Buying a 3,800-square-foot house for $260,000 wasn’t exactly what Johanna Bailey and her parents had expected to do when they began looking for a site for an adult family home. They also weren’t looking for a historic house near Spanaway.
But one step inside this home, and they were hooked. A year later, the Baileys have restored the historic Leroy Sanders estate, bringing back to life room after room of period details, with plenty of stories to go with them.
Tucked away on 160th Street East, behind the strip malls of Pacific Avenue and nestled among 1970s subdivisions, the Sanders estate isn’t overtly grand. Built as a homestead in 1896, the house was bought 10 years later by Tacoma Times editor Leroy Sanders, who began building rooms onto the original hallway to create an elegant one-story bungalow.
“We had narrowed our search to two houses, then we happened to lower our price and found this,” explains Rebecca Bailey, who with husband Mark and daughter Johanna had searched further north for the right house for more than two years. “We walked in, and our mouths just dropped.”
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What the Baileys had found, astonishingly, was a house that had every Craftsman detail in place – hand-carved moldings, gold foil tile fireplaces, exquisitely-milled built-ins, and multi-pane glass windows that took up entire walls.
It was, however, a house that also needed completely new plumbing, a new roof, concrete foundations and an entire kitchen.
“We just fell in love with it,” says Rebecca, a social worker at St. Joseph’s Hospital and the enthusiast of the trio.
SURPRISES GOOD AND BAD
“It was a scary thing – I thought, what kind of trouble were we going to get into?” says Johanna, the pragmatist and a trained nurses’ assistant who now lives full time in the just-licensed Sanders Estate Adult Family Home.
What the Baileys found was a house that needed bolstering from the ground up.
“The big surprise was the foundation,” says Rebecca. “There wasn’t one.”
The 1896 foundations were wood, she explains, and no one had replaced them. When the contractors began tearing down a broken concrete porch, they realized the wood underneath the kitchen area had rotted, and the porch was the only thing holding the house up.
Another nasty surprise was a bathroom that was filled floor to ceiling with dry rot and required total replacement. (The upside was, it gave the Baileys the chance to create a handicap-accessible shower.)
In addition, the house’s wiring needed updating, and the one water heater in the three-car garage wasn’t going to cut it for a houseful of people. The Baileys also replaced the roof and the front door, added a front entrance and back deck, and repainted inside, working around historic register guidelines and adding handrails where needed.
What’s amazing, though, is what was still there despite decades of neglect. Diamond-shaped turquoise tiles in one bathroom, alcoved baths in two others. Luxuriously deep shoe closets in four of the five bedrooms, and arched, built-in bookcases by the fireplace. Art deco wall sconces, curly chandeliers, a 10-foot-deep screened porch and Victorian sunroom. An ancient water-based boiler heating system. With antique furniture added by the Baileys, the only modern room is the kitchen.
A HOUSE WITH A HISTORY
Though only one resident currently lives there, visitors to the home can easily imagine how comforting the old-fashioned elegance will be to older folk who grew up in houses like it.
But the Sanders estate has its own stories, some still legend around the neighborhood.
Sanders moved from Tacoma to California in the 1920s, though he used the estate as a summer home until the 1940s, when his brother Arnold looked after it for a decade or two. At that time, the house was set on 80 acres, stretching down to the local woods and including stables, a pool and even (one story goes) a miniature train track. The Baileys have heard stories of wild parties held there during the Prohibition Era, visiting celebrities, even a nudist colony (a rumor possibly started by Leroy Sanders himself after a skinny-dipping session, Rebecca Bailey thinks).
Even better, some living Sanders relatives showed up last June with memories of their own. David Sanders, grandson of Leroy’s brother Arnold, had stayed in the house during the 1960s while visiting his grandparents, and had dropped in with his wife and aunt to see what had become of the place.
“My grandfather taught me to drive around the old golf course on the estate,” recalls David Sanders, who now lives in California.
In the 1970s, the Sanders family sold off all but one of their acres, the land was developed into subdivision bungalows, and the home gradually fell into disrepair.
The pool still is there several houses down the street, and complete with Craftsman-style changing sheds and a basement boiler room: It’s maintained by the neighborhood association.
The one acre left around the house still is in the planning stage: The Baileys intend to fill it with plantings, walkways and a water feature when they have the budget.
The Sanders family is pleased with what’s become of their ancestral home. “It’s wonderful – the place is getting a new lease on life,” says David Sanders.
For Rebecca Bailey, who holds neighborhood association meetings there and invites the neighbors in for holiday parties, the thrill is having such a grand old home lived in again.
“I’m just looking forward to filling the house with lots of people,” she says with a smile.
Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568