Empty houses – Rowe houses

Rowe1

The above image is of the first property I was aware of belonging to Harvey Rowe. When we moved here, it looked pretty much the same. At one point, it had a large sign mounted on the roof, telling government workers to stay off the property. Harvey had apparently moved two buildings onto this lot without a permit. Neither the white house, nor the small brown duplex on the left, are habitable or belong on the property, yet they have been there for more than a quarter century. The 500 sq ft house that does belong on the property and is habitable, is not in view. I slowly learned that the relatively well-maintained yard with a deteriorating house was the signature of Harvey’s property, though the yards are not always well maintained.

Houses are what I enjoy looking at the most while on my walks. I admire those that are well designed and maintained, but despair over those left to deteriorate. When I see a house of interest, I research it. I’m not sure how long it took me to realize that most of the houses I found in a state of disrepair belonged to Harvey. A while back, I switched from looking up interesting properties to finding the houses that Harvey owns.

I don’t know much about Harvey, except that he apparently grew up in Highland Park and was, until recently, the president of the West Seattle Lion’s Club. I have said “hello” to him when he was mowing the lawn, but have not spoken with him. By all indications, Harvey is a nice guy. This is indicated by his work with the Lion’s Club and people that have spoken with him say that he is very congenial. My exchange of greetings in passing would suggest the same. While Harvey may have had positive impacts on West Seattle in other ways, his houses are nearly all empty, blights in their neighborhood and mostly on the East side of West Seattle.

My brother spoke to him years ago, wanting to buy the property which was next to the house my brother owned at the time. The small cute house was empty (and still is) but Harvey wasn’t interested in selling, saying something about needing to preserve affordable housing; a noble intent with an inexplicable approach.

I have found 20 properties in West Seattle, with a total assessed value of over $4 million. Harvey repeatedly challenges the tax assessments, with many of the properties no longer allowing much, if anything, for improvements. Some of these houses were landmark houses at one point. One of the houses was the one used as Frances Farmer’s house in the film Frances. You can see a little bit of the house in this clip at Amazon. It is the one that she heads to, though you mostly see the porch and stairs.

Frances

House used in film “Frances”

Above is a picture of the house at the time this was written. Below are two film captures from the film Frances. Note that you can see the address on the first one.

Frances01 Frances02

Another house of distinction is that one that Harvey apparently lives in. My understanding is that this house was originally in Georgetown and was moved up to Highland Park. The “year built” is listed as 1910, which is when I would assume it was moved. You can see it in the distance from this picture taken in 1932. The taller of the two houses and the one in front of it are both his. If you click on the first link, you will see the owner listed as “FICKLE MARGUERITE A”, but she would be over 100 and this house is the mailing address for all of his properties.

5742

The 1940 census finds the Victor C Rowe family in Missoula. Marguerite is 29 (born circa 1911) and Harvey is 8 (born circa 1932). In 2015, that would make Marguerite 104 and Harvey 83. They show up in the Seattle directory in 1942, living by Highland Park Playground. In 1943, widow Marguerite (WWII?) is living at 8850 9th Ave SW (the house above). In 1954, Marguerite has married Nelson Fickle and they are living in the same house. In 1971, the Fickles are no longer listed at the house, but Harvey still is. Harvey stops listing his phone in 1980, but it remains the contact number for Lions Club events. In 1984, Marguerite transfers Nelson’s old house (9057 10th Ave SW) to the Minnesota Investors Trust for $0. The mailing address for the trust is Harvey’s house. This is the only house I see that is owned by the trust.

The total assessed value of the properties is over $4 million. The actual value is far greater, as is the damage to the neighborhoods with these properties.

Below is a map of Harvey’s properties. I have provided links to the King County records so that you can easily verify the owner. Click on the brackets ([ ]) to open a new window.  Street views will give you fairly current pictures of what the property looks like.

Below is a list of the addresses with street views. Click on the image to go to Google Street View.

1309 SW Cloverdale – House appears to be lived in.1309 SW Cloverdale

1905 SW Charlestown St – Vacant Lot 1905 SW Charlestown St

2120 California Ave SW – House is obviously vacant.2120 California Ave SW

3003 SW Webster St – House appeared to be vacant.

Note: This house has since been fixed up and is being used.

3003 SW Webster St

3842 22nd Ave SW – House is obviously vacant.3842 22nd Ave SW

3848 22nd Ave SW – Small house on the back of the lot, between 3842 and 3850. – House is obviously vacant.3848 22nd Ave SW

3850 22nd ave sw  – House is obviously vacant.3850 22nd ave sw

3868 16th Ave SW  – House is obviously vacant.

