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Published in The Seattle Times online on May 19, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on May 22, 2022
A lovingly preserved house can help us find our way home
By Clay Eals
Can we go back home again? An oft-quoted aphorism says we can’t. But we all yearn to click our figurative ruby slippers.
In March, I learned that the home my grandparents had built 97 years ago on Walnut Avenue in West Seattle was up for sale. At its open house, I languished for two hours.
I imagined my young mom and her three older sisters running up and down its stairs and singing by an upright Ludwig piano in the first-floor sunroom. I pictured their pranks, one mischievously flushing a toilet while another talked with a boy on the nearby phone. I envisioned my parents’ wedding in front of the golden-brown tiled living-room fireplace, where in 2000 I posed them for a matching “Now” photo on their 50th anniversary.
Preschool-age recollections also surfaced as I sat on front-porch benches that opened into ostensibly secret storage pods. And I lingered in the remodeled kitchen where, in its former breakfast nook, I learned to sip from a straw.
In one sense, this house isn’t distinctive. Just a two-story, four-bedroom prairie Craftsman.
Yet its context, a stone’s throw from Seattle’s first indoor-outdoor community center at Hiawatha Park, has, for nearly a century, conveyed unspoiled neighborhood warmth. Seemingly everything one could want — schools, stores, even a library, ravine, wading pool and movie theater — was mere steps away.
Mainly, however, I marvel at a dwelling that has been owned by only three families, each one stewarding it with loving care.
The soon-to-be fourth family, Brandon and Alisa Allgood, hail from California’s Silicon Valley. Brandon, 47, is an artificial-intelligence executive, and his wife, Alisa, 53, is an architectural and interior designer.
Because Brandon grew up in Marysville and on Capitol Hill and has family near Arlington and Darrington, the two have long eyed a move to Seattle. They got serious in February, gravitating to the Walnut house because of its streetside stature, open floor plan, plentiful light, proximity to Alki Beach and what today is called walkability. “We didn’t want run of the mill,” Brandon says. “We like aesthetics and uniqueness.”
The pair anticipates electrical and plumbing upgrades but will retain the house’s integrity. “We realize,” Alisa says, “we have a responsibility to keep it up.”
In Seattle’s dizzying real-estate spiral, preservation comes with a price — in this case, a purchase in excess of $1.4 million. As the cliché goes, for many the so-called American Dream remains just that: a dream.
But I also know that my early time at the Walnut house eventually led me to claim West Seattle as my own Emerald City base. May similar homes survive everywhere to inspire us all.
Special thanks to Bill Reid, Whitney Mason, Midori Okazaki, Ann Ferguson, Mahina Oshie, Joe Bopp and especially Deb & Bill Bigelow for their help with this installment.
To see Clay Eals‘ 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.
Below are a video interview of Deb Bigelow, 7 additional photos, a property record card from the Puget Sound Regional Branch of Washington State Archives and 12 historical clippings from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that were helpful in the preparation of this column.