Jimi Hendrix's childhood home faces uncertainty
October 22, 2008 · Updated 9:44 AM
It seemed like a good idea. Put Jimi Hendrix’s childhood home in a mobile-home park in Renton. Just across the street from the late rocker’s grave in Greenwood Memorial Park, a pilgrimage site for hundreds of fans each year. Then turn the home into a museum about the young Seattle man’s life. Add Hendrix-themed shops. Replace the mobile homes with townhouses. A recipe to redevelop a prime commercial spot and increase city revenue and tourism.
But good ideas don’t always come to fruition, and recipes don’t always make good meals. Pete Sikov is learning that. His good idea will likely end with removal, and possibly demolition, of the small white house Jimi Hendrix once called home.
“I’ve come to terms with the fact ... that I’m not going to save the Hendrix house,” Sikov says.
That’s a hard fact for Sikov to come to terms with.
A Hendrix fan since age 13, the 50-something Sikov’s spent seven years and $150,000 on the rundown two-bedroom house that Jimi, his brother Leon and his father Al lived in for a few years in the 1950s.
“This particular house was the only house that they ever owned,” Sikov says.
To save the house from demolition, Sikov, a real-estate investor, shelled out $5,000 in 2001 and became the owner. He then moved the house a couple blocks from Seattle’s South Washington Street to Jackson Street. Four years later, in September 2005, Sikov moved the house to Hi-Lands Mobile Home Manor in the Renton Highlands. He bought the mobile-home park just before the move.
Seattle officials wanted to refurbish the Jackson Street neighborhood and were fed up with drug use around the house.
Sikov says his $150,000 was spent on moving costs, a fence and foundation for the house, a fire hydrant and the equipment and labor required to reattach the roof after the house was moved in two pieces to Renton.
He says he also brought the house’s new home, Hi-Lands Mobile Home Manor, under control.
“When I got there, the mobile-home park was really a hotbed of criminal activity,” he says.
It took a while, but about a year ago Sikov found a local developer interested in bringing his museum to life. The Hendrix-themed shops and townhouses were added to the museum plan. But the plan collapsed.
Sikov says the Renton developer, JayMarc Development, wanted his three acres for less than he paid for it. That was $1.8 million, just before the Hendrix house’s 2001 move. He says the current tax assessment lists the property at more than $2 million.
Sikov blames the plan’s collapse on the city’s intervention at an “inopportune” time.
“I would have been able to make a deal and we would have achieved our goal had the city not decided that they were going to intervene in a heavy-handed way,” Sikov says. “We would have had a different outcome.”
That “heavy-handed” intervention was the city’s requirement that Sikov apply for a conditional-use permit.
A temporary-use permit allowed Sikov to move the house to Renton in 2005. That permit expired in February. Sikov was supposed to have applied for a conditional-use permit by that time. Such a permit would have classified the Hendrix house as a museum and allowed the house to remain in Renton permanently.
When Sikov hadn’t applied for the permit after the February expiration, the city sent him notice requiring the house’s removal.
Sikov protested, saying he was working up a plan with JayMarc Development, which Neil Watts, director of development services, calls a “reputable” developer. The city granted him more time.
Sikov and JayMarc signed an agreement with the city June 4. In the agreement, Sikov agreed to remove the house if, according to a recent letter from Watts to Sikov, “specific performance measures for project development were not met.”
One of these required performance measures was applying for a conditional-use permit by Sept. 25.
Neither Sikov nor JayMarc met that deadline.
Applying for a conditional-use permit would have required the pair to submit a site plan, showing the intended location of the house, shops and townhomes. Sikov says discussions with JayMarc hadn’t reached that point. A public hearing and environmental review also would have been required. Watts says the process would have taken at least a year.
Watts sent Sikov a letter Oct. 9 requiring him to remove the Hendrix house by Nov. 10. If he did not meet that deadline, the city would use Sikov’s money to pay for bulldozing of the house.
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel for the Hendrix house. Sikov has a potential buyer for his land — and his house.
A buyer can’t get Sikov’s three acres without also getting the Hendrix house. The old white house with boarded windows has turned off many potential developers.
Sikov says his potential buyer seems interested in both land and house. But the house probably won’t turn into a museum any time soon.
Watts says the city will set a removal date with the new owner once the purchase and sale agreement is signed. He expects that to happen in early November.
Sikov will require the new Hendrix house owner to treat the house “in a way that is in keeping with the goal of preserving something in a way that’s respectful.”
That could mean part of the house goes to a museum or that money raised from the house goes to the charity of Sikov’s choice. His charity of choice? The music program he and the University of Washington started at First Place School, an elementary for homeless children in Seattle’s Central District.
Donating to that charity could help Sikov make up for his Hendrix-house failures. Sikov says such a donation would be a “spiritual tribute to Jimi Hendrix.”
“On a physical plane I’m not going to save the house in Renton across from the cemetery where Jimi is buried,” Sikov says. “If I’m lucky, I’m going to do something almost as good, maybe better. I may be able to raise money to give music lessons to kids who may not otherwise get them.”
One of those children could have been Jimi, Sikov says.
If Sikov works out a deal with his potential buyer, he says the Hendrix house will be removed and a new development will replace Hi-Lands Mobile Home Manor.
If a deal is not met, Sikov will remove the house himself. But if a deal fails, Hi-Lands Mobile Home Manor will remain there “for a long, long time.”
That’s something Sikov is betting the city doesn’t want to happen.
Watts says the city recognizes the need for the low-income housing provided by mobile-home parks, but that a bustling commercial strip on Northeast Fourth Street may not be the best location.
Turning the Hendrix house into a museum garnered some city support.
At a meeting earlier this year, Renton City Council member Randy Corman, a Hendrix fan, called the museum “a good hook” for a commercial area.
In addition to the museum, early plans indicated the development would include about 25 townhomes and 8,000 to 12,000 square feet of retail.
Watts, also a Hendrix fan, was conflicted about the house. The proposed project was the first of its kind for the city.
“Sometimes it’s a code-enforcement nightmare, sometimes it’s a desirable piece to a future development plan,” Watts said in an interview earlier this year.
“I have my bad days when I try to think of amusing names for the townhouses,” Watts added at that time.
Watts brainstormed names like Purple Haze Manor, after a song by The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
From early on, some city staffers, including Mayor Denis Law, were doubtful the museum would materialize.
“I wouldn’t get your hopes up,” he told the City Council during a Committee of the Whole meeting May 5.
He was right. After three years in Renton, the Hendrix house is no closer to becoming a museum than it was upon its arrival. Watts says the house “kind of didn’t even get to square one to legalize the use there.”
He calls the Hendrix house’s three Renton years a “long saga.”
“A long saga for us, and a long saga for Seattle before us.”
That long saga will likely soon end with the removal of the small white house from its spot across the street from the grave of its most famous tenant.
Sikov wanted the house to become a museum. But complications in his personal life have sapped his energy.
“I don’t have what it takes to go into the City of Renton and battle and make this happen,” he says.
Sikov still isn’t sure what will happen to the Hendrix house. But if the deal goes through, he wants to make sure the new owner respectfully disposes of Jimi’s former home.
“It wouldn’t be that they could just set it in on fire,” he says. “Although Jimi might have enjoyed that. Maybe I would say that they must set it on fire.”
Sikov says he was joking... maybe.
Emily Garland can be reached at email@example.com or 425-255-3484, ext. 5052. Check us out on the web at www.rentonreporter.com