A renaissance for Lynwood Center

Neglect a building long enough and, surely as brick crumbles and wood rots, it’ll eventually collapse. Or fall prey to fire.

Neglect a building long enough and, surely as brick crumbles and wood rots, it’ll eventually collapse. Or fall prey to fire.

Commerce is often the stimulus driving a structure’s health and well-being, and it certainly is the savior of the two monstrosities that have dominated Lynwood Center during the last 70 years.

Back in the early 1900s, a woman named Edna James Olson lived in the manor house on the hill with her husband, Emmanuel, who inherited the home from his parents. In the 1930s she decided to design and build a Tudor-style shopping center on the Olson property to serve the growing south-end community. After her death, the home was converted into a restaurant that changed ownership many times. And the commercial-residential building, which admirably served as the neighborhood’s soul since its creation, has slowly slid into neglectful disrepair as tenants and owners seemingly came and went with the tide.

The only real constant has been the Lynwood Theatre, which opened on July 3, 1936, with the first “talkie” film to hit the island and has been an island staple ever since.

But sleepy little Lynwood has become the island’s second busiest commercial center, due in part to the sewer-line extension that residents financed about 10 years ago. As a result of that and the city’s inclusion of neighborhood service center concept in a comprehensive plan update, Lynwood Center is finally becoming more than just a stopover for a loaf of bread or a bottle of wine. And the growth has just begun.

The movers and shakers behind the rebirth include: developer and island native Bill Nelson, who has refurbished the manor into one of the finest eateries west of Seattle and is in the early stages of developing an 18-acre commercial and residential complex on the west side of Lynwood Center Road; Steve Romein, a Seattle architect and island resident who bought the shopping center a year ago and plans to renovate the old Lynwood Center building; and most of the business owners – including Walt Hannon of Walt’s Market (now located in the apartment complex at the Baker Hill Road intersection) and Arnie Sturham of Treehouse Cafe – who call the Lynwood neighborhood home.

The area’s coming-out party is being held today in the form of the First Annual Taste of Lynwood, a noon-to-8 p.m. event that will feature food, drink, music, vendor booths, family games and amusements.

Whether the quiet neighborhood is ready for it or not, the event marks the beginning of changes that, by this time next year, will include 11,000 square feet of commercial space on the west side of the street and 15 two-story townhouses above it.

There’s no doubt more and more outsiders are discovering Lynwood, which figures to be important to Edna’s success. Nelson was initially motivated by the need to save the rat-infested old manor before it’s heavy tile roof collapsed. But he has moved on to creating a full-service neighborhood for the existing residents and those who will live in the 80 residences (multiplexes, townhouses, cottages and large single-family atop the hill). His Rich Pass development company plans to build the project during the next few years.

“I’m mostly interested in retaining the sense of community that I grew up with on the island,” he said. “I lived in Wing Point as a kid, but Lynwood has always been a special place to me.

“I want Lynwood to continue to be locally oriented, not so much regional,” he said. “The idea is to have thriving businesses on the street, ones that don’t compete with existing shops. A community post office, a bank branch, a dry cleaner, a flower shop – businesses like that. We want to be the bookend on the other side of the street and have a nice balance with our neighbors.”

John Clark, who has partnered with Nelson in the Edna and development projects, also would like to help merchants by marketing Lynwood as a “destination area,” including providing transportation for walk-on visitors who are looking for more than a stroll down Winslow Way. “We think that if people know we’re here and there’s a convenient way to get here, maybe like a group vehicle (a shuttle), that might work.”

But, he adds, he’s not pushing for the “charming little village we have here” to change drastically.

“It’s beginning to be a busy place, but with the zoning we have this will not be a high-density village,” Clark said. “This is a labor of love for Bill. It’s going to be an important service center for the south end, but it’s going to remain rural in the truest sense.

Alan Simcoe, whose music store-workshop has made Lynwood its home for five years, understands the need to attract more people to visit the area but he doesn’t see it changing much. “It’s always going to be off the beaten track,” said Simcoe, who teaches budding musicians about 20 hours a week. “It’s affordable now and I have a reputation on the island so people come here. It’s perfect, it being a mock-Tudor building and I build Renaissance musical instruments.”

Romein bought the building in July 2007 and plans to do major renovations during the next year, beginning with tearing down the old one-story Walt’s Market in the middle of the complex and rebuilding it as a two-story space with apartments upstairs. The Treehouse Cafe and Bay Massage and Skin Care will share most of the new first-floor space, and Treehouse will also expand into the old Bay Massage space in the rear of the building.

“That will be used for more family dining, and the expansion into the old market will be for adults,” Sturham said. “We’ll probably put a couple of pool tables in there.”

Nine one-bedroom apartments now exist and the number will remain the same after the renovation, but the apartments will be enlarged into multiple-bedroom units. He’d even like to have three or four units with as many as four bedrooms, which he would rent out as shared-living units for younger people who have difficulty affording the usual one-person apartment on the island.

“We’re excited about it,” Romein said. “My wife and I drove by Lynwood for years and we’d say that somebody should do something before there’s a fire or the place falls down.”

Finally, someone did.