Hundreds show for event at Mukai

About 200 people showed at the Mukai farmhouse and garden on Saturday for an event organized to rally support for revitalizing the historic site.

The gathering — which included speeches, musical performances and a small street fair — culminated with a group photo on the street outside the house, with islanders as well as a significant slate of government and nonprofit leaders gathering behind large letters reading “this place matters.”

“Many of us have hoped for a moment like this,” said Glenda Pearson, a Friends of Mukai board member who addressed the crowd.

Indeed, the event came in the midst of a long dispute over the historic property, purchased more than a decade ago by the nonprofit Island Landmarks. Islanders concerned over the state of the house and Japanese garden just outside town — which they say have fallen into disrepair and are not open to the public as originally promised — have formed their own nonprofit and are actively working to see the property change hands. County and state officials have also expressed concern about the situation at Mukai and what they call Island Landmarks’ apparent failure to live up to requirements of public grants that funded the property’s purchase.

“It’s an integral part of the history of the island, and it needs to be encouraged, loved, cherished and nurtured in every way,” said Katharine Golding, a member of the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association’s board, who spoke at the event.

The Friends of Mukai recently nominated the farmhouse for the Washington Trust for Historical Preservation’s list of most endangered historic properties in the state. It was added to the list last month, prompting the friends group to quickly organize Saturday’s event, which was co-sponsored by the Washington Trust as well as the heritage association and 4Culture, King County’s cultural arts organization.

The tension between Island Landmarks and the other groups was clear on Saturday afternoon, as visitors crowded on the street just outside a fence that has surrounded the house and garden for months. Beyond the fence, a pair of patrol cars from the King County Sheriff’s Office sat outside the adjacent fruit barreling plant. A sheriff’s deputy said Island Landmarks hired two off-duty deputies to provide security that afternoon. A crew worked on painting the house, and Mary Matthews, who heads Island Landmarks, could also be seen on the property as the event unfolded.

Matthews opened the site for a weeklong open house last month and originally said she would open the grounds for Saturday’s event as well. However, she later said Island Landmarks’ board changed its mind when it learned of the scope of the event. A flier the organization made available said the property would be closed for several reasons, including that work was being done on the house and that a large number of visitors may disturb nesting swallows there and be a risk for the fragile garden.

“The board of Island Landmarks is saddened that prejudice — which is indeed what characterizes this group’s activities — have been forced upon Kuni Mukai’s garden, which she created to be a sanctuary of peace, quiet, and beauty,” the flier read.

The event, called Stand Up for Mukai — This Place Matters, kicked off with a performance by Vashon’s Free Range Folk Choir and some words from Mary Matsuda Gruenwald, a former islander and Japanese-American author who knew B.D. Mukai, the farmhouse’s former owner.

A lineup of government officials and nonprofit representatives also took to the podium, speaking of the site’s historical significance — both on Vashon and regionally — and the need for a long-term preservation and management plan.

King County Council-member Joe McDermott compared the situation to when islanders fought Glacier Northwest’s proposed mining expansion on Maury Island.

“I know this community, and I know that when you’re dedicated to finding a solution, it happens,” he said

County Executive Dow Constantine, in his speech, noted that years ago as a staffer on the county council, he helped present a giant check to Island Landmarks to help purchase the farmhouse.

In an interview afterward, Constantine said county agencies have given more than $100,000 in funding to the nonprofit and he was displeased to see what’s happening there today.

“To protect that investment and historical asset, the county will look at whatever reasonable steps are available,” he said.

The farmhouse had already been on his radar, but “today helped amplify it,” he said.

McDermott, in an interview, said he’d been quietly working to find a solution  for the historical property for about a year now.

“I’m working with 4Culture and others on the county level to find every opportunity we can to be involved. I’m also very supportive of the state and community taking an active role,” he said.

The Friends of Mukai were also celebrating a small legal victory on Saturday.

The group is currently appealing a King County Superior Court decision that the Friends did not lawfully carry out a takeover of Island Landmarks’ board last year.

Island Landmarks’ attorney, Bob Krinsky, filed a motion on behalf of the nonprofit to affirm the previous ruling and dismiss the Friends’ appeal. Last Thursday, however, that motion was denied, meaning the appeals process will continue, with a hearing in front of a three-judge panel at the state Court of Appeals likely to be scheduled for next month.

Lynn Greiner, a Friends of Mukai board member and the group’s lawyer, called the ruling “an indication that we have raised significant issues in our appeal.”


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