Historic cottage faces collapse

Longtime Coupeville resident Barry Burton  surveys the view from the deck of the Cottage on the Cove, a historic building that’s in danger of falling down the bluff. - Jessie Stensland photo
Longtime Coupeville resident Barry Burton surveys the view from the deck of the Cottage on the Cove, a historic building that’s in danger of falling down the bluff.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland photo

A unique cable system is pretty much the only thing preventing a small, historic building on Coupeville’s famed Front Street from falling into the water below.

In order to ensure that doesn’t happen, Barry Burton, who manages the Cottage on the Cove, is planning a large project to build a stable foundation for the building this summer. It will involve moving it to a vacant lot while a new substructure is installed on the cliffside.

“Saving the building is the priority,” said Burton. “We’re trying to do our part for Coupeville.”

The building, officially known as the Samsel / Zylstra Law Office, is important in a historical sense not just because it’s more than 100 years old, but because of its location, according to Sarah Steen, preservation coordinator for Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

“The three blocks on Front Street was the original commercial core of everything that became the historical reserve,” she said.

Concerns about erosion of the Front Street bluff isn’t confined to the cottage. The owner of at least one other historic building has similar worries about the potential for the property slipping into Penn Cove, according to Kristin Griffin, manager of the reserve.

In fact, the street used to run in front of the nearby Captain Thomas Coupe House but was rerouted around the building because of erosion problems. A section of the bluff collapsed and threatened a sidewalk in 2012 and town officials still don’t have a solution.

As for the Samsel / Zylstra Law Office building, the history is on solid ground. It was originally half its size, according to Burton and reserve documents. It was built in 1904 for attorney John Samsel, but attorney James Zyltra moved in a couple years later. It originally had false front like other buildings on Front Street.

The west half of the building, which Burton describes as a mirror image, was added in 1912. A doctor’s office occupied the new section.

The building currently belongs to Mulilteo resident Kirsten Larson. She said the little cottage isn’t just important historically, but personally.

She said her parents used to live in the former Island County Bank Building across the street. They tore the old brick vault out and remodeled the building into a home, she said.

In later years, Larson fell in love with the little cottage just across the street.

“I bought it the year after my first husband passed away,” she said. “I used it a lot at first.”

She later rented it out as a residence. Then she met Burton, a longtime Coupeville resident who currently works as caretaker of Sunnyside Cemetery.

They worked out an agreement in which Burton would look after the building while running a vacation rental business out of the rare waterfront residence. The Cottage on the Cove opened for business in 1998.

“It’s booked 100 percent all summer,” he said.

Much of the business, he said, comes from the Pacific Northwest Art School. One of his repeat customers, for example, was noted National Geographic photographer Sam Abell.

Burton said a previous owner of the building rigged up a cable system to keep it perched on the steep bluff. He said the cables run through the house and under the street. The house, however, has noticeably receded in the last couple of decades.

Burton said part of the problem is that runoff from the street flows right under the front door, rotting some of the foundation.

The plan is to lift the house and move it about a block away while workers install a new foundation. Burton said pilings will be driven into the bluff and then a concrete foundation will be installed with beams running parallel to the beach.

Larson said the project will cost about $130,000. She applied for money from the Ebey’s Forever Fund, but didn’t receive an award this year. She plans to go forward with the project this year, despite the cost.

After the house is in place, Burton said he hopes to do some small renovations, which may include replacing the porch.

“I’m trying to keep it historic,” he said. “All the materials are going to either be original or as historic as possible.”


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