Photo by Laura K. Cooper.
Cass O'Callaghan and Lesli Billings research the archives.

At Large in Ballard: Three years and six hours

The letters went out in January. Seventy-two letters from the Ballard Historical Society informing homeowners their house had been nominated to be part of the 2013 Ballard Historical Society Classic Homes Tour. After that preparations really escalated for the June 23 event, but work on tour actually began within hours of the 2010 tour.

Since February I’ve been tracking the work of those BHS members most involved in preparing for this event, which is the society’s largest fundraising source. Our house got one of those letters in January and I was impressed at the potential rewards; BHS researching the house, a photograph of the house from the Puget Sound Archives, a reception for homeowners. I was ready to commit based on the line item: complimentary floral display.

After the original 72 letters, another 25 were sent out. Some of the nominations date back to the 2010 tour; there are always attendees who are inspired to suggest a home they know or one that intrigues them from the outside. Since 2010 all of the lessons learned, suggested homes, etc. have been part of the planning process that never stops. It just intensifies.

As homeowners responded to the letter, tour coordinator Lesli Billings would arrange for an inside tour so that she could determine whether the home has maintained its character through renovations. Not everyone “restores” while updating. She’s also learned over the years that realtors have a lot of the “best” houses. Her spring goal was to finalize the houses that will be on the tour so that BHS members can proceed to the next stage: research.

There will be seven houses on the 2013 tour; in preparation BHS members visit the Puget Sound Archives housed at Bellevue Community College, the Special Collections section at the Seattle Public Library and consult census documents, Polk Directories, tax records, appraisals … everything that can help recreate the history of the house. BHS member Laura K. Cooper accompanies Billings on follow-up visits, photographing architectural features that will become part of each house profile in the tour program.

Meanwhile the BHS, particularly Billings, who admits to simply loving houses, have been approaching local businesses to sponsor various aspects of the tour -- such as flowers or refreshments -- to advertise in the program or be one of the businesses where tickets are available for sale. The program is created by Ray Braun Design, of Shilshole.

We couldn’t make it work to be part of the tour this year but even my husband had agreed to the idea of strangers divested of their shoes touring our house (with a docent at the front door and on every floor). However, he couched his approval with my promise that I wouldn’t “go crazy.” Evidently some homeowners embark on projects (or attempt to finally conclude them) with the home tour participation as an incentive and deadline. Another spouse agreed to the tour but warned his wife, “Okay, but they’re going to get me in bathrobe and slippers.”

To improve the overall experience for the 2013 tour, BHS is renting the first floor of Sunset Hill Community Clubhouse to serve as headquarters. In 2010 there was just “a tent by the dumpsters near Sunset Hill Green Market and no bathrooms.” By renting the first floor there will be a place for BHS to display additional information, offer refreshments, as well as offer tips of visiting order. The homes are located in all points of greater Ballard; with the exception of two houses they are not in walking distance of one another. This year’s tour has also been moved to Sunday instead of Saturday.

Despite having been on one site visit and privy to preparations since February, I’m not allowed to reveal any locations. However I will offer these clues that may have later meaning: Alaskan Governor, harp, Butler’s Pantry and gnome.

If tours dating back to 1999 are any indication, attendees will travel throughout the Puget Sound area to have an inside look at the Ballard homes. Ballard Market’s reader board will remind locals of the tour and tickets will be on sale as of June 1 at Secret Garden Books, Johnson & Johnson, Earthwise and Sunset Hill Green Market.

Additional information about the Ballard Historical Society, ticket purchase, their lecture series, membership information and their projects is available at or their blog at and on Facebook

Tickets are $20.00. There is a BHS member discount. Tour is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets can be exchanged for tour map at 9:30 a.m. at SHCA, 3003 NW 66th St.

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