WENATCHEE — Kris Bassett doesn't just support the effort to save old buildings. She lives it.
"I live in a house built in 1926 and I would not trade it for a new house for anything," she said. "My husband’s firm (Forte Architects) resides in the original Hudson car dealership (the former Wood-n-Things store), readapting it to his architectural business while enjoying all the brick, timbered ceiling and uniqueness of the space. Preservation is my passion. It's what I believe in."
For years it was part of her day job, as the city of Wenatchee's historic preservation officer. She was instrumental in introducing neighborhood historic districts to the city and encouraging downtown commercial structure renovations. She helped develop the downtown historical walking tour, with the placards detailing building histories.
After retiring she has continued to work as a consultant and serve on committees including the Wells House Committee, charged with preserving the historic building on the Wenatchee Valley College campus.
Wenatchee’s historic buildings remain a source of inspiration and focus.
Most recently, she has weighed in on the fate of the Horan House and why it should not be demolished. It’s not just about the wood, brick, cobblestones and architecture.
“Historic structures, both commercial and residential, are the reflective qualities of that community’s history, its development, its people,” she said. “If we don’t remember who we have been, how will we know where we are going?”
It’s also good for business.
“The benefits of historic preservation are numerous and include both tangible (financial) and intangible (quality of life) benefits that are difficult to measure but very real,” said Kim Gant of the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. “We don’t have data on intangible benefits, but we do have data on economic benefits from our 2006 study.”
The study summary shows the average annual investment of $83.5 million spent statewide on historic preservation generated $221 million in sales, supported 2,320 jobs in a variety of sectors and paid $87 million in wages and salaries. All of that generated about $8.9 million in state taxes, plus local sales tax revenues.
Bassett offers a "for instance."
“People are attracted to shop at unique places. They remember a building and what they see at the front door often more so than what is inside,” she said. “Most every building we have downtown that was restored is occupied. Many of the stores that have been empty are not restored, or not fully restored.”
The Metropolitan Building, formerly known as the Doré Building, at the corner of Second Street and North Wenatchee Avenue, is a good example, she said. It is now home to the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce and Spruce and Willow Home, a decor and consignment store, with Goodfellow Bros offices on the second floor.
“That second floor was vacant for decades,” she said. “It’s now fully occupied and those businesses and their employees not only attract visitors, they use restaurants, shops, parks and entertainment nearby.”
She also is pleased to see the renovation of the 20,000-square-foot Conrad Rose Mansion at 21 S. Chelan Ave. built in 1906 by fruit industry pioneer Conrad Rose. It more recently was the Jones & Jones Funeral Home.
“The Conrad Rose home is a monumental home and we don’t have any others like it in the city. The history of that building alone is monumental — who Conrad Rose was and his influence and importance in this community,” she said. “The new owners are applauded for saving this important structure which becomes their new identity.”
The tourism impact is another point in favor of history, she said.
“It is well documented that historic communities, with intact architecture and historic sites are the No. 1 tourism draw worldwide,” she said. “Think about how many ads you see for touring Europe. Are they featuring modern buildings? No. They are showing all the wonderful historic buildings and sites that make their town, their state or country special and unique. That very important message is called having ‘a sense of place.’”
How far to push the effort varies with each community, Gant said.
“What is ‘worthwhile’ is a community decision,” she said. “The community has to weigh the positives and negatives, including whether or not there are resources to rehabilitate and/or maintain.”
Wenatchee is one of 82 cities in Washington with a local historic preservation program, which comes with review processes for buildings that are more than 50 years old. The program also allows cities to provide resources like tax programs to encourage preservation.
Ultimately it is the property owner’s decision whether to renovate an old building or demolish and start from scratch.
Bassett would like to see a bigger push for restoration. The tax breaks help with that effort, but it takes a commitment from the property owner.
“I believe it’s the advocacy piece that needs to be constantly enforced,” she said. “It’s convincing a property owner to do the right thing by restoring the building."