New board seeks funds to repair Mukai farmhouse

A group of Islanders working to take over the nonprofit that owns the Mukai farmhouse has applied for a $10,000 grant to fix the home’s deteriorating roof.

The group has also created a website describing how one becomes a member of Island Landmarks — a nonprofit founded more than a decade ago — listing the names of its board members and presenting a slide show of the storied home and garden west of Vashon town.

Ellen Kritzman, vice president of the newly formed board, said the group decided to apply for the grant at 4Culture’s suggestion. The public agency, which supports a wide range of cultural and historic projects in King County, provided some of the seed money Island Landmarks used to purchase the farmhouse for $300,000 in 2000.

Kritzman said board members are concerned about the condition of the roof, which caretaker Ken DeFrang has told them is leaking. What’s more, she said, they want to maintain momentum after their surprise announcement that they’d put together a new board and a base of membership in an effort to take over a project that appears to be dormant and under the control of an out-of-state couple.

“It’s important to show that we’re moving forward,” Kritzman said.

“So many promises were made in the past and nothing happened,” she added. “We’re determined that that will not happen on our watch.”

But Mary Matthews, who founded Island Landmarks and now lives in Texas with her husband Nelson Happy,  said she was surprised to hear the group is seeking a grant from the county.

The new board recently sued Matthews, Happy and Island Landmarks’ two other board members. The lawsuit will likely take months, if not years, to get resolved, Matthews said.

“It would amaze me that they would get a grant when they don’t own the property  and there’s a lawsuit going on,” she said.

“They’re the ones who sued us. And this is in the courts. And the courts will determine whether there’s a new board or not,” she said.

Matthews acknowledged that the roof on the farmhouse is in bad shape. It has been, she said, since she bought the historic site 12 years ago with public funds from the county, state and federal government.

The original board should have earmarked some of those funds for replacement of the roof, she said. “But it wasn’t done,” she added.

Matthews, who said she’s hired Island attorney Bob Krinsky to defend her and the three other board members, will be at the property this summer to paint the house and “stabilize the roof.”

“We don’t want to go through another winter with worries about water,” she said.

4Culture, meanwhile, has yet to take an official stance on the dispute but supports the new board’s effort to use the courts to establish its legitimacy, said Flo Lentz, who heads the agency’s historic preservation program.

4Culture has long been concerned about Matthews’ failure to live up to the terms of her $100,000 grant, Lentz said, which included a requirement that the property serve the public interest and be open to the public. Matthews has said she has met the terms of that grant, making the house available to the public by appointment.

“If this new board is able to perform and provide those public benefits and meet the requirements of the contract, that would be beneficial to the property and we would like to see that,” Lentz said.


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