The wrecking crew didn’t take long to demolish the tiny, whimsically painted house, and those undertaking the mission certainly had no idea that, for many people in the neighborhood, the cottage’s destruction was an almost-sacrilegious act.
Known to some as the “Rainbow House,” the colorful structure had stood on its site to the north of East Madison Street for almost a century, and over time, it had become something of an icon in Madison Park.
The house came down so that the builder who had purchased the property could construct a much larger, modernistic residence on the lot.
But did the act of destruction represent progress, or was it simply another sad reminder of how the village-like charm of Madison Park is rapidly being carted away?
Love it or hate it
When the story was first reported on the neighborhood blog just before Christmas last year, readers came down on both sides of that dividing line.
One commented, “I loved this place because it was purple. A true individual lived there. Anyone who has done any traveling in Mexico, South America, Venice, etc., knows how incredibly bland and unimaginative the colors are in Madison Park. The highly angular architecture with white trim is so boring, cool and predictable.”
Another had this to say: “It may have not been an architectural gem before it was painted, but it cheered me and others up throughout the years, especially during a dreadfully dull stretch of Seattle’s blah days (cloudy days, sort of like the structure replacing this humble abode). Goodbye, charactecture; hello, blahchitecture.”
From the other side, however, came this assessment: “That house was quirky and interesting in its own way, but without a foundation, knob and tube wiring, no insulation, etc. Who in their right mind would want to live in it? And if you really want something that funky, why are you here in Madison Park and not in Fremont? Or, if the move is too much for you, why haven’t you painted your own houses lavender and spring green?”
A ‘classier’ look
The house had been purchased early last year by Isola Homes, a Renton-based residential property developer. Isola is now building a 3,219-square-foot, angular structure on the site, scheduled to be completed sometime this summer.
The new house, which will be “Built Green,” will feature four bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and a detached, two-car garage on the 4,000-square-foot site.
Isola co-founder and vice president Colt Boehme said he appreciates the fact that some people will miss the old house, adding that he understands its iconic nature.
Nevertheless, the little cottage is not the kind of residence people would desire in a place like Madison Park.
“We want to be around for the long term,” he noted, “so when we’re building, we need to take into account what the market wants. The buyer today is looking for efficiency and livability, and that’s what we are hoping to deliver.”
Given the going price of land in the neighborhood, it can hardly be expected that anyone would build small houses on these lots. This does not mean, however, that building to the maximum allowable square footage must be the norm.
Isola acquisitions vice president Ron Froton pointed out that “regarding this specific property, we could have built a much larger house, since 3,500 to 4,000 square feet was possible; we actually only built 3,200 square feet. One of our goals was to have sunlight penetrate to the backyard, for example.”
That required that there be both a backyard and some setbacks, he said.
Although the house is cubic, according to Froton, “we are actually anti-box. We’re not trying to be trendy; we just hope to produce something classy.”
An ‘in-demand’ neighborhood
Those who choose to take a positive view of the cottage’s destruction and ultimate replacement can find solace in the fact that the transformation of this property represents a positive commentary about Madison Park by an outside developer.
At a time when much speculative residential development has ground to a halt and several developers of Madison Park properties are no longer in business, there are now multiple speculative developments under way in the Park.
For example, Chaffey Homes, a Kirkland-based residential builder, is currently constructing an energy-efficient, contemporary home in the same area as Isola’s property.
And several earlier-built spec homes — some still unsold — fit a similar pattern: large, angular, energy-efficient and expensive.
At least in the opinion of certain builders, Madison Park continues to be an attractive neighborhood with strong potential for major-house sales.
Isola’s Froton puts it this way: “Madison Park offers a good balance of quaintness and elegance, offering a buyer a village-like community with all of the advantages of walkability and good access. We see that, by building in Madison Park, we can meet all of the things a buyer would desire.”
To which Boehme added, “Isola has given Madison Park its vote of confidence by investing in the neighborhood. It’s desirable for buyers and, therefore, desirable for us.”
He added that he wants to do future projects here: “It’s a very in-demand neighborhood.”
More of the same?
The attractiveness of Madison Park to speculative builders may not provide much comfort, however, to those who deplore the neighborhood’s ongoing gentrification and the gradual loss of the village-like aspect of the Park’s character.
Unlike Madison Park’s more exclusive Broadmoor and Washington Park enclaves, the area “north of Madison” began life as primarily a working-class community, one characterized by cottages and bungalows.
Beginning in the 1990s, many of these modest homes began giving way to the development of megahouses, a Madison Park trend that The Stranger once termed “house bloat.”
While that trend has certainly slowed as the result of the real estate downturn, the demolition of the “Rainbow House” shows it definitely hasn’t been terminated.
And we know that other Madison Park “originals” have already been marked for destruction.
BRYAN TAGAS writes the Madison Park blog (www.madisonparkblogger.com), from which this column was excerpted.