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Opinion >  Column

Spin Control: Want a few fixer uppers? It’s likely auction or destruction for these historic Washington capitol buildings

The Legislative, left, and Insurance buildings are seen in Olympia, where two buildings that have long housed the press could be replaced.  (Ted S. Warren)
The Legislative, left, and Insurance buildings are seen in Olympia, where two buildings that have long housed the press could be replaced. (Ted S. Warren)

For sale by auction: Two century-old houses, not particularly well-maintained but fondly remembered by former residents. Must pay removal, relocation, any misc. expenses.

The state may soon be taking out an ad like that in the classifieds, or maybe on Craigslist, as it seeks to rid itself once and for all of two structures that some members of officialdom have long regarded as a blight on the Capitol Campus.

The buildings in question are officially the Carlyon House and Ayers House, but known generally as the Blue Press House and White Press House.

They have a date with a bulldozer late this year or early next to make way for a construction project with a price tag north of $173 million on the Capitol Campus. Details of the project are found in the House and Senate Capital Budget proposals. Although the final budget is yet to be written, any budget watchdog knows when a “Legislative Campus Modernization” project is described in similar language with similar nine-digit amounts in each spending plan, that means the houses will be nothing but memories by 2022.

But before the state fires up the ’dozers, it is offering to auction off the historic buildings to anyone willing to pick up and move them, perhaps as a sop to neighborhood preservation advocates who are questioning the state’s Edifice Complex.

The modernization program will tear down a Senate office building constructed as a temporary building in the 1930s and may also raze the mid-century Pritchard Building, which was once the state library but is now a cafeteria, warren for lobbyists and archival storage facility.

The budget sets aside $180,000 for a study of the Pritchard Building, to see if it can be renovated, expanded or replaced. But whenever the Edifice Complex takes hold, odds are that something shiny and new beats a messy reno project, no matter what those shows on HGTV lead you to believe.

Tearing down the press houses probably makes sense on paper.

They were once actual houses – the Blue Press House, which has been the home of The Spokesman-Review bureau for decades, was built as a Craftsman bungalow for a prominent Olympia family; the White House is a former apartment built by a famous architect. Both were standing before the domed Legislative Building was erected in the 1920s.

When reporters were moved out of the more prestigious space in the domed building decades ago, dozens of bodies were crammed into each house. Now there are seven reporters divided between the two.

While we complain sometimes about the heat, the plumbing or the fact that the state seems to mow the lawn or crank up the leaf blower whenever an important phone interview starts, we do love the buildings for their proximity to the Capitol, and a great front porch on the Blue House where we have held barbecues in the summer in possible violation of our lease.

The buildings mostly withstood the Nisqually Earthquake – a chunk of chimney crashed through the Blue House roof but was stopped by the attic rafters before clobbering a reporter in the former Seattle Times office. But state maintenance has been somewhat spotty.

Getting a more secure front door with a working lock took the better part of a year, a delay only partly attributable to COVID restrictions. Fixing a leaky stopper in one of the toilets took more than six months. The Spokesman-Review’s office window has been washed only once in 12 years, and that was by the occupant. A cracked pane in that window has been “fixed” with duct tape for much of that time.

Reporters are a sentimental lot, and former denizens of the buildings have posted fond memories of their time there after a recent report by The Washington Observer .

But anyone thinking of bidding on the buildings at auction should know there’s not so much as an ounce of insulation in the attic of the Blue House, the back door sometimes doesn’t latch in the winter and the radiator heat has just two settings, off and “sauna.” And the carpet stain in what was once the dining room, courtesy of a morose House legislative intern who wandered into an end-of-session party and managed to drop her glass of red wine before being sent home by a supervisor, won’t come out.

On the plus side, the press corps, or what remains of it, is heading back into the domed Legislative Building.

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