Urban renewal, one house at a time

If you develop an interest in Seattle architecture, those in the know are likely to recommend you read "Shaping Seattle Architecture," edited by Jeffrey Karl Ochsner.

One of the architects talked about glowingly in the book is Andrew Willatsen, a draftsman for Frank Lloyd Wright who moved out here from the Midwest early in the 20th century. Willatsen worked on a couple of houses with Barry Byrne, a Wright devotee and fellow architect. After a few years Byrne went back to Chicago, but before he left, he and Willatsen in 1910 designed a lovely home at 320 W. Kinnear on the south slope of Queen Anne.

Willatsen also designed the fabled Black house, destroyed a couple of years ago by some folks who evidently felt Queen Anne architectural history could deal around them. But if you decide you want to take a look at the house built on Kinnear in 1911 for George Matzen, you are in luck.

The Matzen house fell into good hands - hands that respect history and fabled architecture. Eliza Ward and Tim Mar grew up four years apart in Massachusetts. They married in 1992 and bought the Matzen house in 1997, becoming its fourth or fifth owner.

Pictures of the home when they bought it show an old, ornate girl reeling from the deleterious effects of 86 years of being lived in.

Mar and Ward worked on the place for 10 years.

"In the beginning," Ward said, "we would go through these projects. This week the upstairs...."

The couple was helped every step of the way by a friend of theirs who happens to be a carpenter - Mike Todorovich.

"We couldn't have done it without Mike," Ward noted. "He's been with us since the beginning. He's into it, too."

Ward and Mar went through the archives at the University of Washington, looking at old photos of the house. They also went through their own basement, looking at all the stuff still lying around from one of the home's earlier incarnations.

"We gave ourselves the time to figure it out," Ward said. For example, "we wanted to use only original finishes as long as they were not highly toxic." All the work they did brought the old Matzen house alive to them.

"The person who lives here has to take responsibility for the house," Mar said. "It has to be a priority."

"It has to become a passion," Ward added.

In the beginning many of the couple's friends thought Mar and Ward were crazy.

"Not everyone saw it the way we did," Ward said, laughing.

"Working on the house was a relaxation for us," Mar said. "People think we're crazy. We lived in disrepair for so long. It never bothered us."

Back in Lincoln, Mass., where they grew up, Ward lived in an old Colonial home erected about 1700. Mar lived in a modern house. But both knew the Matzen house was their destiny as soon as they saw the place.

"We looked at each other and said, 'This is it,'" Ward remembered.

"We did the things we did to reveal and recreate what was intended in 1910. In some cases what the architect wanted is not necessarily what was built," Mar said, explaining some of the art of renovation.

"You are the steward of the house," Mar went on. "The house owns us. The thing we truly care about is the preservation of architecture. Homes are a part of the character that makes up your neighborhood. You want to feel your house belongs."

During their 10 years of work on the house the couple also started a family; they have two children, 9 and 4. They also run their own business, ChefShop.com, an online gourmet shop outlet that-what else-helps small producers offering traditional gourmet foods stay the course and thrive.

Some kinds of staying the course you just have to admire.

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