Everett’s Jack O’Donnell is in the top row, far right, in his fifth-grade class picture from Longfellow Elementary School in the 1955-56 school year. (Courtesy of Jack O’Donnell)

Longfellow school in Everett destined to be parking lot

In the mid-1950s, Jack O’Donnell was in a split third- and fourth-grade classroom at Everett’s Longfellow Elementary School. He remembers gazing at Mount Baker from the north-facing windows.

Judy Hart, who lives in Port Orchard, also went to Longfellow. Now 73, she remembers being scolded by her teacher. Then Judy Neff, her prank involved blackening her teeth with a colored pencil and grinning to make her classmates laugh.

Don Prigg remembers when his father, Ward Prigg, was principal of both Longfellow and Lowell schools during World War II. “During the war, they gave him two jobs,” said Prigg, 84, who lives in Everett.

Everett native Kari Townsend, 54, didn’t go to Longfellow. Yet she recently posted a musical message on a “Save The Longfellow School – Everett, WA” Facebook page. Her post is from YouTube, the Counting Crows version of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” with the lyrics “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

“I love seeing communities that preserve their history. I don’t think Everett’s done a very good job of it,” Townsend said Tuesday.

O’Donnell and the others are unhappy about an Everett School District plan to demolish the Longfellow building and create a parking lot in its place. The project would make way for 64 parking spaces, 33 where Longfellow is and another 31 in place of its newer annex building.

Built in 1911 and used as a school until 1971, the building at 3715 Oakes Ave. later housed some of the district’s administration.

Mike Gunn, the Everett district’s director of facilities and maintenance, recently told the Everett Historical Commission that attempts to find a buyer for the old school were unsuccessful. A parking lot might be there by the end of next summer. The site is near the Everett district’s Memorial Stadium.

O’Donnell is chairman of the Everett Historical Commission, which advises the city on preservation issues but has no authority to halt school district plans. He is also active in Historic Everett, a nonprofit that includes the Longfellow building on its list of “Endangered Buildings.”

The building is on neither the National Register of Historic Places nor the Washington Heritage Register. It’s significant in Everett history as the grade school of the late U.S. Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson. Stan Boreson, the 91-year-old known as the “King of Scandinavian Humor,” also went to Longfellow.

Larry O’Donnell, Jack O’Donnell’s older brother, attended Jefferson Elementary School, a striking 1894 Romanesque-style building. It was demolished in 1964 to make way for the Everett post office on Pacific and Hoyt avenues.

Champions of saving Longfellow point to other examples of historic buildings being repurposed.

Jack O’Donnell said Everett’s 1925 Monte Cristo building, a once grand hotel on Wall Street, was empty and in terrible shape for about 20 years before being renovated through a public-private partnership. Today’s Monte Cristo has 69 units of low-income housing and a ballroom used as a wedding venue.

North Everett’s old Washington Elementary is now Washington Oakes, a retirement community. What was once South Junior High on Rucker Avenue was renovated for its use as Everett’s Sequoia High School. The New Life Church bought and renovated Everett’s old Roosevelt School in the 1960s.

And there’s the 1910 Commerce Building, which Housing Hope renovated to create 48 units of low-income housing downtown.

Larry O’Donnell, 79, worked 30 years for the Everett School District. He was a teacher, counselor, principal and, as an administrator, was involved in the district’s building program. He worked on a stellar example of local historic preservation — the 1995 renovation of the 1911 Everett High School building.

“Candidly, I would like to see the building saved,” Larry O’Donnell said Monday. “I’m sympathetic to the district and have great respect for the folks there. But I always hate to see old buildings go.” The southernmost school in the district when it was built, “Longfellow played a significant role in this community.”

On its website, the district answers some questions people might have about its plan to demolish Longfellow. The building, its annex and related areas were valued at just over $2 million in 2014. State law says that as a public entity, the district can’t donate the property.

Jack O’Donnell and others hope the district doesn’t rush to destroy Longfellow. In some ways, the place is like home. His mother, Cathern O’Donnell, was Longfellow’s head cook when the kitchen opened in the annex building.

He remembers wonderful teachers, field trips, and the school’s “fun frolic” carnivals. He was there when a new Safeway store was built nearby on Broadway in 1951, and when Tuerks Stadium Drive-In opened at 38th and Broadway in 1957.

“I am sick about it, it breaks my heart,” he said, adding that the building should be mothballed while awaiting a buyer or preservation plan. He could see it used for apartments, a museum, even a restaurant. Oregon-based McMenamins has made old buildings into hotels and eateries, recently in Bothell’s old Anderson School.

“When I was growing up, my dad fixed everything. We saved things,” said Hart, the Port Orchard woman. “Now it’s a throwaway society. That’s a beautiful building. They don’t make them like that anymore.”

“It doesn’t seem right,” Jack O’Donnell said. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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