Crowd holding sign - Photo Credit: Jean SherrardDWT’S Chuck Maduell, partner in the Bellevue office, was part of a team of attorneys and activists who successfully restored a cultural treasure located on Puget Sound’s Vashon Island to responsible caretakers.

The legal victory culminated a years-long battle over the fate of Mukai House and Garden. This unique place was the home of B.D. and Kuni Mukai, Japanese immigrants who helped to make Vashon a national center of strawberry cultivation in the 1930s and ’40s with their innovative packing and storing methods. Mrs. Mukai also built a renowned and unconventional stroll garden at the house that was a synthesis of Japanese and American traditions.

The Mukais left their property behind during World War II, moving to rural Oregon and avoiding internment. They returned after the war but the business was never the same. Many years later, their property became a King County Landmark, and the strawberry-barreling plant was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The property tells a remarkable story of Japanese-American heritage and the immigrant experience. In 2000, it was purchased, with donations and government grants, by a local nonprofit.

But in the subsequent years, significant concerns emerged about how well the nonprofit was managing the property. The house and grounds were not being adequately maintained, nor was the public being allowed access. Visitors found barbed-wire around the house and signs it was being used for personal use. The president and vice president of the nonprofit’s board both lived out of state. King County’s cultural development office, 4Culture, which had helped fund the purchase of the property, was troubled, as was the state’s Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, which had also granted funds.

A group of Vashon Island residents sought to wrest control of the nonprofit but were resisted by the existing board. The group filed suit in 2012, seeking a declaration that it was the rightful board. Over the following four years, the case went up twice to the state Court of Appeals, culminating in an April 4, 2016, decision that effectively transferred full legal ownership of the Mukai House and Garden to the citizens group, which calls itself Friends of Mukai.

Chuck Maduell was one of several attorneys assisting the group in the case. The team also included lawyers from Riddell Williams and the president of Friends of Mukai, Lynn Greiner.

This past June, the house and property were opened to the Vashon community for a weekend tour, and more than 150 people took advantage of this opportunity to view the house, hear about plans for the garden, and learn more about the history. Also this year, the state honored Friends of Mukai with an award for Outstanding Achievement in Historic Preservation.