Carman House decision may have effect far beyond Lake Oswego

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - The Carman House, shown here in the 1950s, has been standing in Lake Oswego for 158 years. A decision by the city council on keeping its historic landmark designation will determine if it will continue to stand.It isn't often that an old house might be the subject of a showdown, but that will be the case on Tuesday night when the Lake Oswego City Council decides whether to remove the Carman House's designation as a historic landmark.

On one side are the Carman heirs of the property, the Mary Cadwell Wilmot Trust, who want to tear down the house and build six or seven homes on the 1.25-acre property at 3811 Carman Drive.

Chris Koback, attorney for the Mary Cadwell Wilmot Trust, said he will not comment at this time on what arguments he will present to the Lake Oswego City Council. However, he said he will submit a written report to the council prior to the hearing.

On the other side is the Lake Oswego Preservation Society, which wants to keep the house as it is and retain the historic landmark designation. And when you are a Lake Oswego historic preservationist, there is no place you would rather preserve than the Carman House.

"It was built in 1855," said Marylou Colver, founder of the preservation society. "It was built before Oregon became a state. It is the last physical link with our pioneer roots in Lake Oswego."

The house was built by original Lake Oswego pioneers Waters Carman and his good friend Charles W. Bryant. In 1850, Carman was one of the signers of the original land claim document of Albert Alonzo Durham, marking the real beginning of what became Lake Oswego. In 1853, Carman made more history when he and his bride were married in Durham's home. It was the first marriage ceremony ever held in Oswego.

Further confirming the value of the house was a survey conducted this year by Restore Oregon that showed historic houses in the Willamette Valley are rapidly becoming scarce. Just 5 percent of the homes and homesteads standing in 1865 still exist.

Whether its strong historic value is enough to save the Carman House will be decided Tuesday, and the decision will have strong implications on any possible future court case on the house. The owner consent law in Oregon states that an owner of a property has the right to remove the historic landmark designation on a property, but until now only the original owner of a historically designated property had that right. The heirs will argue that this right should exist in perpetuity.

Of course, Colver and her allies disagree.

"That means that anyone could remove a historic landmark status, " she said. "Someone could come along 200 years from now and remove designations and destroy a landmark. This case is based on a state statute, and the issue had not come up before this case. There has been no legal interpretation yet."

Colver said the preservation society had hoped to avoid a confrontation with the Carman heirs, especially an expensive legal battle. She said that on previous cases involving historic preservation the society had been able to reach a compromise satisfactory to both parties.

But not this time.

"We reached out to offer to sit down with them and seek a solution, " Colver said."They never agreed to meet with us. We've only had one talk with their attorney. Before, we had always been able to work through solutions. I wish we had done it for this. "

With compromise apparently not an option, the preservation society has been girding up for action. The society has hired its own attorney and is soliciting donations. The group's main message is: "Be there on Tuesday night. "

"It won't just be preservationists who will be there to testify," Colver said. "It will be others in the community who don't want to see this happen. This city has been very strong on historic preservation in the past with the iron furnace and the workers cottage. We hope it will be strong again on the Carman House."

The hearing on the Carman House will take place during a city council meeting starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Lake Oswego City Hall, located at 380 A Ave.

Cliff Newell can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 105.

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