County museum artifacts moved to Everett Mall

EVERETT — A local history museum has found sanctuary in unlikely quarters: The Everett Mall.

The Snohomish County Museum of History had been searching for a home since getting the boot from a historic county-owned building. Now the organization has moved into storage space at the mall, a place normally associated with the latest fashion and trends, not the stuff of yesteryear.

“We’re very happy about the goodwill they’ve extended us,” said Greg Rielly, the museum’s board president. “The mall provided a real solution for us.”

Of course, there’s much work to do before the museum’s artifacts go on display. It’s likely to take a couple of years of drumming up grassroots support and an aggressive fundraising effort.

The $1-per-year arrangement with the mall is meant to tide over the museum’s leadership as they work on finding permanent lodgings in downtown Everett. The positive turn of events this month coincided with an announcement of a name change to the Everett Museum of History.

“I think it’s going to make people more enthusiastic,” museum Executive Director Barbara George said of the new name.

By Friday, volunteers and crews from Evergreen Moving and Storage had moved most of the collection out of the county’s Carnegie Building, save for some larger objects, George said.

The museum, first established in 1954, now has more than 50,000 pieces. For the moment, about all that’s visible to the public are some typewriters the museum arranged in a storefront display at the corner of Colby and Everett avenues.

Most of the collection has been packed away since 2007, when money problems forced the museum to close a space on Hewitt Avenue. The same year, an Everett warehouse where the museum was keeping its collection caught fire. Though most pieces escaped ruin, the fire created a storage problem.

In 2007, County Executive Aaron Reardon’s annual budget speech included what then appeared to be a win-win solution. The museum, Reardon said, would get a 50-year lease of the county’s 1905 Carnegie Building at the corner of Oakes Avenue and Wall Street. It would cost just $1 per year. Matching a museum for Snohomish County history with a historic county building seemed a perfect fit.

Things soured this year when museum directors learned they would not be receiving a dollar-a-year lease from the county, but a discounted market rate. They also discovered they would have to pour $4 million to $5 million into renovating the Carnegie Building, including upgrades to basic amenities such as plumbing and wiring. The museum’s directors felt that the terms of the lease would be impossible to meet — for them or any other prospective tenant.

In any event, the museum would have to move to make way for a contractor to make the building more earthquake-ready. The museum helped the county land a $882,000 grant from the Washington State Historical Society to pay for the work.

Reardon’s administration informed the museum a year ago of the need to move and has offered money to help. Members of the executive’s staff maintain they have been more than fair.

An eviction date this year has been moved back several times. The current deadline is the end of the year, Reardon spokesman Christopher Schwarzen said last week.

Rielly and other museum supporters are bitter.

“There are still open and unresolved compensation issues with the Snohomish County administration that we are pursuing,” he said.

County Councilman Brian Sullivan is a museum supporter and a critic of how negotiations played out with the county.

“I’m really sad the museum’s no longer available to participate in the rehabilitation of the Carnegie Building,” Sullivan said.

Meantime, though, the museum’s artifacts have escaped the prospect of becoming homeless.

Offering storage space for next to nothing should benefit the Everett Mall and the museum, said Todd Falduti, the mall’s general manager.

“We heard about the challenges the museum was having, and being a community-focused center, we wanted to reach out because we had some space available,” Falduti said. “It’s nice that the mall was able to do something.”

The storage area of about 10,000 square feet is accessible via two flights of stairs on the back side of the mall. While it’s separated from the mall’s retail space, Falduti said he’d like to give the museum the chance to display items at unused spots inside the mall.

This isn’t the first time the Everett Mall has come to the rescue of a local cultural institution.

Last year, the financially struggling Everett Symphony Orchestra started using the mall’s former triplex cinema as a rehearsal hall. The venue now serves as a community performance space.

The next challenge for the museum is to resurrect itself as a functioning institution. In the coming years, it needs to form a board of trustees and aims to raise $2.5 million. The plan is to open a 15,000-square-foot space in a historic downtown building by 2014, with operations in full swing by 2015.

“I’m actually hoping for earlier than that,” George said.

Beyond the mall, the museum’s leadership envisions partnerships with the Schack Art Center, genealogical societies, Historic Everett and public libraries.

Another potential partner is the City of Everett. The city already is letting the museum store photos and other items at the city’s Culmback Building. That’s where the city keeps a veritable trove of its own historical treasures, including artifacts from the life of its most famous son, the late U.S. Sen. Henry M. Jackson.

The city administration was unaware of the museum’s new Everett-focused direction or hopes of a partnership, spokeswoman Kate Reardon said. The city welcomes a dialogue, though.

Dave Ramstad, a board member with the preservation group Historic Everett, believes the museum’s plans would fit beautifully in his hometown’s evolving cultural core. It’s a sign, he said, of just how much the old mill town has changed.

“It’s stunning to imagine Everett as a culture city, but that’s what it is,” Ramstad said. “The joke is that many of the people who grew up here don’t believe it.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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