Woodinville Schoolhouse’s Last Lesson: How to Preserve our Past

By Anna V., Lopez Island Middle School Student

Woodinville Schoolhouse is one of the last remaining historic buildings in Woodinville, WA. Woodinville was one of the first towns to be settled across Lake Washington from Seattle in the 1880s. The schoolhouse is on the corner of 133rd Ave NE and NE 175th Street, near Woodinville City Hall and the sports fields – once the center of activity of Woodinville. It has been vacant for sixteen years, and minimal effort has been made to keep it maintained. The building now is starting to get cracks on the walls. There are plants growing up against the walls as well. Without any rehabilitation, the building will crumble. Once this building is destroyed no one can recover all the history that it represents.

Woodinville Schoolhouse front

Originally a wooden structure, the Woodinville Schoolhouse is actually a compilation of three  building projects. It now stands as an example of  1930s architecture and the New Deal program,  Work Projects Administration (WPA).

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The Schoolhouse served the kids of Woodinville for almost a century until it closed down in the 1970s. By that time, the Woodinville population had outgrown the Schoolhouse, so it was rented out to community groups. It was later used for city hall, but the City of Woodinville closed it down after the Nisqually Earthquake made the building unsafe to occupy. The Woodinville Schoolhouse now faces “demolition by neglect.”

Woodinville leaders disagree on the future of the Schoolhouse. Many people want to remodel it. Others, such as members of the City Council, want to tear down the building to make room for a parking garage. The Woodinville Heritage Society’s mission is to preserve and perpetuate the history of the greater Woodinville area.  Rick  Chatterton, Heritage Society Board President, would like to see the Schoolhouse once again be a gathering place for the community. Chatterton and the Heritage Society are talking to the State of Washington to confirm that the building is on the National Historic Landmark list. If it is on the list, it will be much harder, if not impossible, for the City Council to have the building torn down.

Chatterton feels that it is important to preserve the Schoolhouse. “It is more than just bricks and mortar; it tells the story of our community,” he said. “It represents the importance of education, community activities and how we have grown over the last century. To lose it would mean losing 120 years of history and robbing future generations of our unique story.”

Rick Chatterton

Rick Chatterton, Board President, Woodinville Heritage Society

The Woodinville Heritage Society has been driving the efforts to preserve the Woodinville Schoolhouse since 2004.  Over the years there has been support from some members of the City Council and various private building interests.  In 2001 the City, through the Woodinville Landmarks Commission and King County Landmarks and Heritage Commission, designated the building as a City of Woodinville Landmark. Recently, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation placed the Schoolhouse on its Most Endangered Properties List.

The history and the value of the Schoolhouse will never be the same if people want to ruin what is left. This building has been in Woodinville for 120 years. Destroying it would be a terrible thing.  As Chatterton explains, “Once a historic building like the Woodinville Schoolhouse is destroyed, it is gone forever.”

If you would like more information you can download the Washington State Insider app (launching mid-June 2016) and earn points for visiting the Woodinville Schoolhouse. Those points can be redeemed for discounted entry to the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma. You should also check out Woodinville Heritage Society’s website: www.WoodinvilleHeritage.org

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Woodinville School students, circa 1950

“Maybe not a gas station… but always a museum.”

Last week I paid a visit to the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma to give Erich Ebel a preview of the Washington State Insider app, which is set to launch by mid-June. Erich is the Marketing and Communications Director for the Washington State Historical Society, who manages the History Museum. They have agreed to give discounted admission to Washington State Insider app users who have collected points by visiting historic places around the state.

Erich had just returned from a whirlwind trip around the state, passing through many of the same places that my family and I plan to visit during our ProjectWA summer tour. After visiting dozens of small towns across Western and Eastern Washington, Erich was struck by the one thing they all had in common. “Every town, no matter how small, has a museum,” he said. “Maybe not a gas station or a stoplight, but always a museum.”

