Seeking clues to the mystery cottage at Kirkland’s newest park

Jan 19, 2024, 2:37 PM | Updated: Jan 23, 2024, 7:10 pm

Image: A view of the little house from an icy Everest Creek in Kirkland, which runs along the northern property line down a slope. Image: The little house at Fisk Family Park in all its current forlornness. Image: A City of Kirkland 'proposed change in land use' sign, apparently from 2020, is now on the ground at the site. Image: A close-up of the little house at what's now Fisk Family Park.  Image: A vintage image of the little cottage, circa 1980s, shows the porch and windows. (Photo courtesy of the King County Assessor's Office via the Puget Sound Regional Archives/Washington Secretary of State) Image: A Google Map image with the site of the little house, the new Fisk Family Park in Kirkland, marked with yellow circle.

An iconic and mysterious roadside cottage in Kirkland has captured the imagination of passersby for decades, and now it has become part of the Eastside city’s newest public park.

The little cottage is on 6th Street South in Kirkland, just north of the Google campus, on a triangle-shaped piece of land right alongside the old railroad tracks, which are now a trail called the Cross Kirkland Corridor or EasTrail. The structure is red with white trim, and measures about 14 feet by 18 feet. It has a peaked roof, with a small extended area in the back and a porch in front. Everest Creek runs through the property north of the cottage and down a gentle slope. The property feels rural and remote and it is unlike just about any other on the Eastside.

Kirkland residents and many others who have driven past the cottage know this location well and have wondered about the history or backstory of if for as long as some can remember. On a visit to the site earlier this week, the cottage was boarded up, and a City of Kirkland land use sign from 2020 was flat on the ground.

KIRO Newsradio reached out to Loita Hawkinson at the Kirkland Heritage Society to try and learn the history.

Hawkinson knew exactly which little house the station was calling about.

‘The most iconic thing’

“It is probably the most iconic thing,” Hawkinson said. “We get requests a lot. Kirkland Heritage gets phone messages and emails about one property or another, and this is probably the property that we hear the most about.”

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People always ask, Hawkinson said, “‘What is that little house? What is the story?’ So I’ve been looking at that house and looking it up and trying to find out more about it for decades.”

What Hawkinson has learned is that the little cottage is nearly 80 years old. It was built by the Fisk family in 1945, who lived in a full-sized residence just north of the cottage beginning a few years before that. Hawkinson says the Fisks are related by marriage to the Berto family, which is an old name in Kirkland. Two Fisk children grew up there, one of whom, James G. Fisk, passed away in late 2022. He had sold the residence in 2006, but had retained the property with the cottage.

Hawkinson also wrote on Facebook, commenting on photos shared by KIRO Newsradio:

The Fisk family arrived from Wisconsin in 1914 and settled on Rose Hill on Sheffield Street which is now 116th Avenue NE in the Highland Neighborhood. The family was Walter Marshall Fisk and Grace Berto Fisk and their three children Harry, Raymond, Helen. All went to Kirkland Central School and Kirkland Junior High and Kirkland High School graduating from 1926 – 1930. The Rose Hill Fisk middle child, Raymond Davis Fisk, married Janet Doris Smith in 1938. They built their home (on 6th Street South, north of where the cottage stands) in 1941 and had their children: James Gregory Fisk, Lake Washington High School (LWHS) class of 1964 and Joyce Fisk Rainier, LWHS class of 1960.

What nobody seems to know is if the little cottage was an actual separate residence, or just some kind of barn or shed. Since KIRO Newsradio first posted photos of the cottage on Facebook, theories have come up on social media over the past few days about railroad workers living in it, and about Mr. Fisk keeping his pigeons there. One person said they almost rented it as a living space decades ago, another said it was always only used for storage.

What most people agree on is that the look of the cottage – with its peaked roof and little porch with ornate “turned” posts, vintage single-pane mullioned windows, and the setting along the creek and the historic old Belt Line railroad route – well, that just seems to invite wild speculation or even what might be considered a kind of mythologizing.

City of Kirkland got the property at a discount

While elements of the specific history of the cottage so far remain elusive, the good news is that when some Fisk relatives who live out of state put the property on the market last year, several Kirkland citizens reached out to the city to suggest that the site be purchased for a park, mainly because it’s right next to the popular new trail.

“I think when the property became available for sale, it wasn’t on our radar, to be honest,” said John Lloyd, deputy director of Kirkland Parks and Community Services. “It was several community members who reached out to the city expressing interest in seeing if we could preserve it and add to the park system.”

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Lloyd says the city did just that. They bought the property for $800,000, which was discounted from the near-million-dollar asking price in exchange for calling it “Fisk Family Park.” Representatives of the Fisk family and the Fisk family members themselves were not able to reached for comment.

Lloyd told KIRO Newsradio Thursday the official park signs have not yet been installed, but they will be coming sometime in the next month or two. The city will also install some benches and garbage cans, Lloyd said.

Longtime Kirkland resident Toby Nixon was, until recently, a member of the Kirkland City Council. He was very much in favor of purchasing the land to create the park alongside the trail, and also because that neighborhood is getting more and more dense.

But, Nixon says he’s also a little worried about the future of the cottage.

“I would hate to see it torn down, just because it’s kind of a historical thing,” Nixon told KIRO Newsradio earlier this week. “And especially if (Hawkinson) can document something of historical significance that that happened on that property, then it would be easier for the city to make the decision to try to preserve it, as opposed to clearing it off and building a picnic shelter or something like that.”

John Lloyd of Kirkland Parks and Community Services is pleased that the public came forward to suggest buying the park, and that the sale came together at lightning speed – in only a matter of weeks or months. For funding, the city essentially borrowed money from itself to make the purchase, and will look to the Kirkland Parks & Community Foundation to ultimately help cover some of the cost.

Lloyd doesn’t know how the cottage was used by the Fisk family and says it’s completely empty now. There’s also no obvious evidence of a kitchen or a bath, but there is electrical and some kind of plumbing. Overall, Lloyd says the structure is not in great condition.

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What may be in store for the little cottage

However, Lloyd says the City of Kirkland knows that many people care about the little cottage and are paying attention to Fisk Family Park. Lloyd says a decision about the structure’s future – to demolish or to preserve it – has not yet been made.

“We don’t want it to rip it down without having engaged the community or at least explain why we’re doing what we’re doing because it’s a recognizable structure,” Lloyd said. “So we want to take a little time and care to engage the community on that.”

“The timeline” of this community engagement, Lloyd continued, is “probably a little bit later this spring as we start getting a little more active at that site.”

Meanwhile, as Hawkinson continues to research the cottage, the timing is perfect for Kirkland residents to share what they might know about its history and usage over the decades.

And, as the City of Kirkland gets ready to formally introduce Fisk Family Park, the timing is also ideal for city residents and other interested parties to let the city know how they feel about preserving the little cottage.

You can hear Feliks Banel every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien. Read more from Feliks here and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks.

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Seeking clues to the mystery cottage at Kirkland’s newest park