By Jack Mayne

The Des Moines city administration will be asking the City Council this Thursday night (July 9, 2020) to let it demolish an historical view home on the Van Gasken Park property “in order to provide an enhanced public view, open green space and other public amenities for the park.”

The agenda item brought immediate reaction seeking to hold up the decision to demolish the home, with many promising to attend or comment at Thursday night’s meeting to protest the demolition.

Kris Van Gasken, whose great-grandfather lived in the home, posted this on her Facebook page:

Artist, musician in residence?
“I see the Des Moines City Council will be voting to tear down the historic Van Gasken house this Thursday,” she said. “Why not house an artist or musician in residence instead. Or how about making it a museum. Seems a shame to tear down our history! The house is located on the bluff above the fishing pier (at) beach park,”

Her Facebook post got many responses, including ideas like turning it into a tea house, or an artist-in-residence location.

“I would hate to see it torn down,” said Facebook poster Tina McQuade Skrivanic. “It’s just always been there and I love seeing it every time I go down to the beach park. I think it’s a great idea to turn it into a park around the house and maybe a little café of some sort so all can enjoy.”

The iconic property, owned by the Van Gasken family and its heirs since 1883, was put on the real estate market in 2017. Concerned about the loss of this local landmark, Des Moines City Council members took action at that time to save the property from development.

Historic ‘Red House’
The property is located at 402 South 222nd Street (map below) and is “.66 acres in size with two structures” a main house built in 1889 and a garage built “around 1960.”

The property was purchased by the city in “late 2017,” and has a 180-degree view of Puget Sound, Vashon Island, Maury Island and the Olympic Mountains. The City plans to convert the land into a pedestrian park that is part of a contiguous open space that connects the City’s downtown Marina District to the waterfront in perpetuity.

According to the Des Moines Historical Society:

“This house overlooking Puget Sound was built in 1889 for Capt. William D. Fleming and his wife Jane. Jane, a widow with 2 children, met and married Capt. Fleming in Liverpool, England. The Fleming’s had moved to Oakland, California and Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho before settling in Des Moines.

“When Mr. Fleming died, Jane’s daughter Emma, and son-in-law, William Van Gasken moved in with Mrs. Fleming. Jane Fleming died in the family home in 1919.

“The Van Gasken’s were among the first permanent residents of Des Moines. A 15 year-old schoolteacher in Delaware, Mr. Van Gasken worked his way west as a camp cook. In the winter of 1886-1887 he traveled to Alaska hoping to better himself. When returning from Juneau he met his soon to be wife, Emma Rebecca Shaw. She was an English born passenger-guest on her brother’s schooner the George W. Elder. The couple married on December 4, 1888 and in 1889 moved to Des Moines to operate a lumber mill. Mr. Van Gasken operated his saw mill on Des Moines Creek from 1889 to 1892. The two moved to Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho to run Kootenai Trading Company until 1910. They returned to Des Moines in 1910 with their children (sons-Pullman, Jack, Mark E. and daughter-Harriette) and spent their lives as active members of the community. Emma passed away, a resident of Des Moines, in 1958. Their son Mark E. Van Gasken married a local girl, Gladys Case, and their son, Mark W., was the Mt. Rainier Senior High band director from 1964-1981. The house remains in the family through Harriett Bray-Peterson.”

Download a fascinating collection of interviews with family members courtesy the DMHS here.

Tear house down or fix it?
City management said “removal of the house, returning the site to its original pre-settlement condition would open up spectacular views of Puget Sound, adding to the city’s green space and allowing the wider community increased access to this beautiful view property.”

The renovation of the historic home would be expensive, the City Council agenda says – anywhere from a half million dollars to $1 million. “The house does not meet current codes or public occupancy or accessibility and vacant structures lead to issues with vandalism and safety. Operation and maintenance costs would add on-going expenses.”

The Council was told by city staff that “weighing all information” city staff recommends house be “demolished as the development of the house proceeds.”

Public Comment
To submit a comment for Thursday night’s meeting, click below:

https://www.desmoineswa.gov/FormCenter/City-Forms-3/Council-Meeting-Comments-49

Below are renderings from the council packet that show the city’s proposed plans for the site: