Can she save this old house?

Rochelle Hetzel only has a few weeks left to save this historic Oak Harbor farm house located on Whidbey Avenue. It has to go to make room for a housing development. - Jim Larsen
Rochelle Hetzel only has a few weeks left to save this historic Oak Harbor farm house located on Whidbey Avenue. It has to go to make room for a housing development.
— image credit: Jim Larsen

Unless a one-woman campaign to save it succeeds, a farm house that has watched over Oak Harbor for more than 70 years may soon fall victim to a subdivision.

There are no villains in this story. The developer, Dick Vandenberg, is rooting for Rochelle Hetzel. He wishes her success in raising the money to save the house which he is willing to give to her. But she must move it off the property, and that’s expensive.

The house is located on just under six acres at 4512 N. Whidbey Avenue where Homestead Northwest plans to build 26 single family homes.

The house affords sweeping views of Oak Harbor, both to the east and to the south, but much of that view has been blocked out in recent years by development. The house is surrounded by six green acres, but those too will sprout houses before long.

Hetzel heard about the house from a friend and contacted Vandenberg, and they struck an informal agreement. If she moved the house and removed its foundation, the house was hers.

There was one unexpected development, however. Hetzel thought she had until July or August to raise the money, but now she has only until the end of April. Vandenberg said city planners required a cul-de-sac rather than a “stub road,” in the development, and the house sits right in the middle of the cul-de-sac, so it must go earlier than originally planned.

Hetzel has unlimited enthusiasm and energy, but not enough money. She said the project will cost $25,000 and she and her husband, Ron, are around $15,000 short. They do have a rental house in Oak Harbor they’re trying to sell to help with the project. “My poor husband,” said Hetzel. “He’ll give me anything.”

Ron is in the Navy and Rochelle has a soap making business. They don’t plan to live in the house. They hope to move it to their property on DeVries Road. Rochelle will use it as a home school setting and as a place for her soap business. She has dreams of furnishing the house with period pieces and opening it for tours.

“It’s a piece of history we’re going to keep open,” she said.

Hetzel said she witnessed the destruction of the historic Krieg house, which was also lost to development. “It broke my heart,” she said.

House built by edgar Jumbleuth

The developer bought the property from Geri Burke, who grew up in the house. She was born in 1924 in Seattle, but moved to Oak Harbor in 1930 when her father, Edgar Jumbleuth, finished building the house.

Burke moved away from Oak Harbor to San Francisco when she married in 1948 but she still visits frequently. She said from her Concord, Calif., home last week that she has rented the house out since her mother died in 1991 at the age of 93. Her brother Edward also grew up in the house. He now lives in Renton.

Burke said her father built the house using plans drawn up by Oak Harbor architect Otto Van Dyke. “Dad was a farmer and electrician, but he learned carpentry in a hurry,” she laughed. The land was part of the Freund Donation Claim, and is the last remaining piece of the northern portion of that claim, Burke said.

All parties agree that house is structurally in good shape. “I’d like to see it saved,” Burke said. “It’s such a nice, well built house.” Two large picture windows in the spacious living/dining area started out as big French windows, but the original house is intact, right down to the kitchen sink and claw-footed bathtub.

Hetzel hopes to sell the rental house to help pay for the move, but even then she’ll be perhaps $6,000 short. In case any history buffs want to help, she has established an account at Pacific Northwest Bank.

Hetzel may be the home’s only chance for survival. Real estate agent Lanny Nienhuis handled the land sale and he said he tried hard to find someone to take the house. “I’ve been on the phone trying to give it to anybody that’ll take it, but it’s expensive to move,” he said, adding that anyone planning to live in the house would have to bring it up to code, and that’s also expensive.

Vandenberg said Hetzel “sounds like a gal that has the fortitude” to get the job done. But he would consider someone else if her effort fails. “I don’t want to demolish it. That’s why I’ve been trying to give it away for free,” he said.

Anyone interested in helping Rochelle Hetzel may call her at 679-3550.

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