In 1926, the Ryan Family heirs gave a portion of their former farm to the City of Sumner as a park in honor of their mother, Lucy V. Ryan. They expected the house to be torn down after 5 years of serving as a library and instructed the land be “for the use of the public forever as and for a public park….” The house ended up serving as the library for 50 years and then housed the Sumner Historical Society for another 40 years. By 2019, the house was rarely open to the public and needed much more than routine repairs.
We began work to give the house a full rehabilitation, conducting a feasibility study, a cost estimate, a design study and a structural assessment. The vision was to keep the cabin wing as historic exhibits while opening up the rest of the house for more active uses including gatherings, pop-up retail and events. The Historical Society cleared out all their items, and we raised over $1 million in grant funding. Historic architects WJE spent the spring finalizing construction needs, anticipating to begin work this past summer.
As WJE’s assessment began and walls opened up, more and more issues started to spill out. There were no header beams where there should be. The kitchen wing was not actually attached to the main house and sloped 10”. The cabin’s attic floor completely collapsed into the cabin below, having no nails or supports as it should have. Every support stud in the kitchen is splitting as the roof basically sinks into the room, pushing the walls out. We are very lucky to have started this project before anyone was injured within the house by its failing, or missing, support and safety infrastructure. …The City paused all construction plans to assess the best option forward. After more research and assessment, the house needs at least another $1 million of work on top of the grants raised. More questions continue to pile up instead of answers, leaving that price tag likely to continue increasing. Plus, the summer 2023 construction window closed, and the house continues to fall further apart from both weather and break-ins, making swift action necessary.
The City Council assessed the options and instructed staff to not proceed with further structural assessment or construction. In short, the house is beyond repair and will be torn down. This is not a decision that was taken quickly or lightly. As disappointing as it is, the reality is that public safety and fiscal accountability remain the Council’s top priorities.
The City will return the construction grants received to State and County funding partners as they cannot be used for other City projects. We have already completed asbestos abatement that was necessary with either construction or tear-down. We will salvage everything we can for use in other City facilities or to an architectural salvage yard before the house comes down later this autumn. We will then begin to plan the space as a full park venue as part of the City-wide parks plan, which was the intent of the original family’s gift nearly 100 years ago.
Thank you to Pierce County Lodging Tax, Port of Tacoma, and State of Washington Historic Preservation for providing funding. Although we can’t use it, we appreciate your support with our attempt to save this old house. (And yes, we even contacted This Old House to nominate this project for their help. We never heard back.)