Note: This property was sold by Harvey in 2015.3868 16th Ave SW

7301 30th Ave SW  – House appears to be vacant.7301 30th Ave SW

7508 12th Ave SW  – The illegal house and duplex are obviously vacant. The legal house is lived in.7508 12th Ave SW

808 SW Henderson St  – House appears to be vacant.808 SW Henderson St

8601 13th Ave SW – Growth around this makes it impossible to get into, except maybe from one of his two neighboring properties (8609 13th Ave SW and 1309 SW Cloverdale).8601 13th Ave SW

8609 13th Ave SW  – House appears to be vacant.8609 13th Ave SW

8800 8th Ave SW – Vacant land behind this house. It is also adjacent to several Rowe houses.8800 8th Ave SW

8842 9th Ave SW   – House appears to be vacant.8842 9th Ave SW

8844 9th Ave SW   – House appears to be vacant.8844 9th Ave SW

8850 9th Ave SW – House appears to be lived in. This is the house that all ownership points to.8850 9th Ave SW

9057 10th Ave SW – House appears to be lived in. Has a strange display of dolls in windows.9057 10th Ave SW

9404 36th Ave SW  – House appears to be vacant.9404 36th Ave SW

9445 17th Ave SW   – Building appears to be vacant. The alley side of the building is falling apart.9445 17th Ave SW

9811 17th Ave SW – Building appears to be vacant. 9811 17th Ave SW

Additions

After several years of searching records, including going through microfilm in the King County Archives, I thought I had found all of his properties. One commenter stated that he knows of one being rented, but I don’t have that address yet. Another commenter pointed me to one that I missed. I expect there will be more to come.

8603 22nd Ave SW – Stated by a commenter that it has been vacant for 40 years. Only by looking through the neighbor’s yard can you see the house. Otherwise, it looks like a section of forest.

8603

4054 19TH AVE SW – Identified by a reader. Listed as being owned by “Nebraska Investors Trust”, which it was transferred to by Harvey’s mother’s name. Similar to the house held by the “Minnesota Investors Trust”, it appears to be the only one. The primary house appears to be lived in and is in OK shape. Then there is a litte shack in back with a tarp on it.

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22 Responses to Empty houses – Rowe houses

  1. Christopher says:

    I know Harvey Rowe very well. I met him the same way. Tracking down the properties he owns tracing back to the one I assumed he lived at. I have met with him at the Lion’s Club several times as well. Harvey is old school and grew up in West Seattle. Use to be a commercial pilot back in the day. He also has several properties in California.

    • Brian D. Truman says:

      Hi All! I started finding out about Harvey, his empty houses, and those connected to his name, a couple of years ago. I don’t know why I did not Google his name…. I think I wanted it to remain a mystery…I am fascinated with history, and his seems like a deep one.
      Would love to meet and talk with him some day…. From the sound of it, I imagine him to be like my grandfather who would tell me stories from his childhood and when he was in the Air Force before it was called the Air Force.
      I am sure Mr. Rowe has some great stories to share of his life… I wish him the best.

  2. Christopher says:

    The White Center warehouse use to be a Furniture store back in the day and Rowe bought it on a handshake. In those days your word was your credit and Rowe laughs and says, “If you break your word the whole town knows”

    • winecalc says:

      Christopher – Thanks for the comments and information. I had wondered what Harvey had done for work. The old directories would indicate professions, but nothing ever showed up for him except “student” as I recall.

      The White Center warehouse was purchased in 1991 from the VFW for $200K, according to King County. Maybe that was when they completed the legal portion of the transaction.

      Did he ever say what he desired out of the properties? Did he ever say anything about his mother? She is still shown as the owner of 8850 9th Ave SW, where I believe he lives. She would turn 105 this year.

  3. ek9returns@hotmail.com says:

    Your synopsis is pretty accurate. Harvey is from the old school. He feels challenging tax assessments and not selling these properties to developers is doing his part in preserving things. Despite his age he actually does a lot of maintenance on these properties himself. I believe his mother is still shown on the property because, it just, was never was changed. Many of the properties he owns were all bought in a time before they electronically stored/updated property data. This was a time of hand shakes and owner financing back then. Also note that I believe he graduated from West Seattle H.S. if i’m not mistaken. The little house in north Admiral there was originally in a fire and he bought for $4,000. He repaired it himself and as you can see it’s surrounded by apartments. I think if he has a plan for these properties he is probably the only one who knows what that plan is.

    • winecalc says:

      Thank you for the insight. Since Harvey grew up primarily in the house that he still lives in, I would imagine that he did go to WS High. After 1956 it would have been Chief Sealth.

  4. derekohlgren says:

    Thank you for researching and writing up all this information about his properties. I live a block from the Frances house and marvel at it every time I walk by. My wife and I would love to buy it and restore it to its former glory. I wonder if Harvey would ever be willing to sell to someone interested in preserving it instead of knocking it down for development.

    • winecalc says:

      My brother tried to buy one of the houses twenty-five years ago or so. Harvey wasn’t interested in selling then and said that he felt he needed to save homes for those that needed them, or something along those lines. That house is still empty. It doesn’t hurt to try though. I would sure like to see some of these homes saved and the house used for Frances is at the top of my list.

