Everett’s Donovan homes here to stay

EVERETT – Shannen Buehler sometimes feels like her neighborhood is under siege.

That’s understandable when you consider shortly after her family moved into a sturdy green bungalow on Oakes Avenue, 11 similar houses across the street were reduced to rubble. Eleven others were carted off to a new location.

Buehler lives in the heart of Everett’s Historic Donovan District, where a renewed effort to protect the character of her neighborhood won recent support by the Everett City Council.

“These homes are part of Everett’s history,” Buehler said Friday, speaking over the racket of construction crews working in a deep pit where 22 houses were displaced last year.

The four-block area has been the site of a major controversy, when neighbors and historic preservationists battled with Providence Everett Medical Center over its $500 million expansion plan.

After the Everett City Council gave the hospital the green light to build over the homes that it had been buying over a number of years, the four-block Donovan district shrank by an entire block in a single swoop.

The district is named for developer Edward Donovan, who built an estimated 160 cottage-style houses in Everett and Monroe between 1915 and 1931. The houses are distinguishable by their gabled roofs, tile fireplaces and cove ceilings.

About half of the homes, clustered between Lombard and Oakes avenues, were built together in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

The solidly built houses were added to the Everett Register of Historic Places in 1998.

Still, the designation didn’t go far enough to protect the Donovan homes, said Jack O’Donnell, chairman of the Everett Historical Commission.

“It’s too bad we couldn’t have saved them all,” he said. “(The hospital’s expansion) really compromised the district.”

O’Donnell, a former history teacher who compiles The Herald’s Seems Like Yesterday column, recently persuaded the City Council to change its planning policy to prevent further encroachment into the district from any direction.

Because the hospital now owns the former Everett Community College athletic field to the north of the district, it has enough room for future growth.

But the district was still vulnerable from the possibility that businesses on Broadway might want to expand to the west, O’Donnell said.

City Council President Brenda Stonecipher, who voted to approve the change in mid-July, said it should effectively preserve the neighborhood.

“It was really important to be clear that there would be no future expansion into the neighborhood,” Stonecipher said.

Reporter David Chircop: 425-339-3429 or dchircop@ heraldnet.com.

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