Lifestyle

Owner's labor of love saves historic log house

Architect Michael Yates has done extensive renovations on the log house he bought 23 years ago. His home was put on the city
Architect Michael Yates has done extensive renovations on the log house he bought 23 years ago. His home was put on the city's Historic Property Register early this year.
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Review

Michael Yates’ infatuation with his home occurred gradually, but it put a spell on him once he began to understand the historic value of one of the Island’s best preserved log houses.

An architect whose lifeblood has been to create new edifices, Yates initially thought he would raze the Wing Point Road home after buying it in 1987. But slowly, prompted by his desire to keep the 1 1/2-story building structurally sound and comfortable, the house prevailed.

To make its preservation official, the City of Bainbridge Island placed the house on its Historic Property Register earlier this year.

“I was never attracted to living in a log house,” said Yates, who retired in 2009 as a partner of Mahlum Architects in Seattle. “But we realized we had something special and it was important to keep its original character. We thought we would replace it, but it really grew on us. Now it’s a labor of love.”

It has also been a test of character for Yates and his wife, Kathy Hughes, who currently are in the midst of the second of two extensive renovations undertaken in the last five years.

To understand the journey, however, one must travel back more than 100 years. Facts have been passed down second and third hand, but as the story goes:

Sometime around 1903, a winter storm blew apart a log boom headed for Wyckoff. The Douglas fir landed on various beaches and a man named Daulton (no first name uncovered), bought the logs from the timber company that owned the log boom. The logs sat for several years until Daulton’s “Swede carpenter” offered to build a cabin for Daulton before the beached timber rotted.

Daulton, who owned shorefront land on the north side of Eagle Harbor, had the logs skidded down the beach and up the center of the narrow peninsula (now Wing Point) by a team of horses to land that eventually became sites for three cabins. Daulton was the first resident of the last cabin built, which is the only one still intact.

Yates believes the houses may have been built over a period of several years; he puts the construction of his house close to 1919-20 because he has dated some of the hardware in the house to that period.

Daulton’s widow, Mary, rented the house in 1941 to Fred and Ann Shryock, who eventually bought it and sold it in 1970 to Sam Dossert, who sold it to Yates 17 years later.

Dick Shryock was 10 when he and his parents moved in.

“It was a great place to grow up,” said Shryock, who still lives on the island. “It was a great neighborhood, with the beach and the golf course right next door. Oh, and that house ... so many memories. My bedroom had the sewer pipe from the bathroom running right below my window so I’d go out that way just as much as out the door. A wonderful place for a kid.”

Shryock is pleased “that an architect got ahold of it. He’s done some incredible things to the house.”

He said he understands that Yates would eventually have to replace some of the original character of the living room, including French doors located on the north and south ends of the large room.

“Legend has it that someone rode a horse right through the living room from end to end,” Shryock said. “Bainbridge went through a horsey stage in the 1920s, mostly hunting of foxes that were raised here for the hounds. Legend has it that we still have foxes on the island because of that.”

Yates didn’t know about foxes, but with the harbor and tidelands a stone’s throw away he’s seen plenty of critters around the house.

“You’re really never alone in this house,” Yates said. “We’ve had to eradicate powderpost beetles and all kinds of other pests. Everybody wants to live with us. We’re sort of the local hotel on the point. It’s been a pest-management problem, but we’ve got our arms around it.”

The biggest pests have been river otters, which are skilled at finding crawl spaces in a log house. He has installed an 18-inch-high electric fence around the house to keep the otters at bay.

But that’s a minor problem when compared to keeping the house sound, stable and comfortably modern inside.

After doing a survey, island historian Jerry Elfendahl said there are more than 40 log houses still standing on the island. Most are located in the island’s interior, he added, and many are dilapidated. Eventually, most will be replaced.

“The value of the property quickly exceeds that of the house and people do the math and will replace it,” Yates said. “Especially on waterfront land.”

Well, not all of them.

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Renovation honors Bainbridge cabin’s historic significance

Yates’ 18-month renovation project started in 2005, which included a small expansion; a large, spectacular stone fireplace (built by stone mason Heinz Sodamin) that replaced the decrepit original one; and plumbing and electrical upgrades. A current renovation includes a new kitchen, bathroom and a makeover of a large shed.

Yates has also extended porches and railings around much of the house, and put in a completely new foundation. The old one consisted of a thin layer of concrete mixed with sand and seashells). He also added a sheer wall for seismic stability.

The living room also has had extensive work done to it, including replacing the floor, ceiling and walls with fir from the Bitterroot Valley in Montana. It also helps that Yates’ brother, Jim, is a master cabinetmaker and furniture builder.

None of the renovations, however, have jeopardized the home’s historical significance.

“The criteria (U.S. Secretary of Interior’s historic standards) says new things should be compatible but discernible from the original,” said Sandy Burke, a member of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission. “It’s important that some of the differences [from the original] are documented. No old building is static. Fortunately, the current owner has been very sensitive to the original house while preserving it.”

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