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Historic Mukai Farmhouse no longer slated to be sold at auction

The Mukai Farmhouse was built in 1928. - Leslie Brown/staff photo
The Mukai Farmhouse was built in 1928.
— image credit: Leslie Brown/staff photo

Nearly $18,000 in back taxes have been paid on the Mukai Farmhouse and it's no longer for sale, suggesting to those close to the situation that former Islander Mary Matthews is trying to find a way to protect the historic asset.

The farmhouse, owned by Island Landmarks, a nonprofit Matthews founded, was slated to be auctioned off in early December because of several years' worth of unpaid taxes. The farmhouse — along with the adjacent barreling plant, which Matthews and her husband own — has also been on the market for several months; the two historic properties were listed together for $799,000.

But the agent listing the properties said they're no longer on the market. And King County records indicate that Island Landmarks paid off the back taxes earlier this month, removing the imminent threat of a court-mandated auction.

Back taxes totaling nearly $30,000 are still owed on the barreling plant.

Matthews did not return telephone calls. But others familiar with the situation say they believe the new developments suggest Matthews may be looking for a way to maintain her interest in the property, which she assiduously worked to protect more than a decade ago.

Her board, which had dwindled down to her, her husband and the farmhouse's caretaker, also has two new members, making it five members strong, the minimum to remain a viable nonprofit. One of the new members is Owen Ryan of Charlotte, N.C., who owns the company that manufactures JOLT, an energy drink.

Glenda Pearson, an Islander with a keen interest in the fate of the farmhouse, said she hopes the latest developments mean Matthews' original vision for the historic site might yet come to fruition. Matthews received several public grants to purchase and protect the historic home — built in 1928 by the Mukais, a well-known Japanese-American family. At the time, according to her grant applications, she intended to maintain the home's historic Japanese garden and regularly open the house to the public so that others could appreciate its historic significance. For the most part, however, the house has sat empty and unused for the past several years and has been open to the public infrequently.

"Island Landmarks appears to be taking responsibility for pursuing the original goals. .... Maybe there's new life here," Pearson said.

But Ellen Kritzman, a former Island Landmarks board member, said she's worried that this is a "stall" on Matthews' part. "I was afraid this would happen," she added.

Meanwhile, the state Attorney General has opted to not step into the situation, as requested by 4Culture, King County's cultural arts agency and one of the agencies that helped to fund Island Landmarks' purchase of the farmhouse a decade ago. James Kelly, 4Culture's executive director, wrote a letter to the Attorney General two months ago asking that the agency dissolve Island Landmarks and transfer the farmhouse to another organization that could “properly steward this important cultural resource.”

But Jeff Even, deputy solicitor general for the Attorney General's office, said he will not intervene because the latest developments suggest that 4Culture and Island Landmarks may be able to work out their differences.

"I'm not going to get in the way of them coming together to solve their own problems," he said.

Kelly, for his part, said his agency worked hard to find a resolution that would have made Matthews and her husband financially whole and put the properties into some kind of long-term protected status. At one point, an effort was under way to strike a deal among several parties — including the Puget Sound Zen Center, Historic Seattle, the Cascade Land Conservancy and Island Landmarks — that would have put ownership of the farmhouse into the hands of the Zen center. "It didn't play out," Kelly said.

Asked if the agency is back to square one, he answered, "Pretty much."

"Ultimately what we want is a functioning interprteted historic site," he added. "If that's the outcome of this, then all of the efforts will have been fairly fruitful."

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