Not every historical building can be saved

Among the thorniest challenges brought on by Everett’s rapid growth and modernization is how to preserve key elements of the city’s rich history. Historical significance, like beauty, is largely in the eye of the beholder.

City planners are taking stock of the downtown area’s cultural and historic resources as the central business district grows more dense, and a consultant is putting together a plan to reshape the city’s historic preservation strategy. Presumably, that will put an even greater emphasis on saving and restoring buildings that represent a living history of the city, even as new, taller buildings add to its skyline. It’s a responsible approach that will allow for a fair assessment of what can and should be preserved. Some important buildings, such as the Monte Cristo Hotel on Wall Street downtown and The Commerce Building at 1801 Hewitt Ave., have been adapted to new uses while maintaining much of their historical value.

For some older buildings, such reuse isn’t feasible. That appears to be the case for the 81-year-old Collins Building, a 60,000-square-foot, three-story former casket factory on the Everett waterfront. A development group, with the help of impassioned neighbors, has been scrambling to come up with a viable plan and financing to preserve it. Their latest plan, turning the building into a mini-storage facility to generate income while longer-range ideas are developed, would be a poor use of waterfront space and indicates how far away anyone is from a practical solution. After being granted extensions to deadlines the group agreed to with the building’s owner, the Port of Everett, it hasn’t produced a viable development plan or credible financing.

Estimates are that it could take $12 million to adequately preserve the wooden structure for modern uses. It was, after all, built on pilings — it wasn’t intended to last this long.

The port shouldn’t invest its own capital in such a project, but it does have an important role to play in developing a way to memorialize the waterfront’s history. It should work with Collins Building supporters to come up with plans for an interpretive center that will honor the waterfront’s industrial past — primarily wood products and fishing. Perhaps elements of the Collins Building — particularly its signature wood-sash windows — could be incorporated into the design of a new, smaller building for such a purpose.

But the valiant effort to save the Collins Building, it appears, has run its course.

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