North Bend History: Christensen House’s past, present and future in the Snoqualmie Valley

I have to admit, I’d never heard about North Bend’s Christensen House before the city announced it was to be demolished in September. I looked it up that night to see what it looked like, and my interest was piqued.

Wanting to see it in person, I drove over to Maloney Grove SE to take a look. At the time, it was tucked behind a large hedge, two towering maple trees and was difficult to see from the street. Even from my somewhat blocked vantage point, I could see it was a beautiful house and thought it was a shame to see it demolished and lost forever.

About a month later, another announcement came from the city saying the house was to be saved! Now I REALLY wanted to know who rescued the house, why and where was it going? Doing my best Nancy Drew impression, I started asking questions of long-time locals and other people in the know.

I had looked at the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum’s website when researching the house, initially trying to get some facts on the Christensen’s, but there was very little to go on. So, I spoke to someone whose family has been in the Valley since 1900 about the house and if she knew who owned it over the years.

She told me about the McKinney family, who owned and lived in the house from 1977 to 1992. Through a maze of Facebook posts, I managed to find and speak with Mindy McKinney Kerbs, the daughter of Glenn McKinney, the owner of the house.

Christensen House: The Past

McKinney bought the house when he was 39. He had worked in Alaska as a State Trooper, for the King County Police (now known as the Sheriff) and was a coordinator for Search & Rescue. During his career, as an avid hunter & fisherman, he was frequently in the Mt Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, where he found his respect and love for the forests and formed the foundation for the career he would find in North Bend.

At a Search and Rescue convention in 1976, he addressed a temporary assignment police officer’s duty he had met. After coordinating efforts between Weyerhaeuser, KCP, the USFS and DNR, the Forest Patrol was created. McKinney alone was responsible for a 3,000-mile area. He worked every weekend from May through hunting season in the forests until he retired from the department in 1992.

 [For Glenn McKinney’s memories, you can find him on Facebook at The Real Deputy Hawk of North Bend]

Mindy, a woman of MANY talents and careers, is married with children and now living in Houston, Missouri, with her elderly Father. She tells a tale of peaceful, idyllic small-town life in the 1970s and early 1990s.

Christensen house at Christmas time Photo credit: Mindy Kerbs IG @hopeinmypocket

She says the Christensen’s spared no expense on the original home. She recalls glass cut knobs on most of the doors and copper or brass plates on all the light switch covers. The doors were old-growth fir, the wall sconces from the art deco era, and the hand-painted schoolhouse lighting, all indications of how prosperous the little dairy must have been at the time.  

Most of the radiators were basic brown, but some were shiny brass, in the sitting & dining room, great hall and master bedroom. Hardwood flooring was in the main areas and high-grade linoleum in the kitchen & great hall. The staircase landing had two little windows on either side to allow the warm air from the wood-burning cookstove chimney and furnace to circulate through the upstairs.  

“My parents kept the home in the original condition, with few exceptions. The original Monarch dual fuel stove had been an incredible blessing when the power would go out. The house always stayed warm, and we always had the blessing of hot meals during these times. We kept the original schoolhouse lighting in all the rooms except the living and dining rooms. These art deco pieces were replaced by a very needed ceiling fan and a crystal chandelier from the same period.”

According to Kerbs, almost every person who came to visit admired the property and the home. She remembers massive maple trees by the road that were perfect for tire swings and a summer hammock. They had dogwood trees and rhododendron bushes of every color imaginable along with mountain laurel, wild ferns, creeping roses, and countless other beauties. People always came to the house in the fall and asked to pick the black walnuts, blackberries and apples.

Fruit trees were all over the property. They had numerous apples, and one of the previous owners of the home had several hybrid trees of apple & pear. One tree behind the garage had four different types of fruit. In the days and hours she spent with her dog, roaming their 3 acres and the 40 they rented, Kerbs says she could always find serenity.  

At this point, I still didn’t know who bought the house, when it would be moved and to where. There was talk on social media; the house was up on blocks and looked like it was being prepared to move. I drove back over, found the contact information for Cook Structural Movers LLC, and had a telephone and email conversation with one of the owners.

Christensen House: The Present

Daniel Cook’s parents started the house moving business in the mid-1970s. Together they moved hundreds of houses until the 1990’s when their eldest son (of three) took over the business around 1999. The recession in 2007 wasn’t kind on the house moving market, and that business had to, unfortunately, shut down. The three brothers started Cook Structural Movers in 2009 and have been successfully moving houses ever since.

The Cook Brothers were to move the house originally when the person who contracted with them backed out due to the pandemic. In early September, they heard through the city the developers had applied for the demolition permit and knew the house was again in danger of being destroyed. The brothers are big fans of older houses and went on a quest to save the house.

They searched county records online and found someone who might be able to receive the house. The city only allows one dwelling per tax parcel, so someone that already had a house wouldn’t have been able to take the house without demolishing their existing house. The backup plan was to stage it temporarily on North Bend Way parcel with the agreement of North Bend Art & Industry, but that wasn’t ideal because they didn’t want to have to move it twice.

The resident was able to receive the house, and the move took place on October 22. According to Dan, in a nutshell, the process is to build a steel frame under the house, jack the steel frame up with the building on it, roll wheels under it, set the frame down on the wheels, and away she goes.  He says it’s a pretty simple but committed process.

When the move happens, the street ahead of the house is closed. Overhead lines are lifted or dropped to the ground and limbs of trees removed. Mailboxes and street signs are moved. Whatever needs to happen, will happen within reason.

It all went according to plan, and the house was in place in its new spot by early morning. Said Dan, “This one was hard because of the tight timeline and a large building that requires lots of preparation to make a move possible. Not the biggest we’ve moved, but overall, it was up there in the difficult range.” See a short video of the move here.

Christensen House: The Future

The who part of the house equation was the most difficult to track down. I finally found out the person who received the house is Tom Merry, owner of Rainier Asphalt & Concrete, and a North Bend resident since 2008.

Tom had a note on the door of his residence three Fridays ago, stating that they were looking for a new home for the house. The Merry’s own two properties adjacent to their home, one raw land and the other parcel has a mobile home on it.

Merry met with two of the Cook brothers that Saturday afternoon and they came to a handshake agreement, pending Tom doing some due diligence with the city to see what would be required. He didn’t want to sign up for a project with a blank check. The city of North Bend was very responsive the following Monday and met with me on short notice to get his questions answered about sewer, stormwater, building permits, frontage improvements, etc.

Coincidentally, he had been in touch with the city about receiving a different historical house earlier this past summer. So, he knew what he was getting into. He was interested because he was able to get a sizable free “super cool” upgrade for a tenant/valued employee who is living in that mobile home with his family, he liked being a part of a community endeavor and in the end, it will improve the value of his property. So, everybody wins.

The house will soon be installed on the parcel at 851 E. NB Way, and the existing mobile home will subsequently be removed and sold.  It was on the adjacent parcel for a few days, and he would like to give a big shout out to Terry and Susan Lenihan of Mt. Si Montessori. They let them move it across their field, no questions asked, and were super cool and helpful.

In the next month or two, they hope to start construction on the new foundation and then move the house shortly thereafter. Christensen house will start a new chapter in its long and storied life in North Bend with a new family to love its four walls.

Don’t you just love a happy ending?

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