By Kristin Kendle | Photos by Dane Gregory Meyer
Remodeling a home is the dream of many, but takes a lot of work, time and a steady flow of cash. While most might drive by an old, empty fire station without a second thought, Bill Korth and Sara Evans saw Fire Station No. 8 in Tacoma and instantly knew they had found their next remodeling project — and home.
History of Firehouses
In Tacoma’s early days, buildings and sidewalks were often made of wood. Fires were common and fire stations important; the first fire-fighting company started in 1880. These early fire stations were built of brick to resist fire and often were on hills so firefighters could see smoke on the horizon, according to “100 Years of Firefighting” by Clyde, Talbot and Ralph Decker.
Fire Station No. 8 was built in 1909 at 4301 South L St. When the station opened, firefighters used steam-powered, horse-pulled vehicles, so the station had to house a team of horses — this meant two stories to keep the horses and residents separate. Horse stables and steam engines were on the first floor and feed and manure were in the basement. Dorms were on the upper floor and a sliding pole helped firemen get downstairs fast.
The station remained active until 2003, when the fire company moved to a new facility at 4711 S. Alaska Street. After the building closed, some wanted to see it become a museum.
In 2005, Sara Evans and Bill Korth needed space for their business, With Love Chocolates. With approximately 3,000 square feet on the first floor, plus basement and attic storage space and the second floor available to remodel into a home, the building was almost perfect for their needs. They jumped into the bidding process when it went up for sale, and won. The station was theirs. Then a great transformation began.
The Remodeling Challenge
Remodeling any space can be a great challenge, but taking on a fire station that was nearly 100 years old was no small task. Evans had remodeled an old sorority house in Seattle and — armed with this experience and a masters degree in art — she was ready for battle.
The couple immediately had to replace all the plumbing and wiring, but there was plenty to do beyond that to make the house livable. Impressively, the couple and their contractors got the work done in just three months in order to get the home on the 2005 Master Builder’s Tour of Remodeled Homes.
Throughout the renovation, they aimed to retain as much of the period charm of the firehouse as they could. While the quintessential firehouse pole had been taken when the fire squad left, there are fire-alarm lights on the ceilings, panels of station controls, original tin ceiling tiles, pulleys dangling from the ceiling that were used to dry out used fire hoses and more.
“It’s all just part of it,” Evans said. “We just thought this should be preserved. The architect we had wanted to make it like a modern New York loft and we didn’t want that.”
From the outside, the home still looks the part of a fire station, but the giant doors are now dark rather than firehouse beige. This was done for aesthetic reasons and also to help people recognize that the station is no longer a place to go for emergencies, which has happened a few times.
The Second Story
Heading up the staircase to the second-story, Korth is quick to point out the slightly wavy window glass is still original.
The entryway at the top of the stairs opens up from the industrial downstairs into a charming and cozy home. The doors to the room were large swinging doors, but Evans replaced them with white glass doors to brighten up the room.
“Over here against the chimney in the front upstairs room was their command center,” said Evans of a chimney that’s no longer there. “This big command center was wrapped around the chimney with all their communications equipment.”
The upstairs is at once bold and bright —often thanks to her passion for red paint and strong contrasts. Huge windows reveal the neighborhood sprawl and a great view exists of Mount Rainier in the distance.
“We were trying to bring it back to the 1909 look, so we put in all the big baseboards and the trim,” Evans said.
The couple has furnished the home with antique furniture and décor. Both have a passion for antiques and have collected pieces from around the country.
The Dining Room
Directly in front of the entry is the dining room, framed by added columns, where a couple of unique features make this a standout among beautiful rooms. And an entire wall is covered by built-in shelves to house the couple’s extensive china collection, made up of antique china from the early 1900s through the ’50s and ’60s.
“The bathroom was the worst room,” said Evans. “They actually had wood around the toilet, like a stall. Then they had a urinal and a gross shower. This is the room that changed the most. They had lowered the ceiling so we raised that back up, too.”
The only thing kept in the remodel of this bathroom was a Boraxo soap dispenser, which still works and helps add a period touch to the room, now done in white, red, and black. Evans tried to choose fixtures that were true to the early 1900s and has decorated it with items that might have actually been in a bathroom of the times.
Before the remodel, there was only one bathroom. Now, the home has two bathrooms — the second one is located off the master bedroom. While the jetted bathtub here is not exactly true to the time period, the old-time metal fixtures, bead board trim and décor echoes turn-of-the-century appeal.
The kitchen already had been remodeled by the time the couple bought the place. Before photos show what looks like a run-of-the-mill 1970s kitchen with dark cabinets and Formica counters. The remodel incorporated the Evans’ fondness for red, white and black, but also brought back the feel of a period kitchen.
Thoughts on Remodeling
One of the most unique rooms on the second story is the phone room — a room where the fire station residents could go and make private calls. The room is small and tucked behind the door leading to the kitchen and living room, and also contains a ladder going up to a tiny door to the attic. “I just love this room because it became my laundry room,” said Evans.
“Upstairs was a big room that they divided with lockers,” Korth said. “In the original plans, the upstairs was called the gymnasium. The firemen lived up here.” Branching off the entry room, the old gymnasium is now three bedrooms and a bathroom.
“It’s a money pit. Instead of vacations, we have things like new heating systems. I think any historical restoration is a labor of love — it has to be,” said Evans. “There’s just a good feeling here. Maybe it’s because the people who were here were doing good, they were helping society.”