Group positions Longfellow Building to go on national historic register
Doug Ramsay file photo
The Longfellow Building as seen in 2014.
EVERETT — The long-empty Longfellow Building on Oakes is having its 110th birthday this year, and in coming months it could be added to the honorary National Register of Historic Places.
Volunteers with Historic Everett nominated it in January, and last month the city’s historical commission approved recommending forwarding the nomination to state officials as the next step for federal certification.
Its owner, the Everett School District, objected. The district doesn’t have immediate plans for the Longfellow, but felt the school board should be the ones deciding what happens with district buildings.
Anyone can nominate a public building to the register. It’s no simple application, though.
“We’re not planning to stop the (national registry) process and don’t think we would interfere with it,” the district’s Chief Strategist, Mike Gunn, who oversees buildings and operations planning, said last week. “We’re not planning to oppose this beyond writing the letter” it sent to the city’s historic commission.
The district had convened a task force to discuss the Longfellow site at 3715 Oakes Ave., but the coronavirus pandemic abbreviated its work halfway through its meeting schedule.
From the work it did do, though, the district compiled an informal list saying the task force said to prioritize the building for school district programming, stadium programming or community programming.
The building poses a tricky problem: Saving the Longfellow differs greatly versus restoring it.
“We do not have the money to renovate the building at this time, nor the intent to demolish it,” Gunn said.
How much it will cost in required rehabilitation changes greatly depending on whether it is used as a school, an office, or another purpose, Gunn said. The Longfellow contains asbestos and is not ADA-compliant as it has no elevator, Gunn confirmed.
The Longfellow’s been empty since 2013 when the district opened a new headquarters at 39th and Broadway. Certain departments, including Gunn’s, moved to the new center. (The district’s prior headquarters on Colby was demolished for the new Everett Y.)
In 2018, the school board gave the Longfellow a stay of execution: They voted 4-1 to dismiss a demolition bid that came in above the expected price.
It had earlier tried to find somebody to buy just the building, but had few takers (the parking lot wasn’t part of the sale because the district wanted to reserve the lot for overflow parking for games at nearby Everett Memorial Stadium).
The motivation to nominate the Longfellow wasn’t to keep it safe from demolition, clarified Historic Everett’s Patrick Hall, who also was on the Longfellow Task Force. The group thought “it could make it easier for the district to adapt the building” by making it eligible for restoration tax credits
— however, these credits aren’t usable unless the district uses its public building for an income-generating purpose.
Preservationists believe being on the National Register should not add red tape on the district’s ability to use the Longfellow.
“The district’s primary argument (in its opposition letter) was that it usurps its decision-making on the public school property, but as long as they don’t take federal dollars,” there is nothing standing in the way of using the property, Hall said.
Being on a historic register is an honorary title that does not override the ability to demolish.
Hall, who was on the Longfellow Task Force, objected to a characterization in the district’s letter opposing the nomination that says the task force had no consensus on whether to save the Longfellow. Those detailed conversations on what to do were set to come later in the task force’s meeting schedule, Hall said.
The district disbanded the task force last fall with no plans to restart it.
The Longfellow was a school for 60 years, and used for administrative offices for 30 more. An annex built onto it in 1957 is also part of the historic application because the regulations required doing so.
Literary fans might appreciate that it’s named after the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Everett’s hometown son Sen. Henry Jackson attended Longfellow School; later in life, he introduced the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 into Congress which included establishing the National Register of Historic Places.
In other Longfellow news, the district plans to soon remove a heating fuel tank in the parking lot next to the Longfellow, Gunn said.
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