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Wednesday, October 13, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Child's play: Imagine, a kids museum

By Rachel Tuinstra
Times Snohomish County Bureau

JIM BATES / THE SEATTLE TIMES
The Imagine Children's Museum has taken over a former bank building in downtown Everett. The site is the first permanent home for the museum, which got its start in a Marysville shopping mall in 1993.
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Once upon a time, in a purple-and-white building on Wall Street, an enchanted land was created.

It's a magical place of craggy mountains, a treehouse, a barnyard, a miniature Boeing jet and a theater complete with play costumes.

And it's a place built for kids.

"It's a very magical feeling because of use of colors and textures," said Nancy Johnson, the executive director of the Imagine Children's Museum. "It's this wonderfully magical place just waiting for kids to come running through the doors."

There's one final piece needed to complete the Everett museum: the imagination of children. They will have their first chance to breathe creative play into the colorful and eclectic exhibits Sunday, when the museum celebrates its grand opening.

A life-size plastic cow stands in a play barn, waiting to be milked. A small mockup of a Boeing airplane is ready to be flown to imaginary destinations. A mountain is waiting to challenge children to scale its rock face. And a prefabricated treehouse with hand-molded "bark" is ready to act as fort or house for all sorts of adventures.

Imagine Children's Museum


Where: 1502 Wall St., Everett.

Admission: $5 for everyone age 1 and older. Special rates and memberships are available.

More information: 425-258-1006; www.imaginecm.org

Getting the museum to this point was something like a roller-coaster ride, said Charlein Pinkham, the president of the museum's board of directors.

"This has been a longtime dream," Pinkham said. "We started campaigning in 2002 for donations. We were told we'd never reach our goal of $4.5 million. We had many surprises along the way. The economy hit the basement. We had a high unemployment rate. The stock market went south. And then the foundation found out it needed $4.75 million to bring the building to code."

The museum owes its new home to the donations of about 200 benefactors, including Dr. William Burst, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Boeing and the Tulalip Tribes. (The Times of Snohomish County contributed $5,000 in museum promotions.)

The $5-per-person admission will cover only a small portion of the museum's operating costs. The museum, which is run by a nonprofit organization, will rely heavily on donations and grants, said Sally Evans, who oversees community relations.

Up until a few months ago, the museum was known as the Children's Museum in Snohomish County, but with the new space came the new name.

"We wanted to create a place where there was creative learning," Johnson said. "We thought, 'What greater gift to give than the ability to imagine?' We realized this would be a great name for the children's museum."

This is the first permanent home the museum has known since it opened in 1993 inside the Marysville Mall.

The mall museum was quickly inundated with children and parents, but the success was short-lived. Within a year of the museum's opening, the mall was sold, and the children's exhibits lost their space, Johnson said.

The museum operated mobile exhibits for one year. In 1995, it began renting a Colby Avenue building owned by the city of Everett. The space was always meant to be temporary, and it wasn't ideal for children's exhibits. The ceilings were low — 8 feet in most places — and it had only one sink per restroom. It didn't have utility closets or janitorial space.

"It didn't have any of the basic amenities a facility of this nature needs," Johnson said. "We held story time in the stairwell because we had no other place to hold it."

In 1999, the city told the museum that it wanted its building back, and the museum began looking for a new home.

"We wanted something located centrally in Snohomish County," Johnson said. "And we wanted something that was easily accessible by transit. And we wanted something with an outdoor space."

The former Everett Mutual Bank building fit all those elements, but the museum didn't have the money to buy it. The building, at Wall Street and Hoyt Avenue, had been empty for about seven years after the bank moved.

That's when longtime Everett arts boosters John and Idamae Schack stepped in. The Schacks' donation of $1 million made it possible to purchase the building. It was money well spent, Idamae Schack said.

She said she and her husband felt it was important to do their part to help the museum find a home. It's a place her husband, who died in April, would have loved, she said.

"The way it's all been put together — it's part of the community," she said. "I just love it. It's perfect."

In thanks to the Schacks' donation, the museum named its treehouse after the couple.

At 20,000 square feet, the new museum building is more than three times larger than the old one. It's expected to draw more than 50,000 visitors a year, an increase of at least 15,000, Johnson said.

The museum was designed to offer exhibits for different levels of childhood development and skill, she said.

"Everything we know about children tells us that childhood development is critical," said Paul Roberts, a member of the Everett School Board. "That's exactly what this facility provides."

Clare Weiand, who sits on the museum's board of directors, called the museum a "community miracle."

"We have three children. They are going to go crazy here," Weiand said. "I feel I can take them here and they will find something new every time. There's something here for each of them."

The museum includes exhibits that reflect Snohomish County. The H2O Discovery exhibit, where children can experiment with water flowing through mazelike canals and water-propelled mechanisms, is housed inside a ferryboat facade. The Ribbons Cafe, where children can serve any pretend meal they might dream up, is reminiscent of an old-time eatery. A train display uses small mockups of Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Sounder rail engines.

The outside of the building includes a facade of a lighthouse similar to one in Mukilteo.

"I'm looking forward to bringing my grandson here," said Tom Cooper, a museum donor. "Just to see how this building was transformed. I remember looking at it when it was a bank — I think it's spectacular now. Kids will have a lot of fun here for a long time."

The museum hopes to eventually add outdoor exhibits on the building's 15,000-square-foot rooftop.

"We'd like to do some musical-type things up there," Johnson said. "We could play games up there. We could do messy things, do little gardens, shoot rockets. It's a multipurpose area we could do lots of things with."

Rachel Tuinstra: 425-260-673 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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