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Wednesday, April 23, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Compromise plan for historic Medina store

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

The historic Medina grocery, once a center of Eastside commerce and later a favorite place for local kids to buy candy, is now little more than a two-story bulletin board.

Ads for a used car, a professional tutor and landscaping services are taped to papered-over windows. A glimpse through the window of the bright-red front door reveals empty candy racks. Papers are scattered on the floor and price tags are tacked to bare shelves, as if the closure two years ago came with little warning.

Now, the building's owner has plans to revive the only shopping spot in town.

In a compromise between history and the pocketbook, the owner would tear down the wooden structure and replace it with a near look-alike, said John Decker, the building designer who drafted the plans for the owner, Hae Lee.

"I think people will say it looks very much like the old building," Decker said.

It's a move that pleases some, who have missed a neighborhood store and feared a crucial link to Medina's past would be obliterated. But some local historians warn the plan would strip away much of the authentic character of a building erected in 1908 or 1909.

He submitted the plans to the city yesterday for approval. A public hearing before the city hearing examiner is scheduled May 20.

The building is so old and structurally flawed that renovation would cost twice as much as replacement, Decker said, and still would leave little of the original building. He declined to give the cost.

"It wasn't like the pyramids," Decker said. "It wasn't built real well. To me, what's important is the use and the reference to the original building."

The idea, if endorsed by city officials, would revive a store that's become a decrepit shell of its former self, giving local residents a place to get a quart of milk or cup of coffee without driving to Bellevue.

For Nancy Price, it's a welcome compromise that would save the appearance and use of the building, if not the original wood and nails.

"I think if it looked very similar and could reopen as a store, that would be ideal," said Price, a city planning commissioner who lives two blocks from the building.

She and several other residents met with the owner to come up with a way to rescue the building from being demolished and replaced by a house.

But for some history buffs, a replica is a distant second-best to restoring one of the Eastside's original general stores.

"This is so upsetting, to see a city of the wealth and stature of Medina even thinking to allow the old Medina store to go away. It is just unbelievable to the preservation community," said Margot Blacker, a board member of the Eastside Heritage Center.

Blacker recently asked the Medina City Council to consider condemning the building and buying it from the owner, since the owner had rejected several private offers. But Medina City Manager Doug Schulze said the council showed little interest in that option.

The store opened at a time when much of the Eastside was forest or farmland, when pioneers lived in wood cabins in parts of what eventually became Medina.

It was before the influx of wealth to the picturesque strip of Lake Washington shoreline had earned it the nickname "The Gold Coast."

With the tip of land a relatively short distance from Seattle by boat, the store occupied a crossroads of sorts. A ferry landed a few hundred yards from the business, carrying Eastsiders to Seattle.

While the ferry stopped after World War II and Medina embraced its future as a bedroom community, the store remained a landmark.

West Bellevue parents knew it as the place their children would get Popsicles, after swimming nearby in the lake, Blacker said.

"It's a really fond memory," she said.

Price, who has lived in Medina for 14 years, remembered a time when she could walk there to get a carton of milk, and kids could ride their bikes to it in search of candy.

That memory prompted her and several other residents to try to revive the old store. The owner rebuffed offers to buy it, Price said. While she would rather see the original building preserved, she and the other residents have decided to back Lee's current plan.

The building will be the same height, with the same number of windows in the same locations, he said. They also will mimic much of the decorative woodwork along the building facades that face Northeast Eighth Street and Evergreen Point Road, he said.

The second floor, a residence, would be expanded to the same size as the first floor, he said.

The new design is closer to the original than a plan submitted a year and a half ago, in which Lee sought to convert the building into a coffee shop, market and dry-cleaning store, Decker said.

A city hearing examiner rejected that proposal, after it drew objections from a number of residents.

The new plans also would need approval from a hearing examiner. The chief issue is whether to continue allowing a business on land zoned for residential use.

Blacker, however, was not convinced the building was beyond help.

If not rehabilitation, she hoped they could reuse some of the original flooring or windows and make the outside look as much as possible like the old store.

"What Medina must absolutely not let happen is to let that disappear into a 2003, stucco, 3,500-square-foot house with a three-car garage," she said.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or wcornwall@seattletimes.com

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