WENATCHEE – Nevio Tontini is a hero, in Rory Turner’s book.
Tontini, the current owner of the historic Horan House, is working on the demolition paperwork, but is willing to consider alternatives.
“If it wasn’t him who owned the building, it could be a different story,” said Turner, a Port of Chelan County commissioner and developer who specializes in restoring historic structures. “He did get the demolition permit, so it’s clear for him to do whatever he wants with the property. He is still working with me to solve this. He’s a great guy. He’s on the good side.”
When Turner heard last month the house was slated for demolition, he offered to pull together a plan to save the structure – if it can be saved.
The Victorian-style house, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1899 by Wenatchee pioneer Michael Horan. It sits on the north bank of the Wenatchee River in Olds Station, near the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia rivers.
Turner and Tontini have “had a bunch of conversations,” Turner said.
Tontini, a retired contractor, purchased the property in 2006 because, he said Friday, it was a great spot for condominiums.
"I've been sitting on it for a long time," he said.
A caretaker lived there for a while, but it's now vacant.
"The property is more valuable without the house," he said, which is why he filed for the demolition permit. "I have some people interested in purchasing the property. The house either needs to be moved or demolished."
He has tried to get the house moved on three different occasions in the past, he said. His hope is Turner can pull it together.
"I would love to see it salvaged," Tontini said. "The next 30 days will determine whether Rory can put together a group to see if it’s feasible to move the house. If so, I will work with them to continue that. The purchasers are willing to wait awhile on that. If not, the plan is go ahead with the demolition.”
The two plan to meet to talk details next week.
In the meantime, Turner, with Tontini’s go-ahead, toured the site with people from the city and the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation to see the condition first-hand, looking beyond the surface vandalism and beer bottles to the building's bones.
“It is on the edge now,” Turner said. “I don’t want to use the term ‘life support,’ but the options are either to tear it down or restore it. There’s no in between."
Turner said it may be possible to move the house. "But it’s an artifact because of where it sits and what it is," he said. "A home run would be to leave it in place and restore it. We are working on trying to do that, for the Horan House and the Carriage House that’s next to it.”
The buildings sit on 2.12 acres surrounded by property owned by the Port of Chelan County that is slated to be purchased by the Chelan County PUD.
Turner has met with PUD staff. “I came away from that meeting encouraged that they are trying to solve this with us,” he said.
More meetings are in the offing, with the city, PUD and Washington State Parks representatives.
“The purpose of all these meetings is to brainstorm solutions for the ultimate purpose of the house. It’s one thing to have a nice building there, but if you’re not going to live in it or can’t use it, what do you do with it? If it’s not usable, you document it and tear it down,” he said.
Finding that permanent use is key.
“Once we get the use, everything else in the middle can be figured out. Our efforts now are to find what that use is,” he said. “The owners are cooperative. The people who want to buy it are cooperative. Hopefully we can get some time to pull the plan together, but I can’t promise that.”
The city on Tuesday issued the paperwork that clears the way for the demolition permit to be issued. It outlines three “mitigation measures” required to happen within 30 calendar days before demolition can happen.
Turner said, based on the phone calls he has received, everyone is willing to help.
“There has been an outpouring of support. That’s great that the community is behind it,” he said.
“This has touched a bit of an emotional nerve. It’s one of those buildings that was taken for granted for years and now that it might go away, it’s getting attention. If it has to, document the heck out of it and say goodbye. But we are looking for a long-term solution.”