Latest Recession Victim: Landmark Tacoma home?

A Tacoma homeowner citing economic hardship is scheduled today to ask the City of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to remove her 105-year-old home from the city’s register of historic places, according to documents prepared by the city’s historic preservation office.

The home, located at 2803 North Starr Street, is one of four homes known collectively as the “Croatian Starr Street Houses” added to the local register on Jan. 31, 2006. According to the original landmark nomination, the four homes located at 2721, 2723, 2801, and 2803 North Starr Street are historically significant because “they document the role Croatian immigrants played in the history of Tacoma” and “provide evidence of how the village links from the Old Country were important to the immigrants who came to the United States. They also document the economic contributions made by these people once they arrived.” Additionally, the nomination reports “The houses are also significant as vernacular residential dwellings designed by Carl August Darmer, one of Tacoma’s primary architects.”

The nomination, which was prepared by Caroline Gallacci and Katherine P. Ursich, indicates the home at 2803 North Starr Street was built in 1906. The residence was home to the Carevich family — Vladimir (father); Franka (mother); Katie (daughter); Zori (daughter); Helen (daughter); and Vladimir Jr. (son) — between 1922 and 2004. Zori lived in the house for 82 years. The family made wine in the house’s small wine cellar.

On April 28, 2011, the current property owner, Diane Washburn, submitted a letter to the commission requesting her home be removed from the historic register. “I respectfully request to have my home at 2803 N. Starr Street taken off the historic register,” Washburn wrote. “I did not know what it meant to be on the register when I bought the house.”

On Aug. 18, 2011, Washburn submitted another letter requesting the same action. “I respectfully request to have my home at 2803 N. Starr Street taken off the historic register due to economic hardship,” Washburn wrote. “In addition to the enormous financial burden of owning this house, I was laid off six months ago and am collecting unemployment.”

Supporting documents provided by Washburn show she purchased the home from Ursich for $390,000 in August 2007. Between September 2007 and Spring 2011, Washburn spent $8,500 on improvements that included floor sanding and refinishing; electrical wiring; ceiling insulation; duct insulation; electrical wiring; exterior paint; and interior paint. The most recent assessment values the home at $254,800. A refinance appraisal values the home at $315,000.

“I advertised to rent the house on Craigslist in September 2010 for $1,500 a month and had no offers,” Washburn wrote to the commission. “I would still have been $500 a month in the hole. I cannot rent this house for the amount needed to cover the mortgage payment, taxes, and insurance.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the Tacoma Daily Index visited Washburn at her home for further comment. She politely declined to talk about the issue prior to the commission meeting.

In a staff report prepared for today’s meeting, Tacoma historic preservation officer Reuben McKnight notes that up until Aug. 1, 2011, there were no standards for de-listing a building from the city’s historic register. That changed on Aug. 1 when Tacoma City Council revised the municipal code. Under the new code (TMC 13.07.055), a property owner can claim economic hardship, catastrophic loss, or procedural error as causes for de-listing a historic property. To claim economic hardship, the owner must have applied for, and been denied, a Certificate of Approval and show that “the property is incapable of earning a reasonable return, regardless of whether that return represents the most profitable return possible; the property cannot be adapted for any other use, whether by the current owner or purchaser, which would result in a reasonable return; and efforts to find a purchaser interested in acquiring the property and preserving it have failed,” according to the municipal code.

During today’s meeting, the landmarks preservation commission could vote to remove the building from the historic register; vote to schedule a public hearing on the issue; request additional information; or deny the request. In his staff report, McKnight recommends scheduling a public hearing for Weds., Oct. 12, 2011.

The landmarks preservation commission is scheduled to discuss the issue during its public meeting today at 5 p.m. in the Tacoma Municipal Building, 747 Market St., Room 248. For a copy of the agenda and meeting materials cited in this article, visit . For a copy of the historic register nomination, click here.

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For earlier Tacoma Daily Index coverage of historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County, click on the following links:

A House in the City, A Home to Neighborhood History: One resident’s connection to Tacoma’s storied Wedge area —

High Hopes for Historic Tacoma Skyscraper —

Pierce County’s History Detectives —

Reaching the Register: An interview with historic preservationist Caroline T. Swope —

Status Seekers: The challenges and benefits to seeking historic district designation —

Can the Bank of Buckley be Rebuilt? —

Behind the Times: Nevermind the buildings. Can Pierce County restore its historic preservation program? —