There it sits, 110 years old and sturdy looking, a buff-colored Everett landmark visible from I-5. Preservationists have taken one more step in their dogged effort to save what was once Longfellow School — even as the school district and school board maintain control of its fate.
On May 25, members of Everett’s Historical Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the building at 3715 Oakes Ave. be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Yet a national register listing, although an honor, would be no guarantee of stopping any Everett School District plans to demolish the Longfellow building.
In recent years, local preservationists have been in a tug-of-war of sorts with the district, which in 2017 planned to tear down the Longfellow building for more parking near Everett Memorial Stadium.
Patrick Hall, who submitted the nomination on behalf of the non-profit Historic Everett group, noted that in 2010 the Port of Everett demolished the Collins Building, despite its 2006 listing on the national register. That post-and-beam structure was the last example of long-gone industries on Everett’s waterfront.
One of Everett’s earliest large schools, Longfellow was built where a wooden two-room schoolhouse once stood. Its significance in Everett history includes being the grade school of the late U.S. Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson. Legendary local performer Stan Boreson also attended Longfellow. Known as the “King of Scandinavian Humor,” he died in 2017.
Appointed by Everett’s mayor and the City Council, the nine-member Historical Commission advises the city on matters of history and preservation. Its recommendation favoring the Longfellow listing on the national register was signed by Steve Fox, chairman of the commission, and Yorik Stevens-Wajda, Everett’s planning director.
“The nomination was very well prepared,” said Karen Stewart, an environmental planner and historic preservation official with the city’s Community, Planning & Economic Development department.
The next step is a review by the state Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. “Chances are, they’ll approve it,” Stewart said.
“We’re the gatekeeper,” said Michael Houser, state architectural historian with Washington’s Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. The advisory council will review the nomination later this month, he said.
From there, Houser said, the listing will ultimately be up to the National Park Service. Yet it’s up to the state to make sure the nomination “is up to snuff,” meeting criteria related to the building itself and its importance to community history. Everett’s Historical Commission determined the criteria were met, Stewart said.
“The whole goal of the national register is to formally document a building, raise the profile, and celebrate its history,” Houser said. There is also a tax advantage. Private owners of properties on the register are eligible for a 20% federal tax credit.
Houser stressed that consent from an owner is required for buildings to be listed on the national register, but only for private ownership. “Public ownership is not afforded the opportunity to object to a listing — they can still complain,” he said.
That means listing the Longfellow building on the national register could happen despite the district’s objection.
Darcy Walker, director of facilities and planning with the Everett district, was the lone voice opposing the listing on the national register during the Historical Commission’s May 25 meeting, which was conducted online. He said it’s the school board, with publicly elected members, that should make decisions regarding district property.
He also noted that as a public entity, the district isn’t eligible for the 20% tax credit.
Walker and Hall were among members of the Longfellow Property Advisory Task Force. The school district established the group in 2019 to consider options for the three-story, 25,171-square-foot building, built in 1911, and its annex, a 1957 addition. At the time, the district described the building as being in poor condition and in need of significant interior, exterior, mechanical, electrical, structural, ADA and safety investments.
The task force was started when the district was headed by former superintendent Gary Cohn. Walker said current Superintendent Ian Saltzman doesn’t plan to continue the group. Hall said its meetings were cut short due to COVID-19 and the change in district leadership.
Hall contends the group’s vote on priorities for the building was preliminary. After five meetings, he said, it had ranked possible uses. In order, those possible Longfellow options included: school district programs, district-related athletic programs, community use, housing and demolition.
In 2015, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation added the Longfellow building to its most-endangered list.
Tearing it down is a costly option, as renovations would also surely be. In 2018, the Everett School Board learned the lowest demolition bid had come in at $2.1 million, much higher than previous estimates.
Hall is a member of the Everett Historical Commission, but having submitted the nomination recused himself from the May 25 vote.
He hasn’t lost hope that the building can be saved, and was encouraged by visiting The Lodge at St. Edward State Park, a newly opened hotel on the east side of Lake Washington. Once a seminary, it had been closed for many years before its restoration.
With other Historic Everett members, Hall staged a “heart-bombing” in 2019, decorating the Longfellow building with signs and paper hearts, drawing attention to efforts to spare it from a wrecking ball.
Hall said he’s “pretty neutral” about what the building should become. “What we want is for it to be used,” he said, offering a suggestion that “preschool is a good use.”
Walker said the district’s top priorities must be students and existing schools.
Madison, Lowell and Jackson elementary schools need replacing, Walker said Friday. And maintenance is a real need for Everett High School’s vintage buildings and Sequoia High School, the former South Junior High. This year, he said, the district power washed and upgraded the exterior of Everett High, which is due for a new roof next year.
“We want to be good stewards of these gems,” Walker said.
During citizen comments at the May 25 meeting, Everett’s Kari Quaas weighed in with a nostalgic take on the Longfellow building. Her mother, Ellen Quaas, not only attended Longfellow, she later taught there. Her mom’s cousin, Jan Carlson, also went to Longfellow in the 1940s.
“As I see it, there is no harm in honoring this building by recognizing it on the historic register,” said Quaas, adding that a restored Longfellow could offer “a sneak peek into Everett’s history.”
Whether or not it makes the list, the Longfellow’s history has yet to be fully written.
“It’s kind of a long saga, it’s not over yet,” Stewart said.
Julie Muhlstein: firstname.lastname@example.org