Closed down as part of the ongoing light rail construction through Bellevue, The Winters House is the former location of the Eastside Heritage Center and is the only building in the city on the National Historic Register.
The house, built in 1929 in a Mission Revival style, has been closed for all programming and operations until 2022 or later, according to the Bellevue Parks website. It is located on Bellevue Way Southeast on the west side of the Mercer Slough Nature Park.
Due to construction efforts on the Sound Transit Light Rail, the house has been wrapped up and protected with scaffolding on three sides to prevent harm to the exterior while crews work around it to build an underground pathway for the train.
The Winters House has been a historical access point in the city for many years as it recently held a collection of historic items. Before construction of the light rail began, the house was used as the main office for the Eastside Heritage Center, a historic preservation group that works in several cities in King County. EHC had several of its items archived there to be viewed by the public and ran several educational programs as well.
Much of its history was detailed in the National Register of Historic Places registration form submitted in 1991. The house was constructed by Frederick and Cecelia Winters in the 1920s and was completed in 1929. The Winters settled in the Bellevue area in 1916 when they bought a holly farm. The next year they bought 10 acres of land along the Mercer Slough.
Frederick, a floral decorator, worked in raising azaleas in his greenhouses and developed his business selling them to markets in the Midwest and on the East Coast. Cecelia raised vegetables and sold them to locals around the Bellevue area. In the early 1920s, the Winters were part of the establishment of the Eastside Grange, and had purchased even more land on the eastern side of the slough to move from flower cultivation to flower bulb farming.
As the bulb farm found success, the Winters designed and constructed their house on the slough property. According to the National Register of Historic Places registration form’s explanation of the history behind the house, the Californian Spanish mission style was chosen due to Cecelia’s brother Elmer H. Roedel, a tile supplier and contractor, who implemented the Spanish mission style that was popular at the time.
Over time, parts of the slough were sold off due to becoming too swamp-like for the Winters’ uses. The Winters’ property was only four acres in 1939. Eventually they moved to Vashon Island after buying a florist shop in North Seattle that had been owned by an interned Japanese-American business owner.
The Winters house was sold to Austrian immigrants Anna and Frank Riepl. The additional 3.69 acres were sold to Endre Ostbo, a farmer specializing in rhododendron flowers. The Ostbo family ran the flower nursery there until the 1970s. The Riepls lived in the house until 1983 and in 1989 the city acquired the property.
Bellevue Parks Property and Acquisitions Manager Camron Parker said that in the ‘80s a group of community members got together to save the house as it had fallen into disrepair. Their efforts led the city to purchase the house as they had also been acquiring the surrounding slough property since the ‘70s.
“The reason why it was nominated was that group of Bellevue residents that championed the restoration of the house saw the current owner at the time was letting it fall apart,” he said. “It would have been demolished, that was the reason to encourage the city to purchase it and lead the effort.”
At that time, the city began operating the house in partnership with the EHC. Docents at the house would walk visitors around and explain the farming history of the area.
Josh Gannis, executive director of the Eastside Heritage Center, said that once the light rail plans started in earnest, they worked with the city and Sound Transit to move out the furniture and museum pieces into storage facility and collections warehouse.
The light rail will run will dive down into a tunnel that runs underneath the house, Parker said. A lid will be constructed over the tracks and the front yard of the house will be on top of that lid.
“A lot of planning went into it with both of those agencies (Sound Transit and EHC) as well as the state historic preservation officer there,” he said. “They are the keeper of that national historic register, they reviewed the plans as they were being developed.”
Gannis said the EHC is in conversations with the city to get back to their former headquarters, but for now the Winters House still has a few more years of being wrapped up in it’s protective cocoon, at least until 2022 when the light rail construction is projected to be complete or nearing completion.