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Hendrix's Boyhood Home Saved, Again

The legendary guitarist's onetime house is spared, temporarily, from the city's wrecking ball.

June 11, 2005|Tomas Alex Tizon | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — The boyhood home of legendary rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix was saved, once again, from the wrecking ball on Friday as supporters rushed to Seattle City Hall with a last-ditch plan to move the house and convert it into a museum and youth center.

City officials, who had said the house would be demolished if it was not moved by noon Friday, acquiesced and gave its owners until Aug. 4 to find a final resting place for the dilapidated one-story rambler where Hendrix and his family lived from 1953 to 1956.

The new plan calls for moving the house south to Renton, across from Greenwood Memorial Park, where Hendrix is buried.

"Jimi's house is safe for now," said co-owner Pete Sikov, who helps run the James Marshall Hendrix Foundation. The foundation's main cause for the last four years has been to figure out what to do with the home, whose recent history has been as unstable as Hendrix's final years.

In 2001 the home was moved from its original location in Seattle's Central Area to make way for a new condominium complex. The city offered a vacant lot several blocks away as a temporary solution until a permanent site could be found.

The city gave the foundation a six-month lease at $187 a month. But the foundation struggled to secure funding to relocate and renovate the home, and the city began extending the deadline month to month. Sikov publicly blamed the city for not contributing more to the project, and even said that officials were blocking the foundation's efforts.

"Mr. Sikov has been trying to make the city look like the bad guy here, but we've really been helping him out," said city spokeswoman Katherine Schubert-Knapp. "This has been going on for 3 1/2 years. That's long enough."

The real failure, Schubert-Knapp said, has been the foundation's inability to rally any kind of community support for the project.

The house, which was already rundown in the 1950s when Hendrix's father purchased it, has slowly fallen apart at its temporary site.

On a recent rainy morning, it looked especially forlorn. Windows and doors were boarded up with rotting plywood. Tarps and plastic sheets used to cover the roof and windows were worn and shredded and flapped in the wind.

The house was surrounded by overgrown shrubs and a makeshift chain-link fence that had fallen in sections. Much of the house was covered with graffiti. Neighbors complain that it has become a magnet for drug dealers, prostitutes and homeless people looking to stay dry for a night or two.

Schubert-Knapp said that although the city had no specific plans for the lot, the house had become "a real public-safety concern."

Sikov estimates that the foundation needs at least $300,000 to move and renovate the house. The foundation ( is planning fundraisers before the new deadline.

Compared with Seattle civic leaders, Sikov said, the Renton public officials have been "very interested, very supportive."

Seattle author Charles R. Cross, whose biography of Hendrix, "Room Full of Mirrors," will be released in August, said he can understand why there might be some public ambivalence toward the house. The Seattle-born Hendrix, whose mother was an alcoholic and whose father was often unemployed, lived in as many as 26 homes and apartments in the area. But the Central Area house was the only one the family owned before Hendrix hit it big as a musician.

This was the house where, from the ages of about 10 to 13, Hendrix sprinted along the floorboards, played air-guitar with a broom and leapt off the roof wearing a plastic cape in imitation of his hero Flash Gordon.

Hendrix would go on to become a rock superstar with songs such as "Purple Haze" and "The Wind Cries Mary." Biographers credit him with revolutionizing the way electric guitar is played, in the words of one critic, "squeezing a new sonic language from the fretboard that had never been heard before."

That legacy is featured prominently in the Experience Music Project interactive museum at Seattle Center. And his gravesite in Renton -- a domed memorial -- is a popular destination for his fans.

Still, said Cross, Seattle civic leaders haven't shown much appreciation of Hendrix's legacy.

"The town has done virtually nothing to honor one of the most influential musicians in modern music history," Cross said.

He said part of the problem might be Hendrix's involvement with drugs and the counter-culture of the 1960s.

Hendrix died of a drug overdose in 1970 at age 27.

"There is some moralizing going on among civic leaders," Cross said, citing one citizen who reportedly stated in a public forum that "the city should not honor a junkie."

"But if you went down to the Seattle Art Museum and you took down the work of any artist who took opium," Cross said, "there wouldn't be much art left on the walls."

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