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Fire guts plans for historic Tualatin home

Talks about historic-structure maintenance come too late for the Nyberg House
by: Jaime Valdez, SCORCHED HISTORY – Tualatin Historical Society members Yvonne Addington (left) and Loyce Martinazzi commiserate with one another after a fire destroyed the 103-year-old Nyberg House last week.

TUALATIN - The 103-year-old Nyberg House belonged to a different era, but to some it hardly seemed historic.

Sitting on an overgrown piece of property next to a busy interstate and awkwardly juxtaposed next to an adult entertainment club, the house was an odd Tualatin fixture.

Boarded-up windows acknowledged to passersby that it was abandoned. The odd placement near a shopping center was a clue to most that its days were numbered.

The house, the former home of Tualatin's second mayor John Nyberg and his pioneering family, was on its way out.

Its old balloon construction was sturdy enough to survive a move in 1952. The three-story home literally stood in the way of progress as crews began constructing the West-Portland-Hubbard freeway, now I-5. Even back then, the home was identified as a longtime landmark of Tualatin by a local newspaper.

But recently, the Tualatin Historical Society couldn't get enough support or interest from anyone to save it.

On Wednesday, Jan. 2, a late-night fire engulfed the first floor of the home.

The balloon construction likely contributed to the house's destruction, according to Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue officials.

Whereas most homes today are built with each floor having independent walls and studs, balloon construction used continuous studs that ran from the first floor all the way up to the rafters.

For the Nyberg House, the studs allowed the fire to rapidly travel from the lower floors to the top.

After 25 firefighters fought to extinguish the blaze initially reported by passing motorists, the house was left with a collapsed roof, a sunken second story and a charred exterior.

And before TVF and R investigators could estimate the damages, historical society members were already calling it a complete loss.

TVF and R concluded this week that the fire began in an upholstered chair on the west end of the first floor in the home. Investigators found burn patterns on the first floor and a burned upholstered chair that had fallen into the basement directly beneath the burn hole in the floor. Officials believe the fire smoldered for some time in the chair before spreading throughout the house.

Investigators, who had limited access into the home because of the house's unstable structure, couldn't give an exact cause for the fire. They surmise smoking material, a warming fire or a candle could have started it. Officials do not believe the fire was set intentionally to harm or prompt financial gain.

In August, a homeless man was arrested for a fire that damaged portions of the home's garage. And numerous complaints about vandalism and transient activity at the house gave TVF and R crews reason to search the house's property during the fire to ensure no one was trapped inside or around the house.

The fire in August reinvigorated Tualatin Historical Society members, who were determined to save the old structure.

Society member Yvonne Addington took on the fight personally. She gathered information about the home's placement on the city's historic structures list and hunted around for contact information for the owners. She daydreamed that one day the city would consider enacting ordinances that would require owners to maintain historic structures.

Her worst fear for any historic structure in the city was that owners would wait for the buildings to just fall down so they could avoid the city's historic structure regulations when they wanted to redevelop their property.

'I'm not sad,' Addington said a few days after visiting the site of the burnt Nyberg House. 'I'm just kind of mad. A landmark like that is irreplaceable.'

The owners, listed in Washington County as Dean and Rana McBale, had insurance on the home, according to TVF and R spokeswoman Karen Eubanks.

Historical society members have tried for the last six months to get in touch with the Nyberg House owners. The society was going to ask that the home be donated to the society.

This year Addington planned to begin talks with the Tualatin City Council about updates to the city's historic structures list and possibly more regulations in place that could encourage owners to maintain their historic properties.

On Monday, the City Council will have a work session discussion on maintenance issues for historic structures. But the discussion comes too late for the Nyberg House. TVF and R officials announced this week that the home is considered a complete loss.

Tualatin Historical Society President Norm Parker said the society is extremely unhappy.

'We just weren't able to get anyone interested in saving it.'