Whitworth Alumni Couple Rebuilds Historic Seattle Homes
by Michael Coiner, ’14
Thorny bushes and prickly plants fought for space in the yard. Trash was buried beneath the soil. Paint was peeling off the outside walls. The shingles were a mess. The property’s owner, Glenn Kyle, was a grouchy man who disliked other people. Consequently, neighbors learned to stay away from 526 and 526 ½ NE 85th Street, Seattle, Kyle’s two houses. This property had earned a reputation because of its run-down condition and his meanness.
Then Glenn Kyle and his wife, Audrey, died in 2006. An open door was presented to a new generation, represented by Audrey’s granddaughter, Carry (Kyle) Struthers,’98, and her husband Jason Struthers,’99. They were given the opportunity to restore the houses, especially the oldest one, which was barely habitable. They said “yes,” and so began a journey that only now, six years later, is ending.
The Struthers had been searching for a house. Then, the homes on 85th Street appeared on their radar. It was clear that both houses needed to be updated. With Carry’s parents having inherited the property, they too were searching – for a rescue plan. So a deal was made. Jason and Carry bought 526 and 526 ½ on the understanding that other family members would help out with the repairs.
The first house on the property, number 526, was a rambler long-rectangle style house built in 1955. The other, a Craft Style house, number 526 ½, originally had been built in two parts, the first part in 1908, the second in 1915.
Both needed a lot of work. The house Carry and Jason moved into, 526 ½, needed the most attention. The Struthers were fully aware of the amount of work and the thousands of dollars they would need to invest to make this project happen.
“The [Craft Style] house is over 100 years old, and for the 50 years prior to us living here, it was a rental,” Jason remarks. “The tenants and Glenn Kyle put some serious mileage on it during those years. To undo that damage was going to take a bit more than just the usual elbow grease.”
To make things worse, Glenn Kyle had improvised his own “renovations” to the house. He had painted the outside of the house with interior wall paint. He had replaced the rotted wall under the kitchen sink with cardboard and painted over it to make it look like the rest of the wall. When the downspouts were clogged, rather than fix the problem he created an “aqueduct” channel system to direct the pooling water from the flooded garage out under the garage door.
“He didn’t believe in doing things by the book,” Carry adds. “He was the kind of man who fixed everything with duct tape. He was no handyman.”
And so the work began. Over six years, the Struthers and the Kyle family made multiple renovations to the houses and the yard to bring the property up to code. They dug up thousands of pounds of soil and trash in the yard, rewired the entire Craft Style house and added insulation. They turned the unfriendly thorny yard into a vegetable garden and a chicken coop. The list went on and on. Their action plan even included getting the address changed. Back in the 1940’s, 526 ½ had originally been listed as 528. Somehow in the midst of next 50 years, the house was changed to 526 ½.
“It is always a problem when companies, utilities, and nearly every business in the world is using digital data recording, and all record the ‘1/2’ a little differently,” Jason says. “So I telephoned the city registrar, paid the necessary filing fee to have the address changed city-wide and had it legally changed back to 528.”
At times the pace of work would slow down. In 2011, Jason required major spinal surgery after being hit by a drunk driver on his morning commute to work.
“Many days we were ready to throw in the towel,” adds Jason. “The injuries severely hampered my ability to continue repairs at the same level as was previously done.”
Being parents also put their project on hold. Their daughters Amelia and Natalie were both born during the time of their remodel. “Funny how kids can whittle down that thing we used to call ‘free time,’” says Jason.
Now, six years and two kids later, 526 is finished and has had a family renting it for three years. Next door, 528 still has a little way to go. The kitchen needs new cabinets, flooring and a new vent over the stove. Plus, a large hole in the ceiling of Jason’s office needs to be closed. But by the end of the year, the Struthers plan to be out of 528.
“The house is getting a little small for a family of four, two cats and three chickens,” says Carry.
Their hands-on time with the houses has nearly ended. The Struthers have turned a property from a place that once radiated disrepair into a place of beauty. But relationships also needed mending.
“At one point, we were fixing the back fence that we share with five neighboring properties,” Carry recalls. “Not only were we mending the fence in a literal sense, but also in a relational sense. We have tried to be good neighbors and gently explain that while we’re legally part of the same family as Mr. Kyle, we do not share his dislike of people.”
Both 528 and to a bigger extent 526 have become part of the Struthers. The couple is proud of what they are accomplishing, but know it’s time to move on. It may be hard not to stay and enjoy the handiwork, but Carry and Jason are happy with their decision to leave. They plan to rent out both houses.
“We have no intention of selling these two houses; they are being rebuilt to become an investment opportunity for us,” says Jason.
The Struthers agreed that they have learned much about the practical side of restoring two fixer-uppers. But they learned about themselves too. How would they sum up an endeavor like this?
“Rebuilding houses is not too dissimilar from life in general and marriages,” says Jason. “It takes a tremendous amount of work to make it something worthwhile: effort, perseverance, a desire to make something beautiful.”