build an old, historic building, and anyone who has lived in Seattle over the past decade or so knows we’re losing them all the time.
So, it wasn’t hard to gather a group determined to save The Stone Cottage, a Depression-era house decorated with stones collected from the beach near the Alki Lighthouse by its late owner, Eva Falk.
The house sits on one of three lots purchased for $2.2 million by Korea-based Chainqui Development, which will build a six-level, 18-unit condominium building in the last quarter of the year.
Falk, who died in 1997 at 92, pulled a wagon some two miles down the beach and, over time, gathered about 15,000 stones. She then hired men from a nearby Hooverville settlement to secure the stones to the facade of the house with a mortar mix of sand, cement and cream of tartar.
But they aren’t just stones. They are a link to the Duwamish tribe, on whose land much of the city sits.
“The hills and the valleys and the rocks contain the memories of the Duwamish people,” said Ken Workman, the fourth great-grandson of Chief Seattle. “So when it came to the cottage being moved, I realized that those rocks contain those memories.”
Workman has brought that perspective to Save the Stone Cottage, an organization working to raise money to dismantle, store, restore and find a new location for the cottage, so that history will be preserved.
The group, made up of historical activists, is working under the auspices of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, and so far has raised $50,000 toward a $110,000 goal.
“I’m trying to save this thing because it needs to be saved,” said John Bennett, owner of Bennett Properties and a historic building consultant who is part of the preservation group. “The Duwamish people believe that when your soul dies, you can go back to the Earth. So the souls of the Duwamish people are in the trees, the sand — and the rocks.
“When (Workman) told me that,” Bennett said, “the hair on the back of my neck went up and I said, ‘I’m in.'”
So is the developer, Chainqui, which kicked in $20,000 to the Save the Stone Cottage fund.
“We’re not in a hurry to take down the house, so if we have this time, why not give them time?” said Jenny Tsen, Chainqui’s operations manager. “It works out.”
When she first saw the house, Tsen didn’t realize its significance.
“It was after I heard the story,” she said. “Picking up the stones from the beach? It’s rare. It’s a nice story. And it’s our way of showing them that we are foreigners, the developer is from Taiwan. And we respect your culture. We don’t want to just knock things down. We truly do care.”
Bennett loves that thought: “The history spans from the Native tribe all the way to out-of-country developers,” he said. “Think about that.”
Once dismantled, the house will be stored in a building owned by the Port of Seattle, and rented by Save the Stone Cottage for up to two years. The plan is to relocate the building somewhere on Alki, and turn it into an interpretive center.
“We want it somewhere where people can go,” Bennett said. “Our main concern isn’t the inside, but the outside, which is very unique.”
Right now, the house is vacant and gutted. Wood floors, beams and plaster, but in good shape.
The land may have the higher value to some, Bennett said, but the house, and the history literally built into it, is priceless.
“We’re in a city that has grown, and we all accept that,” he said. “But every year, we lose more historic buildings.”
To generate interest, the group launched a series of contests around “Story Stones” aimed to highlight the history of the house: One, a clue-based Twitter search; another, a re-enactment of the two-mile walks Eva Falk took to gather the stones and a karaoke “Rock Concert.”
Workman, who was born in the Alki area, feels a part of the beach where the stones came from.
“I am imprinted on that beach,” he said, “the lapping of the waves on the shore. That’s embedded in my DNA. Whenever I get near Salty’s (restaurant on Alki Beach) I come to life, like springtime, when the flowers come into bloom.
“That’s just who I am.”
The people who are new to Seattle should know who came before them, and the house will help that. The stones, and their souls, for all to see.
“Seattle is so very new,” Workman said. “It’s only 160 years — two grandmas — old. So the Duwamish people, we are not far removed from being hunters and gatherers. We’re still here.”