Home and Garden

In 1967 when we moved to Bellingham we bought a little old house built in 1908 at the north end of Lake Whatcom on Silver Beach Avenue.  We knew it was just a temporary dwelling for us until we got more settled at the university.  Meanwhile though we were literally eating rice and beans, saving every penny we could and buying land on the top of the Silver Beach hill.  We wanted to save that land from developers and contacted all the property owners to enquire if they would sell to us.  Nothing was on the market.  We ended up with a strip of land from the Silver Beach school on the east to Sylvan Street on the west, 11 acres in all.  We essentially owned the whole skyline of the Silver Beach neighborhood.

By 1971 we decided to have a home designed and built for us on property that was located at the top of Dakin Street.   After numerous enquiries we selected Jim Zervas to design a house for us.  Jim had worked with Frank Lloyd Wright for twelve years and was incorporating some of his ideas into his northwest designs.  What we got was an all-cedar home built into the hillside, 900 sq. ft. on the top floor and 500 on the lower floor.  The main floor had an open beamed ceiling, floor to ceiling windows and the kitchen, dining area and living room all one open space.  The master bedroom and bath were at the north end of the house.  Next to the kitchen was the ‘mud room with a door to the outdoor deck and contained the washer and dryer and lots of storage space. 

Part of the contract with Emil Olsen, the builder, was that he was not to disturb any of the natural growth outside the perimeter of the house.  He was not to throw his scrap wood, etc., into the ‘bush’.  It was to be left wild.  We had a few altercations with him but basically he respected our wish to have the natural environment left untouched.

I loved the Japanese garden and felt that our environment would be amenable to introducing the Japanese aesthetic in the land between the house and the property line to the south.  Someone told me that there was a landscaper in town who was Japanese, trained in Kyoto, and was wanting to build Japanese gardens.  I immediately contacted him, Hiroshi Takaki, and asked if he would build us a Japanese garden on the southwest corner of our property visible from our living room window.  He looked at the space and asked the budget.  I said $1,500 dollars and he responded “That’s not much.”  I told him that was for his design, that I would do most of the manual labor.  He agreed to do a garden for us.  I asked when he would have a garden plan to show me and he responded saying “I don’t draw pictures, I create gardens.”  “How do I know what I am going to get?” I asked.  He responded “How do I know what I am going to find?  You garden with nature.  You do not impose your will on her.”  And so we started.

I got a pickax and thrust it into the ground to determine how much top soil we had but at 2” – thud.  Rock.  “Ah so!” exclaimed Hiroshi.  “Let’s see where that goes.”  So I peeled away the soil and eventually found that we had a natural pond configuration about 3 ft deep and about 5 ft. wide.   One Sunday morning as I was excavating the pond area I spotted two eyes peeking through the brush watching me.  “That’s a red fox pup!” I exclaimed to myself.  I quietly got up from the hole I was digging and went into the house.  There I cut up several pieces of bacon which I put into a small aluminum pan and took it out to where I was working.   The fox pup was gone but I placed the pan where I saw it last and went back to work.  Later in the day I noticed that the pan was empty of the bacon. “Gotcha!” I said to myself and every day I moved the pan 20 ft closer to the house.  Finally it was on the front deck and to our astonishment there were three pups coming to feed, not just the one.  David tells the rest of this story in his section of the web site.  [link]

Once we had finished the wet pond garden we decided to create a dry pond garden right in front of the deck in front of the house and create a dry stream cascading down from the house.  Hiroshi suggested that we go to Boulder Creek to look for rocks for this garden.  Boulder Creek crosses the Mt. Baker highway in the foothills of Mt. Baker.  We went and found an array of magnificent rocks, two-man rocks, three-man rocks and four-man rocks but the question was how to get them from the stream bed to our garden.  I recalled that on Alabama Street someone was parking a large logging truck with an immense crane on it.  I knocked on the door and an old guy in bib overalls wanted to know what I wanted.  I explained the situation to him and he said he would bring the rocks to our garden at the cost of $100 per day and a bottle of whiskey.  Done deal.  I don’t know how many tons of rocks we got as the old codger drove on back roads around the weigh station to avoid having to pay fees or fines as he was way over loaded.  Hiroshi was delighted as he had prime rocks for his/our garden.

The view over the deck and the new dry pond garden was down the length of Lake Whatcom to the mountains behind.  This view was only visible in the winter when all the intervening trees had lost their leaves.  I decided to try to get view rights over the land in front of us but found that a Canadian developer had purchased the five lots for $1,000 each and was holding them for an increase in value at which time he would sell them.  He would not let me cut any trees on his lots but would sell them to me for $5,000 each.  He made me an offer, nothing down, pay the principal at the end of five years or earlier if I could and meanwhile pay a 9 % interest on the principal.  Done deal.  I cleared the land to provide the unobstructed view of the lake and sold the most easterly two lots for $16,000 and paid off the mortgage.  Then I sold the other lots but with a covenant on them that precluded anything being built to impinge on our view.  Thus I guaranteed forever my view down the lake.  So I thought.

Pete Coy, formerly housing director at WWU, bought the most westerly of our lots for the construction of his home which was OK with us as it would be totally hidden from view from our home as there were numerous conifer trees that hid his house.  But he also wanted to purchase the lot next door over which our view ran.  He wanted it to raise goats and chickens so we sold it to him with a covenant stating no construction of any kind was allowed, no antennas, no trees, etc.  The goats and chickens did not impinge on our view.   Well Pete and his wife got divorced and he sold the house.  He had left the university and had gone into selling real estate and now he listed his “chicken lot” as a building lot.  Mary Ann spotted the listing in the paper and told me to call Pete and tell him couldn’t build on it which I did.  She left on a trip to Norway and Sweden the next day.

A week or so later a fellow came to the door asking how high he could build the house on the lot that he had just bought from Pete.  I asked if Pete had showed him the covenant on the property and he responded “No.”  I suggested that he go to the county courthouse and look it up in their records, which he did.  He came back and told me “I can’t build.  What can I do?”  I told him to work it out with Pete.  Several days later Pete came to see me.  He essentially wanted me to give him the building rights to get his ass out of a jam.  I refused.  On departure he said “There are ways to make you change your mind.”  I immediately sat down and wrote copious notes of our conversation.  Mary Ann returned from Sweden that night and I brought her up-to-date on happenings.  No way was she gonna allow a home to be built in our view.    

The next morning, a Sunday, Mary Ann got up and went into the living room and looking at our view called “George.  Get out here and look at this.”  Pete had rented an immense mobile home, affixed a wooden row boat atop of it that was newly painted a horrible red color and parked it in the road where it would block our view of the lake.  I was outraged.  The first thing that I did was to call a professional photographer who lived down the road from us and had him come up and photograph this atrocity.  Then I called the owner of the real estate firm Pete worked for and began to explain what was going on.  He cut me off and said this was a matter between me and Pete and he was not going to get in the middle of it.  I pointed out that as Pete’s broker he was legally responsible for Pete’s actions as a sales agent in his office and that I was taking legal action against his firm on Monday.  In a half hour the boat and mobile home were gone.  Rather than get caught up in a nasty law suit we agreed to modify the covenant so the new owner could build on the lower end of the lot providing we could not see the roof of the house.  No chimney, etc., were allowed to impinge in our view.  We charged him $15,000 for this modification of the covenant which Pete had to pay.  But we still had our view intact.