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November 2, 2011

New owner of historic barn hopes to realize a former owner's vision

Journal Staff Reporter

Photo by Kristin Zwiers, courtesy of S2 Builders [enlarge]
An elderly neighbor, Ruth Afflack, gave Tim Ulrich 6.5 acres and a historic barn in Fall City when she died in 2008. Ulrich said he thinks Afflack knew he would spend the money to save the barn.

When Tim Uhrich moved to a Fall City farm 12 years ago, he never expected that one day a neighbor would give him some land and an old barn.

But that's exactly what happened in 2008. An elderly neighbor, Ruth Afflack, gave Ulrich 6.5 acres and a historic barn. To honor Afflack, Uhrich is renovating the structure and hopes to attract a commercial tenant.

The Kinnear Ambold Barn was built around 1910. It is a two-story structure with 5,000 square feet.

Afflack retired to the farm after a career as a math professor in California. Her property had two old barns that gradually fell into decay, and one eventually collapsed.

When Uhrich moved to the area about 12 years ago, his family developed a friendship with Afflack. They would bring her food at holidays and mow her lawn. After the first barn collapsed, Uhrich offered to buy part of her land and protect the second barn.

Afflack died in 2008, and left part of her land and the barn to Uhrich. She left another 10-acre parcel to PCC Natural Markets' farmland trust.

Uhrich said he had no idea she was going to give him the land and barn, and said some neighbors were suspicious about his motives. He thinks Afflack left it to him because she thought he would do what she wanted to do but couldn't: save it.

“My only way of proving them wrong and proving her right is just doing what I think she wanted us to do, regardless of the financial gains,” he said. “Ultimately, (Ruth) is right. What we wanted is the same thing she wanted. We wanted to keep this cool old barn standing in this nice valley location.”

Uhrich is paying for the work himself and said it will probably end up costing around $300,000. He is co-owner of a Seattle-area hardware store and previously worked for Union Bay clothing in apparel and design.

To protect the barn, Uhrich began by getting it listed on the Washington Heritage Barn Register. He said he has spent a lot of time thinking about how to improve the space.

Most historic barns, he said, are either glorified storage space or “yard art.” He wants his barn to be used and hopes to attract a commercial tenant for the space.

Uhrich envisions the barn as a fitness club, apple cider distillery, micro brewery or other small business. Tenants could lease the building and the surrounding six acres, or just the building.

He's waiting to decide whether to install elements like heating and restrooms.

Uhrich boards horses on his property. A decade ago, he said, that might have been a good option for the historic barn, but in today's economy people don't have the resources.

The barn sits on a road used by members of the Cascade Bicycle Club, motorcyclists, triathletes and joggers. It has views of Mount Si.

“(It's) one of those country farm roads that on a sunny day, everybody likes to go down it,” Uhrich said. “It really is very picturesque and when it's put back together it's going to be a very charming little spot.”

Rebuilding the barn hasn't been easy. The floor was rotten and the building was starting to twist and getting ready to fall.

Because the floor was in such bad shape, Uhrich lifted the top and removed the foundation. This will allow him to put in a new foundation and walls to make a usable building.

He hired Seattle-based Excavators Northwest to do structural work. Seattle-based S2 Builders is the contractor. Last summer, Excavators Northwest added I-beams to ensure the structure wouldn't cave in while the property transfer moved through probate court.

The lower level has been removed and the upper level and gambrel roof now are sitting on crib piles. The team will rebuild the foundation, footings and the entire lower level. Then it will lower the old roof onto the new structure.

Uhrich will work with King County's preservation architect to ensure the exterior looks the same as the original.

It will take about two months before the building can stand “on its own legs,” Uhrich said.

S2 Builders is getting ready to replace walls with siding chosen to maintain the original character of the barn. Uhrich said he might not pour the new pad until he knows what type of tenant he can get.

No matter what the space becomes, Uhrich believes he's done right by Ruth Afflack.

“Even though it's probably not the most financially prudent thing to do, its kind of why she left it to me. So I didn't really think I had much of a choice. I think she probably knew that's what I'd do.”


Katie Zemtseff can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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