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Originally published April 1, 2010 at 2:05 PM | Page modified April 1, 2010 at 8:05 PM

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Thiry house headed for demolition

A beachfront house in Normandy Park, designed by architect Paul Thiry, often called "the father of Northwest modernism," is apparently headed for demolition after unsuccessful attempts to find a buyer who could have it moved.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A beachfront house in Normandy Park, designed by architect Paul Thiry, often called "the father of Northwest modernism," is apparently headed for demolition following unsuccessful attempts to find a buyer who could have it moved.

"It's unfortunate," said Jeff McCord, with the house-moving company Nickel Bros. of Everett, who has been working to save the house, "but it's extremely difficult to find a place for a house of this size, dimension and weight."

The unusual concrete-reinforced five-bedroom home, with a top level that projects out over the shoreline, was built in 1962, the same year as the Seattle World's Fair, for which Thiry was lead architect.

Sunset magazine, featuring the house on a cover in 1967, described it as "raised up on concrete legs, (with) a sculptured form that almost suggests a gull poised for flight."

McCord said his firm was contacted last year by owners of the home, who live next door and have other plans for the property, which do not include putting another house on it. They were willing to sell the Thiry-designed house for only $1 if someone would move it, which McCord said would have been done by barge, costing about $240,000.

King County real-estate records indicate the Thiry house and its half-acre lot were purchased for $1.5 million last August by the family trust of William and Karen Steele, neighbors of the home on Normandy Terrace Southwest. The Steeles could not be reached for comment Thursday.

McCord said he regrets that people might fault the Steeles for the house's demise. He said the Steeles went out of their way to try to accommodate a move by continually extending a deadline, facilitating showings of the property and being receptive to various proposals.

"They were very gracious," McCord said. "Everybody involved in the process, Nickel Bros., the landowners, the historic-preservation groups ... Everybody exhausted all avenues to try to accomplish this."

McCord said he does not know the timetable for the house's demolition.

Although the house is not listed as a historic place, McCord worked with several preservation groups since last fall in an attempt to save it.

An open house was held last November, organized in part by Docomomo WEWA, or Documentation and Conservation of the Modern Movement, Western Washington.

Eugenia Woo, an architectural preservationist with that group, said she wishes word of the Thiry home's availability had been widely circulated before the Steeles purchased it, when it might have been bought by someone willing to restore and maintain it at its current site.

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"It didn't have to end like this ... (being demolished) because it's blocking someone's view," Woo said.

McCord said if moved, the 200-ton Thiry house would need to go to a site relatively accessible by water, but probably could not be as close to a shoreline as it was, given more restrictive shoreline regulations now in place.

Despite that challenge, McCord said Nickel Bros. heard from dozens of interested parties, fielding perhaps eight to 10 serious proposals.

But the many obstacles, including the price of waterfront land and the down economy, weighed against each plan.

Nickel Bros. also explored moving the house to storage land it leases from the Port of Everett, holding it "on spec" until a buyer could be found, but the costs and logistics made that impractical, McCord said.

Thiry, who died in 1993 at age 89, designed numerous Northwest structures, including Seattle's Museum of History & Industry, the Frye Art Museum and buildings on the University of Washington and Western Washington University campuses.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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