Stanwood mayor's home stands as tribute to parents
Genna Martin / The Herald
Stanwood Mayor Dianne White looks west through the window in the kitchen of her recently built home. The property has been in White's family for 65 years and in 2009 she had the new house built on the footprint of the old house where her mother lived. White made sure that the large kitchen window looked out on the same view as kitchen window in the original house.
Genna Martin / The Herald
Much of the yard and landscaping around the new house remain as they were.
Genna Martin / The Herald
The dining room of Dianne White's house. Though the new house was built largely on the footprint of the old one, the layout was modified for many rooms.
Dianne White did.
Forty years after she left Stanwood, she moved back to her hometown.
Not just to Stanwood, but to the site where she grew up.
When she looks out the kitchen window, she sees what her mom saw, and what she saw as a girl. The landscaping, too, dates to her childhood.
But the walls and floors have changed.
Rather than remodel the home built in 1951, White made the difficult decision to tear it down, foundation and all, and start over.
The old house had too many issues.
"It had asbestos everywhere, and water standing underneath it," White said. "Finally it got to the point that Pearl Schaar, the architect, said, 'What are you going to have when you're done? It's going to be a 60-year-old house that still has all these problems.' "
Yet it was a last resort for White, 67, to demolish the home her parents, Harold "Doc" and Ethel Warsinske, built in a style influenced by architect Frank Lloyd Wright as a place to raise four children.
"It was real forward-thinking. It was the first all-electric house in Snohomish County," White said. "It was very innovative for 1950 but, you know, it's not 1950 anymore."
A new house was built on largely the same footprint on the seven-acre property. The layout was modified for many rooms.
The kitchen spot stayed put, though windows were expanded to include panoramic views of Stanwood, Port Susan, Camano Island, the Olympic Mountains, Skagit Bay and Whidbey Island.
White, a career pharmacist, doesn't use the kitchen the way her homemaker mom did, but fond memories come swarming back.
"She had this little cookie spritz machine that made little green trees, and she put cream cheese in them so they were extra special good," White said. "I have her press."
The yard is the most precious family bond. Much of it was left intact.
"We saved most of the landscaping that was 50 and 60 years old," White said. "When I was a little kid, we'd go get rocks on weekends and build rock walls. My dad mixed all the concrete in a wheelbarrow. There are rock walls all around the property."
White married her husband, Kirby, on that lawn in 1967. Wearing the same wedding dress, their daughter, Emily, wed her husband on the property in 2005. The verdict is still out on the wedding details of their engaged son, Jesse.
The new house, completed in 2009, was built using local products and local muscle.
"A local architect, local contractor, local cement, local cement guy," White said. "I'm the mayor. I felt like we needed to use local."
White's second term as mayor ends this year. She's going to retire, despite the perks of running a city.
"It is fun to say, 'This is the mayor of Stanwood calling.' You get right through," she said.
White didn't intend to run for office when she returned to Stanwood in 2001 after moving around the state for four decades with her pharmacist husband.
"After we sold our last pharmacy in Spokane, it didn't matter where we lived. We came over to take care of my dad," she said.
She and Kirby ran a relief pharmacy business, staffing pharmacies at stores and jails in Snohomish County. She got entrenched in her community, like her dad, a veterinarian everybody called Doc.
He died shortly before the new home was completed.
"The idea was to make it look like the house that had always been here," White said. "When I was working down at QFC at the pharmacy, a guy came in and said, 'I thought you tore Doc's house down, but it's still there.' That was exactly what we want.
"It is a legacy to my parents, and we have been very thoughtful stewards."
Like its predecessor, the rebuilt home is innovative.
"This is a green-built house," White said.
The runoff goes off into the pond. "In the old house, the lawn didn't dry out until the end of June."
The one-level floor plan is handicap accessible.
"We are all set up to age in place," White said. "My husband is in a wheelchair now. It all works so well."
A Murphy bed is hidden on the office wall in what looks like a cabinet. On the front is a flat-screen TV.
"It's built into the frame," her husband said. "Just pull it down. It's a queen-sized bed."
The only drawback: Guests can't watch TV in bed.
No problem. There's also a detached apartment for guests, for now.
"The idea that is when we get old and broken down we could have a caregiver," White said.
It's a perfect place for her daughter and three grandkids to stay on visits.
It wasn't intended for that.
"We planned everything, except we didn't plan our grandchildren to live in Pennsylvania," White said. "Our daughter fell in love with a guy and the rest is history."
Who knows? Maybe she'll come home again someday.
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