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First Landmark in Leschi?

The Judge Ronald House was recently designated as a landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Board, and it appears to be the first designated landmark in Leschi. We have such a rich history here in Leschi; surely there must be other landmarks that have not gone through the process to achieve the designation.

And a process it is! Jeff Moidel, owner of the Judge Ronald House, has wanted this designation for some years, as it gives the home more protection from exterior changes. The house has been on the National Historic Register since the 70’s, but this offers little protection and indeed, the house went through many changes since it belonged to the Ronald family. Jeff learned that it had been a boarding house, a drug rehab center, a daycare center, a halfway house and an evangelical church in its past.

And how did a concert pianist (as Jeff is) find himself the owner of an historic house? Jeff said he was living in Leschi, a few blocks north of the Ronald House, and would drive by it often and think what a great summer (or winter) house this would be! When he had to leave the place he was renting because it was being sold, he drove around the area to look at possible houses to buy. To his surprise, there was a sign on the Judge Ronald House and this mansion soon became Jeff’s first “starter” home in 2002. Wherever he went, he needed to have room for a baby grand piano and this house certainly met that criterion.

Jeff was won over by the house itself with its spacious rooms and a graceful setting and not so much the historical background as he knew little of that. He said that the paper carrier brought him an article about the house and that was his first awakening to the possibilities. He learned that a Judge Ronald luncheon was scheduled in the next two days and called the Shoreline Historical Museum to inquire; he was invited to the luncheon and there he met the descendants of Judge Ronald, including Betty Runstad, a granddaughter in her 90’s who was to be Jeff’s mentor and source for historical accuracy when he decided to restore the house. This was a process that took several years; inside the house, there were popcorn ceilings, paneling on some walls, institutional carpeting throughout (even in the defunct fireplace!) and florescent lights.

The outside was a challenge as well; aluminum siding has been installed in the 60’s and the original ornamental pediments on the windows removed. The chimney had been knocked down, thus the defunct fireplace now painted silver inside and carpeted.

Jeff’s interest in restoring the house was fueled by Betty Runstad’s memories and books that he was given: Centennial Snapshots: Historic Places Around King County from the First Twenty-Five Years of Statehood [Paperback] available from Amazon; Where the Washingtonians Lived: Interesting Early Homes and the People Who Built and Lived in Them by Lucile McDonald, also available from Amazon; and Reflections Along the Wayside of Life, by Judge J. T. Ronald himself; edited by Mildred Tanner. This was published by the Shoreline Historical Museum and is available there.

Neighbor Tom Henry was his main contractor and he worked wonders recreating the pediments for the windows. New lighting, new moldings and quarter sawn oak floors installed. Only one room has carpeting now.

Jeff tried several times to get a 4Culture grant to pursue landmark designation but failed to do so. And then the criteria for the grant were rewritten, specifically allowing homeowners to apply. Jeff was awarded the grant and hired a preservation specialist to help with the research. The report took 6 months to put together and then there are two stages to the process. First there is a presentation to get a recommendation for landmark status from the Board; this was given unanimously. Then a second presentation is given to get the designation; again the decision was unanimous. Jeff said that two Ronald great-grandchildren testified at the second hearing.

To qualify for the designation, one has to meet one of six criteria and the Judge Ronald house met 3 of the 6 criteria: 1) It is associated in a significant way with the life of a person important in the history of the City, state or nation. 2) It embodies the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, a period, or a method of construction. 3) It is an easily identifiable visual feature of its neighborhood or the City and contributes to the distinctive quality or identity of such neighborhood or the City.

The Leschi Community Council sent a letter in favor of the designation, remarking that Leschi has a rich historical past, but not much has been preserved and indeed, this is our first Landmark!

Jeff said that the architecture was found to be neo-classical revival, influenced by the Beaux Arts movement around the time of the Chicago World’s Fair (1893). The house was built and added on to in the years 1889-1904. The original house had a south portico which is shown in photos and could be added to the current structure under the guidelines.

When the restoration was finished, Jeff and his fellow musicians performed a concert for Betty Runstad and family, which probably took Betty back to the glory days of this grand house she spent so much of her youth in. Leschi is grateful to Jeff for this massive restoration undertaking and the additional work of going after the landmark status. The plaque on the front fence was created by the Shoreline Historical Museum.

~Diane Snell

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