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Saving Oak Harbor

Reese Bliek runs his hands over the three-quarter inch beadbord on the walls, looks out the wavy leaded glass windows, and points out the oak and vertical-grain Douglas fir flooring throughout this old house.

He takes a small piece of plaster off the wall and pulls out animal hair from the crumbling chunk. Long ago, horse hair was used in plaster and as home insulation.

Bliek is endlessly amazed at the quality of the materials and the workmanship that went into building the Judson house in Oak Harbor nearly a hundred years ago.

“They don’t build houses at all like this anymore,” he said. “It’s really well put together.”

He admits that the unoccupied house near the corner of Highway 20 and Swantown Road looks pretty dilapidated, but he believes it can be restored to its original grandeur with a little love and care.

But first, it has to be moved.

Arnie Freund, a descendent of a Whidbey pioneer, said the house was built in 1911 by Berend Loers, who also built the “onion top” Victorian house on the other side of the highway the same year. The former postmaster, Dave Judson, lived in the house for many years.

Bliek literally saved the 1,800-square-foot house from going up in flames about six months ago. He heard from a friend that a local developer planned to allow the fire department to burn the house for training purposes. The developer plans to build condominiums on the site, he said.

Bliek said the company agreed to give him the house for free, but he has to move it from the property. Bliek and his wife, Oak Harbor residents, own a five-acre parcel on Zylstra Road, where they would like to site the house.

Bliek has invested a lot of time and money into the effort. It’s been a roller coaster ride. The Department of Transportation won’t allow the house to be moved down the highway, so he plans to take it on the back roads, beginning with Scenic Heights Road.

The house is two-stories, which means that power and telephone lines criss-crossing the road would have to be temporarily moved to allow the house to pass by. Bliek said the companies estimate that it would cost him about $100,000 to get all the wires moved in order to transport the house a few miles away.

Instead, Bliek plans to hire someone to cut the roof off the house so it will fit underneath the wires. He hates to do it, he said, because the 100-year-old timbers are likely to be brittle.

Nonetheless, Bliek is confident that he can move the house and restore it while keeping it historically intact.

“You can see and feel how solid it is,” he said. “Who knows, it might stand for another 50 to 100 years.”

In fact, Bliek hopes to save another old structure someday and move it to the Zylstra Road property. His dream is to have a mini-community of historic structures.

But Bliek is racing against time. The developers want to start building in the next couple of months, which means the house has to be moved soon.

Bliek invites anyone who would like to help to call him at 720-8076. As an extremely busy physician’s assistant at the Navy hospital, he needs all the help he can get. He said he would like to do all the work on the house himself, but a heart condition prevents him from working too much. He made headlines in 2003 when he suffered a cardiac arrest, went into a coma and defied the odds by recovering.

Now he wants to help an old house defy the odds.

“It would be really neat to save a part of Oak Harbor,” he said.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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