The Aberdeen Historic Preservation Commission voted Thursday to recommend the Hotel Morck and only one of two historic residences be included on the city’s Historic Register. The two approved properties now go on to the City Council and the mayor next Wednesday for final consideration.
One residence sailed to approval, a second residence ran aground for lack of specific information, and the Morck hit shoals of pointed questions on the way to a “yes” vote. Admission to the register is an honor and can make buildings eligible for tax incentives.
The Morck’s history “as one of the greatest buildings of the city of Aberdeen” was praised by Jim Wynans, who said he was also frustrated by the lack of progress on a proposed renovation by Chester Trabucco and several co-owners.
The Morck, built in 1924, “exemplifies early 20th Century Spanish colonial Revival and Mediterranean Revival architecture,” the Morck staff report says, adding, “Upon completion, the Hotel Morck was touted as the finest hotel in Southwest Washington …”
But the Morck has fallen on hard times and the latest major renovation has been delayed repeatedly. A taupe and cream repainting has been postponed again until “right after Labor Day,” Trabucco said in an email Friday.
Trabucco was a last-minute no show at the meeting due to pressing business elsewhere, he wrote. He addressed several questions raised at the meeting at length in email to The Daily World. At the meeting, Mayor Bill Simpson weighed in about delays in promises Trabucco made last spring. “I hold his feet to the fire,” he said using a phrase he uses often in regard to Trabucco.
“The Mayor has indeed called me every couple of weeks or so and asked about the progress. I’ve kept him informed if and when there have been updates,” Trabucco wrote.
Vice Chairman Dann Sears expressed concern that broken windows help make the faded yellow, lavender and tan brick eyesore on South K and Heron vulnerable to the elements. He worried it could deteriorate to the point that it must be torn down, a fate that “unfortunately” has befallen many historic buildings in Aberdeen, Community Development Director Lisa Scott added.
“I committed … we would get the breaches into the building closed up, the roof repaired, the windows covered and the body of the building painted,” Trabucco wrote. “We have expended over $50,000 in roof repairs/re-roofing and securing the building, the cleanup of the back lot and the removal of points-of-entry most commonly used by the various intruders … The bid we have to paint the exterior is $30,000 and will start (admittedly later than I had originally committed) right after Labor Day. Any remaining window openings will be addressed at the same time, but we have secured 191 windows and I believe (there are) less than 10 remaining.”
Historic Commission chairman Aaron Nickell, who worked on the Morck’s original historic application aimed at the federal register, said he had not worked for the owners on the Morck for three years, now that he chairs the commission. He supported listing the icon as the best hope for the Morck’s future, either with current or future owners who buy the building.
Most present at the meeting also expressed concerned about capitalization for the renovation.
“… (W)e have completed and submitted (an) application for the New Market Tax Credits … to the major financial institution in Chicago,” Trabucco wrote, adding he has further initial commitments in Oregon and Washington “on the CEO level … to put the Morck project into their allocation pipeline.”
He added, “we are seeking just under $5 million in total credits which is an INTEGRAL piece in this project being viable, as financing for hotel projects in depressed economic areas is extremely difficult to secure via transitional avenues.”
The Morck, is “at a minimum, a $6 to $7 million project … just for the hotel but our team is approaching it, out of necessity, as a ‘whole block’ development, making it closer to $13 million to ‘do it right.’ ” Trabucco added. “The only way to finance and implement a project of this scope correctly is (to) raise the whole of the funds in their entirety up-front.”
Expending “$100,000 here and there … and cobbling it together is just not efficient, feasible or prudent. So it will require patience. What IS different now than where we had been for the previous five years is that the economy has rebounded …at least (to) the extent that there is renewed interest in the ‘sector’, if not the area,” Trabucco said.
Despite reservations about its present and future, the commission was certain about the Morck’s past glory, and recommended it unanimously for the register.
A snag hit the residence at 120 Pioneer Boulevard, owned by Gilbert Myers and his wife Robbie (who is running for City Council). Built in 1905, its age was the only one of 11 criteria for the register the home meets. Several members thought the staff report and application lacked supporting details for the other 10.
Painted bright blue, the home near the base of “Think of Me” hill in east Aberdeen, is in an area of town where historically many Finns made their homes, Sears said. Though originally it seemed the home would be approved, questions surfaced.
“We don’t want to be a rubber stamp,” Nickell said to the eventual agreement of three other members present. The lack of a specific narrative about the building seemed key. “Duly noted,” said Scott.
The commission will reconsider it next month at its regular meeting on Thursday, Sept. 19.
The commission quickly approved the application by Ron and Sherry Hulscher, who own a side-by-side duplex at 412 W. 8th St. The staff report said the home has “significant local history as it was the home of (James) Carter and (Edward) Crary, who both maintained local weather statistics.” It was built by Crary for his in laws the Carters, Hulscher said.
Plans to renovate will preserve the look of the Greek Revival front, though one of the doors may become a panel.
Nickell and Sears voted with Wynans and Sally McCarthy. Commission member Alan Gozart was absent. All had words of high praise for the now single-family house where the Hulschers raised six children.