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Tuesday, June 13, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Historic buildings' fate at stake

Seattle Times Snohomish County bureau

EVERETT

It's hard to see the history within Snohomish County's government complex in downtown Everett.

But hidden behind trees, bushes and decades of remodels are a pair of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places - the Carnegie Library and the old mission-style courthouse.

The fates of both could be decided as county leaders discuss spending more than $130 million to rebuild and expand the government's complex of criminal-justice and administration buildings.

Under one proposal the 1905 former library would be moved. The 1910 stucco courthouse, however, might be ripped down if the county decided it would cost too much to make it earthquake-safe.

With its distinctive red-clay roof, clock tower and belfry, the building is one of Western Washington's few remaining examples of mission architecture in public structures.

But it's built upon the 103-year-old foundation of the city's first courthouse, which burned in 1909.

Seismic studies are under way, and the county expects preliminary cost estimates by early next month.

The building's fate will hinge upon whether the county can afford to save it, said County Executive Bob Drewel. Its historic-register status will figure in the decision, he said.

"Any time you're involved with a physical presence that comments on the history of a community, you have to pay the highest level of attention to it," Drewel said.

Remodels and additions in 1952 and 1966-67 destroyed three of the four exterior mission-style walls, which featured turrets and balconies. Much of the interior stylings were "chopped up and thrown away," said Walter Greissinger, county architect.

Today, the county Prosecutor's Office fills the building's first floor, and two courtrooms occupy the second story. A stately Alaskan gray-marble staircase rises through a space that once featured a decorative, vaulted ceiling and art-glass windows.

Pigeons rule the gold-domed belfry, where the original motors and a 10-foot pendulum still power the Boston-made clockworks.

For historian Margaret Riddle, the courthouse has great importance despite its renovations.

"It's part of a story - the courthouse fire, how you take those burned remains and build something new. There's continuity there," she said.

Also, she said, the mission-style courthouse "is one of the nicest pieces of architecture we have here in town."

The 1952 courthouse remodel tacked the county clerk's offices onto the east side, facing the County Administration Building. It also added office space on the south side along Pacific Avenue.

The renovation in 1966-67 added a five-story, 10-courtroom building facing Wall Street, connected by an atrium to the courthouse.

The only remaining view of the mission architecture is from Wetmore Avenue, a one-way street with sparse foot traffic.

Even from that angle it's easy to miss because huge rhododendrons cover the arched, first-floor window bays, and moss and fungi mar its balcony, eaves and rotting decorative railings.

If the courthouse is preserved, it still could become less visible to passers-by. Early proposals to expand the county's jail space included moving the Carnegie Library to an unused courtyard directly in front of the historic courthouse, with new courtrooms topped by jail space taking over the old library spot.

However, the latest proposal by Drewel, the county executive, would leave the Renaissance-revival library intact at Oakes Avenue and Wall Street. A final plan has yet to be worked out.

Built of blond brick with a $25,000 grant from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the library houses the county's information-services staff.

David Blacker, a member of the Everett Historic Commission, said he hopes the community objects to moving the Carnegie building or demolishing the mission courthouse.

"I've got an enormous affection for both those buildings," he said. "People with a sense of place care passionately about the potential demise of places like the mission courthouse and the Carnegie Library. When you tear something down . . . then you've lost something that's part of what's special about your life."

The buildings' national-historic status provides little protection, said Paul Lusignan, the register's reviewer for this state.

"The national-register program is predominantly an honorary program," he said.

Private agencies and local governments can do whatever they want with listed properties, as long as no federal permits, grants or loans are involved, Lusignan said.

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Council vote

The Snohomish County Council is to vote tonight on County Executive Bob Drewel's plan for an expanded civic center in downtown Everett. A public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. at William E. Moore Auditorium, Naval Station Everett.

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Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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