WA State History Museum

Erich is absolutely right about this. My home, Lopez Island, with a population of only 2,400, has no stoplights or sidewalks. But it has a great museum. This phenomenon makes a statement about the priorities of smaller communities; and it is why, according to Erich, “people are gravitating toward heritage tourism.”

Museums of all sizes are critical to reminding us of our history. If our cultural heritage is to be preserved, though, we need more than museums to curb the advances of shorter-term commercial interests that can be antithetical to historic preservation. In Woodinville, the City Council wants to tear down the town’s original schoolhouse to make room for a parking garage. In Kent, the last barn standing – representing the area’s agricultural roots – will likely be torn down if the City Council’s current plan to widen the Green River is implemented. During my trip last week I visited both the Woodinville Schoolhouse and the Dvorak Barn in Kent. Losing them would be a massive loss for each community.

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Left: Rick Chatterton, Board President, Woodinville Heritage Society | Right: Nancy and Chuck Simpson, long-time Kent residents

The groups fighting for the protection of these endangered properties are not necessarily advocating for keeping these old buildings in their original state. They recognize that economies, industries and demographics change. Instead of creating relics that have no apparent use in today’s communities, they would like to see these buildings preserved and used as community gathering places of some kind. History and modern life don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

It is this integration of yesterday and today that is driving the development of the Washington State Insider app. 80% of Americans walk around with smartphones today. Let’s find a way to capitalize on that trend in a way that helps raise awareness of and preserves our cultural heritage.

Over the next week, students from Lopez Island Middle School will be posting stories about the Most Endangered Properties of Washington State that they want to see preserved. Those places, along with nearly 70 other locations around the state, will also be found in the Washington State Insider app, available for iPhones and Android devices.

RevitalizeWA

For most Lopez School students, the word “endangered” brings to mind species of plants or animals that live in this fragile ecosystem that is the San Juan Islands: disappearing lichen from rocks on Iceberg Point, diminishing populations of sea birds, or hundreds of other species of concern around the Salish Sea. In the past few weeks, we’ve learned about another endangered list: historic properties around Washington State.

In late April I attended a conference in Chelan, called RevitalizeWA, organized by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. With my summer history trip around the state approaching, I thought this would be a good way to get a sense of some of the communities I’d be visiting in advance of hitting the road to promote the Washington State Insider app. During the opening reception of the conference, Chris Moore, the executive director for Washington Trust, announced the 2016 Most Endangered Properties List for Washington State – seven at-risk properties that embody the cultural heritage of their respective communities and the region overall. I was surprised to see that the #1 Most Endangered Property is Enloe Dam – a location that Ava, one of our ProjectWA students, had identified to put in the Washington State Insider app!

I learned so much at RevitalizeWA – from strategies to “right size” legacy cities to innovative approaches to preserving communities’ Main Streets – that I had to report back to our students upon my return to Lopez. To my surprise and delight, the students suggested that their final ProjectWA projects (a blog post to be published on this site) should be focused on this year’s Most Endangered Properties List. The idea makes so much sense, and I’m thrilled that this was the students’ idea, not mine.

We immediately took action on this idea. Each student picked one of the properties from the 2016 list, reached out to that property’s champion (usually the local Heritage Society), and created a location entry for the Washington State Insider app. We have a small class of just five students, but we’ve created app entries for each of the seven properties. For their blog posts, Ava picked Enloe Dam, given she was already interested in that place; Anna picked Woodinville Schoolhouse; Shayna picked Providence Heights College, Mallory picked the Dvorak Barn; and Sonnette picked the LaCrosse Rock Houses. Every one of the students’ property contacts replied immediately with enthusiasm – answering questions and providing more background information, maps, photos and videos. The students are now in the process of writing their blog posts.

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Lopez Island Middle School students work on their final projects, Most Endangered Properties

When Mr. Rovente and I came up with the idea for this semester’s ProjectWA class, we had no idea this is where we’d end up. We started with a good cause: raising awareness of the lesser known aspects of Washington State history while raising money for new text books. We’re ending up with an even bigger objective: helping preserve the places that represent Washington State’s cultural heritage.

RevitalizeWA