It had good bones. That’s how Gary Nelson describes a showplace 1907 house, now with six apartments, in Everett’s historic Bayside neighborhood.
Earlier this year, Nelson’s family-owned construction business finished a meticulous top-to-bottom renovation of the home at 2108 Rucker Ave. The house, originally with five bedrooms, had long been an empty wreck.
Its first owners were George and Ida Hilzinger, who came here from North Dakota in 1903. George Hilzinger was a carpenter who served on Everett’s City Council in 1908, local historian Jack O’Donnell said. By 1914, he had Hilzinger Motor Co., which sold Maxwell cars in Everett.
“I love these old houses,” Nelson, 61, said Thursday on a tour of the massive home. He owns it in partnership with his wife, Heike Nelson, and brother-in-law David Johnson, who lives in London. Nelson Lumber Construction, based in La Conner, has been in his family three generations.
The six apartments — structurally rebuilt to comply with modern codes, with new wiring, sprinklers and other safety elements — were all quickly rented, Nelson said.
Brennan and Jordyn Pruitt moved into their one-bedroom apartment, with its sweeping view of Naval Station Everett, after watching the construction project for months.
Lewis Nelson and Jocelyn Sandberg rented an upstairs two-bedroom after moving from Virginia. Their close-to-downtown places have all the modern conveniences, but with classic old-house charm.
For some 15 years, the American Foursquare house wasn’t the big gray beauty passersby see now. Seemingly abandoned, it had dirty, peeling white paint. That wasn’t for a lack of love, and the house wasn’t abandoned. It was owned by a preservationist.
About a decade ago, Everett’s Bill Belshaw, who lives nearby, bought side-by-side houses from the estate of Arthur Hopkins, who had died in a fire elsewhere in Everett. Both homes were run-down hulks, and one had been used by intruders as an indoor skateboarding hangout.
Now in his mid-70s, Belshaw is a past member of Historic Everett’s board and has a keen interest in preservation.
Belshaw bought a huge house at 2112 Rucker Ave. and the one just to the north — now Nelson’s property — to save them. By 2012, Belshaw had magnificently restored the massive home to the south, built in 1905 and known as the Howard S. Wright House. Wright’s grandson was the contractor for the Space Needle.
What was once on a list of most-endangered historic properties became part of the Everett Register of Historic Places. Belshaw created five condominiums in that house, which remains a stately gem with its vintage-style pale green and brown color scheme.
Nelson bought the other house, the one his company recently restored, from Belshaw in 2016. His family partnership paid $285,000 for the house, Nelson said, but invested about $500,000 in renovations — “a little more than we thought.”
The house is included in the city’s Rucker-Grand Historic Overlay Zone, and Nelson had to have its renovations approved by the city’s Historical Commission. O’Donnell, who serves on the commission, said the group approved the plans after discussing them in November 2016.
Builders made some significant changes to the house, but they were allowed. What was once a hipped roof line, with sides sloping downwards, is now a pitched roof at the rear of the house. That made for more space. And a bump-out area, behind a bay window on the building’s south side, is entirely new.
Nelson said he’s now working with city officials to have the house listed on the Everett Register of Historic Places. Such a listing potentially qualifies an owner for the state’s Special Valuation, a temporary reduction in property taxes meant to encourage preservation efforts.
O’Donnell sees Belshaw as a hero who saved a treasured part of Everett from being ruined.
“Bill was scared to death somebody was going to buy those two properties and tear them down. He picked up both,” O’Donnell said.
That stretch of Rucker, between 21st and 22nd streets, is one of O’Donnell’s favorite blocks in the town where he was raised. “When I was a kid, it was all lined with maple trees. There’s one left,” he said. “All of the houses are original, they’re all old.”
Nelson’s company has renovated two other older buildings in Everett, a house that’s now apartments at 2412 Rucker and a brick apartment at 3212 Wetmore Ave. built in 1920.
“I live in a house built in 1904 by my great-grandfather,” said Nelson, whose home is in downtown La Conner. “This is our form of urban renewal. It’s great that nobody just said, ‘It’s a wreck,’ and tore them down.”