This post is the 5th in a series of posts I have dubbed “The Firehouse Chronicles.” See all episodes.

Making an offer – June 10th, 2016

We head to another local restaurant to write our letter to the sellers, a recommended accompaniment to our offer. The scene is surreal: two fire trucks parked outside and a whole group of firefighters and medics inside attending a patient. We take a table out of the way and I open my computer to start typing, all the while, watching as the firefighters and medics do their thing. The ironies are laughable: I’m a 9/11 widow writing an offer letter to buy a firehouse with a firefighter as I watch firefighters do their job only feet away.

Jim and I slide the computer back and forth, trying to figure out what details about each of us might be pertinent to the sellers: Our love of the house; Jim’s job as a firefighter, our willingness to clear away things that they have left behind; my architect father who specializes in updating historic libraries; our love of gardening and our intention of maintaining the whole instead of selling off the second lot; Jim’s ability in home renovation projects; his kit plane and love of the workshop.

Our letter needs appeal to the people we know only through their home. Our waiter takes our photo and we add it to the document which I then email to our realtor. I drop a deposit check off at his office on my way home.

Our offer in.

That night, as we tuck into bed, my phone rings.

“They approved your offer! Congratulations!” EJ says.

We lie awake, in shock. That they accepted our offer without letting what certainly would be a heated bidding war to happen seems insane. That night, my emotions swing between terror and excitement, sadness and jubilation. I know that Jim’s enthusiasm will match my kids’ despair in intensity. I am both thrilled to take this first step into a new chapter in my life and reluctant to close the old one. Jim leaves for work early the next morning giving me the weekend alone with the kids to break the news.

“I thought money was tight,” my son says when I tell him the next day. “How can you have enough money to buy another house?”

He has a point. I don’t want to think of my depleted nest egg that will now most certainly depend on selling our house to be replenished. I do my best to explain the finances as I already had for Olivia.

“I will probably need to sell the house when you go to college next year,” I say. “But if I can swing it financially, I will just rent it,” I say.

“I really don’t care what you do after I leave,” he says.

Conversations with 17-year-old boys tend to be short, and he shrugs, disappearing upstairs. I know is words mask his true feelings.

Olivia heads out of town for the weekend to visit her boyfriend, so I am spared the conversation with her for the moment.

We are set to close on June 24th, the day before Jim’s birthday, only 2 weeks away. Because there are no banks involved in the transaction, the time for closing is sped up to whiplash speed.

Landmark approvals
Landmark office, June 13th, 2016

On Monday, as Jim comes off his shift, we meet at Seattle City Hall, at the Municipal Landmark office almost as soon as it opens. We want to meet with the woman in charge of historically registered buildings in Seattle. We are ushered into a small room where she pushes a thick file of documents across the table. We flip through the file filled with permits and plans submitted by the sellers for the work they planned to do over the years. There are copies of their architectural plans, exterior paint colors, copies of the Historical Board’s approvals. We see, for the first time, copies of the original architectural plans dated 1913 and I immediately start taking photos of each one with my phone. We learn that to make any changes to the exterior of the building, we will need the Historical Board’s approval. This includes paint colors, changes to the roof, balconies, and decks.

I pour over the plans as Jim reads through some of the documents pertaining to the renovations that the previous owners applied for. We discover that a historian, Jim Stevenson has supplied quite a bit of historical information in his bid to have the station historically landmarked. We learn a little bit more about the house.

Jim Stevenson historical detail in Landmark application

When we’re done, we find the office of the city archives, one floor below and are soon opening a huge folder containing the original, hand-drawing renderings of the house, on the old linen vellum that was used in those days for architectural drawings. They are stunning and give every measurement and flourish in

Front Elevation
Front Elevation

meticulous, hand-printed detail. Again, I take a photo of each one with my phone, though I’m dying to roll them all up and steal off with them.

The following week, while Jim is at work, I meet with one of the sellers, the wife, who I learn is a designer and has done the plans for the renovations herself. We stand in front of one her drafting tables in the office as she pulls plans out of a large chest. She is a tiny woman, wig slightly askew, but I can tell she is a determined type. I am thrilled to discover she has many of the blueprints of the very drawings I coveted from the archives. She has collected a few other tidbits for us: the book on Seattle Firehouses, by the same Jim Stevenson who applied for the landmark, and his hand-drawn elevation cut out of the house, showing the firefighters and horses and how the firehouse worked. Jim Stevenson’s book contained front elevations and a short history of each fire house in Seattle, but this drawing is not in the book and is ideal for showing the workings of the station in its heyday.

Side elevation of station in action
Side elevation of station in action

Together with her oddly doting realtor, we walk around the house as she explains that she and her husband bought the house in 1974 when the city owned the building and it housed a destructive renter who did some catastrophic renovations such as trying to connect the stairs to the office. The stairs had to be completely rebuilt by her husband. I learn of her plan to have a circular stair go all the way from the ground floor to the attic. I hope my face remains neutral as she tells me this, which, in my mind, is nothing short of insane. She explains that a carpenter spared her husband all the cabinetry work in the kitchen, but that he took over the work in the attic when the contractor wasn’t completing the job to his satisfaction. I’m dying to ask where they slept all those years, given there is no discernable bedroom, but this seems rude. She proudly points out the elaborate array of copper pipes jutting from the new furnace that her husband installed himself and assures me that the radiators throughout the house keep it very toasty in the winter. As I follow her around the house, trying not to stare at her wig, it is hard not to feel sad, realizing that so many of their planned projects didn’t come to fruition. She leaves with the promise of providing the paperwork and the keys to the old Toyota MR2 parked in the driveway, which I envision as a fun project for my son and Jim.

EJ stops by my house the day of closing to drop off the keys. I am dying to dash to the house and run around, but Jim is working until the next day and so I decide to wait for him. That night, Carter and I go out for dinner to our local Vietnamese and after dinner, I get a fortune in my cookie:

Be careful what you wish for – you just might get it.


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