Thursday, March 14, 2013

"The Castle" burns down

by Alison Haywood, News Editor

Pacific Lutheran University lost a legend March 7.

No, it wasn’t an alum or a regent. It wasn’t a faculty member, either.
   
It was a house.
   
A house on the 3200 block of 140 Street Court East, known to many students and alumni as “the Castle,” burned down last week.

According to a March 7 article in The Tacoma News Tribune, Assistant Chief Randy Stephens of Central Pierce Fire & Rescue declared the home a total loss, and the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
   
The house had been empty for nearly a year at the time of the fire and the owner was out of town and unavailable for comment.
   
“She [a friend] texted me while I was at work and said ‘it’s pretty much toast,’” former PLU student Luke Sumerfield, who lived in the Castle for two years, said. “I was just kind of stunned.”
   
Former Castle resident and PLU senior Kelly McLaughlin said PLU students had inhabited the Castle since at least 2005. Sumerfield said it was known in the Parkland community.
   
Sumerfield said two of the bedrooms were located inside of turrets. There was also a spiral staircase and a huge wooden door with a big metal knocker on the house. “They didn’t call it ‘the Castle’ for nothing,” he said.
   
A minimum of eight people needed to live in the house at any given time in order to afford rent, which at that time was $3,000 per month, McLaughlin said. “At one point, we had like, 13 people living there, turning cupboards into rooms. It was ridiculous,” she said. According to fliers around campus, rent had been reduced this year to $2,700 with utilities included.
   
Residents vacated the Castle at the end of last school year, as they  couldn’t scrape together the minimum number of people to rent it out, and it was in need of repair work and cleaning.
   
McLaughlin and Sumerfield both expressed interest in living in the house again next year though, since the owner lowered the rent and included utilities. They said they had a group of people big enough to move in next year.
   
Both residents characterized the people who tended to live there as artistic, outdoorsy and interested in sustainable, communal living.
   
The residents who lived there were partly self-sustaining, keeping a garden and raising chickens, ducks, pigs, goats, an alpaca and bees at various times for food.
   
"It was a little bit more off the grid, and you kind of had to have a certain sort of funk to live there. It was beautiful though,” McLaughlin recalled.
   
McLaughlin said the house’s owner, John Wicklander, built it originally as a summer “play” house for his now-adult son in the style of an old Swedish castle. Because it wasn’t meant to be lived in full-time, there was no insulation, the roof leaked and the wiring was shoddy, McLaughlin said.
   
“It was kind of hard to live in, especially in the winter,” she said.
   
Both recalled fond memories during their residency.
   
“Winters were hard … but summers were great. All the doors open — gorgeous. It was a really great house,” McLaughlin said.
   
Sumerfield said his favorite part of the Castle was the bats living in the roof.
   
“I used to really enjoy sitting on the back patio around dusk to watch them leave for the evening and get to see them flit around above my head,” he said. “They almost never got into the house.”
   
McLaughlin said she doubts any other PLU houses will take on the identity of a sustainable, communal living space.
   
“I haven’t met anyone who still goes to PLU who’s interested in things like that,” she said. She also said she hadn’t heard of any other places that were big enough.
   
McLaughlin said she thought the “rotten wiring” may have been the cause of the fire.
   
Sumerfield expressed similar concerns.