By Julie Muhlstein, Herald Columnist
Almost impossible. Six years ago, that’s how Bill Belshaw saw the chance of restoring a once-grand house to its 1905 splendor.
Everett’s historic Howard S. Wright House, at 2112 Rucker Ave., was a wreck, ravaged by fire, water and vandals.
Yet last week, Belshaw opened the door to reveal a showplace, which he now owns.
A miracle? The stunningly renovated house is more the result of Belshaw’s toil and money, with help from the nonprofit Historic Everett organization. Belshaw is on the group’s board of trustees.
On Nov. 14, in a unanimous vote, the Everett City Council approved placing the Howard S. Wright House on the Everett Register of Historic Places. Just six years ago, it was on an annual list of “most endangered historic properties” compiled by the Seattle-based Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.
The massive American Foursquare house, with Prairie-style influences and ornate embellishments, was built in 1905 by and for Howard Sprague Wright, founder of the Howard S. Wright Construction Co. His grandson was the contractor for the Space Needle.
By 1961, a former owner of the big house, Arthur Hopkins, had chopped it into eight apartments. A fire destroyed the roof in 2002, and fighting the fire caused water damage.
Belshaw, 70, had an up-close view of the deterioration. His own home is across the street.
By 2006, when Belshaw was president of Historic Everett, intruders had left graffiti on walls and built a makeshift skateboard ramp inside the Wright house.
“It’s historic — and an eyesore” a Herald headline said of the house on May 27, 2006. Belshaw, speaking for Historic Everett, was worried at the time that it would be torn down, and that new development would be out of character in his historic neighborhood.
In 2006, he said it would be “almost impossible” for the group to raise enough money to buy and restore the building. The turnaround began when Belshaw bought the house, in 2007, for $550,000.
“He literally tore it apart and put it back together again,” said Dave Ramstad, a member of the city’s Historical Commission, in a Facebook post before the City Council approved the historic register listing last week. “It’s a true gem, and a great gift to our city’s streetscape.”
Project by costly, arduous project — Belshaw figures he invested at least another $400,000 — he restored the house’s 1905 beauty, even as he created a modern purpose. What looks like a fine old house on the outside feels brand new inside, where Belshaw created five condominiums.
There’s new landscaping and a vintage color scheme, painted sage green, cocoa brown and cream. The green matches original paint uncovered during the work.
The condos are spacious, with fireplaces, airy kitchens and stunning Port Gardner views; small, one with a cozy window seat looking out on the street; and two at the back of the house are on a lower level. The condos retain 1905 architectural touches, solid wooden doors and trim, and original windows.
Belshaw, who is retired from a county planning position, updated interiors with new drywall, flooring, wiring, appliances, lighting and everything else that needed fixing. He hopes to price the units in the $100,000s and $200,000s.
Belshaw said extensive research to support the register listing was done by Sarah Church, president of Historic Everett’s board of trustees. According to the group, Wright and his family lived in the house until the early 1920s.
Belshaw bought the house from relatives of Hopkins, who died in a fire at another location in 2004. Belshaw also owns the big house just north of the Wright house, at 2108 Rucker Ave. It needs major renovations, but Belshaw hopes to sell it.
Jan Meston, a community development specialist in the city’s planning department, said the Everett Register of Historic Places was started in 1987 when the City Council adopted an ordinance also creating the Historical Commission.
Inclusion on the Everett Register offers more than bragging rights. Belshaw took advantage of a special valuation program, allowed under city ordinance and state law. Meston said anyone restoring property that’s on the register can subtract approved expenses spent in a 24-month period from the tax assessment for 10 years.
“If your house is valued at $300,000 and you put in $200,000, you’re only taxed on $100,000 for 10 years,” she said. Property must be on the register by the end of the year in which special valuation is claimed.
Among other buildings on the Everett Register are the Van Valey House at 2130 Colby Ave., the Commerce Building at 1801 Hewitt Ave., and the childhood home of the late U.S. Sen. Henry M. Jackson, at 3602 w Ave.
Belshaw’s work benefits Everett both aesthetically and economically.
“People think of historic preservation as money going out. The renovation was a substantial investment in our local economy,” Meston said. “The architecture of the house is beautiful. It is a wonderful gift.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.