  5. tiggertoo says:

    I think he owns more that are listed here check for Victor Rowe. A Neighbor lives in one and pays him rent, he refuses to make improvements. Saying he can’t afford it!

    • winecalc says:

      If you know of one that I missed, I would appreciate the address. I have spent hours searching in multiple ways. If I know the address, I can confirm that it was missed and maybe see why in order to find others.

  6. west seattle neighbor says:

    8605 22nd Ave SW – disaster of a house

    • winecalc says:

      I’m not sure which house you are referring to. Is it one that I have listed or something else? 8605 22nd Ave SW does not seem to be a real address. If you are identifying something I’ve missed, I would be interested in knowing.

  7. 22nd Ave SW Neighbor says:

    I believe it is at 8603 22nd Ave SW. The west end corner of Cloverdale and 22nd Ave. I have lived next to this disaster for 20 years. The house cannot be identified from google maps due the massive over growth. We should all thank Mr Rowe for driving down our home values and bringing crime to our neighborhoods.

    • winecalc says:

      It is 8603 22nd! Wow, I have spent a LOT of time looking for his properties, including going down to the archives and searching through microfiche. I really didn’t expect to find out about any additional properties. Thanks for letting me know. I will have to update the map and web page.
      Do you know if someone is living there now?

  8. 22nd Ave SW Neighbor says:

    My understanding is that it has been empty for over 40 years.

    • winecalc says:

      Thanks! I have added the house and found that my embedded map was not working correctly, so it gave me a chance to fix that as well.

  9. Thank you soooo much for posting this. We bought a home in highland park last year and I have been so intrigued by 7508 12th Ave sw. I didn’t understand why it hadn’t been bulldozed and rebuilt. I walked past it today and noticed a man standing in the habitable house you mention in the back. I engaged the man in conversation and got to hear about Harvey. Apparently he has “hundreds” of properties up and down the west coast and bunch in California! I don’t know how much of an exaggeration that is but after seeing you have found 20 I might believe there are lots more. I heard they are all in a trust for the University of Washington…? Besides these being little gold mines I would really love to see my neighborhood more beautiful. Do you know if all properties are in trust? I can’t imagine why Harvey would not want to sell these especially in this market. The house I mentioned above … apparently he bought the house for his mother when she had cancer and after she passed away he couldn’t bring himself to sell anything. I’m officially obsessed with this story and would love to see my neighborhood more beautiful, and that house borders a playground. So sad!

    • winecalc says:

      Thank you for your interest. This is the first that I have heard of a trust for the UW. I hope that is true. Once he told my brother that he was holding the houses for people that needed housing. If that were true, keeping them empty doesn’t seem to make sense. I don’t wish Harvey ill, but it seems that we have to wait for him to pass for the neighborhoods to benefit from his property hoarding. Maybe it will be a little like what happened once Sam Isreal died. But Sam at least kept the roofs in good condition.

  10. Jr says:

    I happen to know Harvey very well and spend much of my time with him. I feel someone should chime in on this and speak on his behalf. Harvey is a wonderful person, extremely witty and a joy to be around. He will not be selling any of his properties as he is not financially motivated. He wishes to leave it all behind to provide scholarships to children. It is not only fascinating, but a very honorable mission and I am and will continue to help my friend.

    • MisLux says:

      Hi Jr, It’s great to hear that Harvey is such a wonderful charitable man! If his wish is to provide scholarships to children then may I ask, why wait? He could sell the homes and start donating to scholarships asap! I’m guessing he doesn’t need the recognition, but how wonderful would it be to be able to sell the homes now, donate and to start making lives better asap. I know myself, that if Harvey provided me with a scholarship I would love to at least shake his hand and thank him for his amazing donation! Thank you for taking the time to let us know a bit more about Harvey 🙂

  11. seanmccarthyphoto says:

    I met Harvey in 1990. I bought a house on 42nd behind the tiny one he owns on California ave. there was someone moving out. it has been vacant ever since. he was a big Charlie Chong supporter. I made a deal with him to use part of his garage because it was just across the alley from my back yard in exchange for mowing the lawn. my son mowed it for a couple of years. every time I saw him I asked his plan. he said he was going to fix it and rent it. he did some work a few years ago on it but I believe it’s still empty. i am renting now and called him about a lot he owns on Charleston and 19th ave. he said he was going to build his own house there some day. he is always cordial. he sold the 3 properties recently on 22nd. shocking. he also owns a house on the 4000 block of 19th just south of Andover at the street end. it has been rented by the same woman for 17 years. there is a tiny house, more like a shack on the property as well. she told me the other day that Harvey wanted to raise her rent. almost double it and she will have to move with nowhere to go if he follows through. I am in a housing crisis myself. I have moved 4 times in 5 years and have been priced out of west seattle. currently looking for a place to park a small motorhome and regroup. we are in a serious affordable housing crisis here. Harvey could help many people if he would just make these houses livable and rent them for an affordable price. his stated position. not likely.

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