Excerpted from "Made to Last: Historic Preservation in Seattle and King County," copyright 1999 by Lawrence Kreisman, published by Historic Seattle Preservation Foundation and University of Washington Press.
THE YEAR WAS 1977. The words "Save Me" were painted in red on the front door of an abandoned and decaying church in Seattle's University District. Beneath, in black, someone had scrawled "Why?"
Seven years passed before someone responded to the plea and the question.
In 1984, Forty-second and Brooklyn Associates and the architectural firm of Anderson, Koch & Duarte saved the frame building from oblivion by converting it to a restaurant and stores, known today as Brooklyn Square.
University Methodist Episcopal Church had opened its doors in 1907 and served as a religious gathering place for visitors to the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909 - a fair that focused national attention on adolescent Seattle. The church was a reminder of an important growth period in Seattle and of a turn-of-the-century building type that had all but disappeared. Preserving it and its stained-glass-walled sanctuary mattered.
One of this city's civic patrons, Priscilla Collins, also addressed the question "Why?" at a celebration in 1998 marking the 25th anniversary of Seattle's Landmarks Preservation Ordinance.
"A community," she said, "wants to and needs to remember the community's childhood, in the same way as individuals have need and joy remembering and being reminded and given mementos of their childhood. Buildings lost are like a book with its pages torn out."
Americans have a remarkably short-sighted view of built history and its importance. A building is valuable as long as it makes money for its owner. Once it fails in that, it is torn down for something else. The long-term value to the larger community is usually ignored. But in an economic, cultural and social climate that is constantly changing, it is foolish to ignore future possibilities for sites that may provide no immediate benefit.What appears useless today may turn out to be exactly what we need a year or two from now.
A landmarks program attempts to safeguard community resources that are historically significant and educate owners to the importance of preserving them. Landmark buildings document creativity, technological innovation, aesthetic and community values, and forces that shaped our growth. They are connecting links between a past that millions of Americans helped make and a future that we must continue to make.
These are milestone years for the local historic preservation movement. Seattle's Landmarks Preservation Ordinance celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1998. The King County Landmarks and Heritage Program celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1998 and this year will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its designating ordinance. The organization Historic Seattle was founded in 1974 and celebrated its silver anniversary in 1999 with a gala at the newly restored Union Station and establishment of a "Save the Buildings" revolving fund.
There have been a number of important historic preservation accomplishments over the past quarter century.
During the 1980s - just prior to a critical building boom - a number of significant buildings in downtown Seattle were designated under the landmarks ordinance. In Seattle's downtown and neighborhood plans, in unincorporated King County, and, to a lesser extent, in other county municipalities, preservation of historic buildings was established as an important public ethic. In both city and county, projects successfully addressed the question of economic viability while preserving old buildings for use by the public.
Nevertheless, historic preservation is alternately a pampered and a neglected child of its governmental parents, depending on who is elected and the range of their interests. Along with successes, preservation programs have weathered changing ordinances and levels of support at the federal, state and local levels. Along the way, there have been some major preservation losses and court cases that narrowed the abilities of preservation bodies to safeguard landmark properties.
Demolition - either as fast as bulldozers and implosions allow or painstakingly slow, through neglect or salvage operations - has been a constant companion. Some buildings, such as a former Presbyterian church and a telephone exchange on lower Queen Anne Hill (part of the former Hansen Bakery complex) and the Waldorf Apartment-Hotel (site of the current Convention Center expansion) were rubble in virtually no time. At the opposite extreme, the Music Hall Theater took months to bring down as the wrecking company could salvaged whatever fragments might be reusable and salable. One of the ironies of demolition is the perceived value of bits and pieces.
Sometimes, losses lead to positive outcomes. Demolition of the Music Hall spurred legislation that substantially protects the few remaining downtown theaters. Two designated churches - First United Methodist and First Covenant - were withdrawn from landmarks-board review after courts ruled the process interfered with religious practice. But the willingness of the congregation at St. James Cathedral to work with the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board produced a nationally recognized preservation and rehabilitation project. Neighborhood congregations, such as Bethany Presbyterian and Immanuel Lutheran, work with the landmarks board as they planned additions and renovations. And after several years of head-to-head disagreements over preservation of historic schools, the Seattle School District and the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board are moving ahead with a shared sense of protecting landmark neighborhood schools while meeting education goals.
Outside Seattle, there are enormous preservation pressures in King County, where farmhouses, barns, commercial buildings and mills that tell the story of this region's growth are collapsing from neglect or being razed.
Though outstanding preservation programs have been developed in both county and city, and there is financial and technical assistance for owners of historic properties, the success of Seattle and King County in preserving their built heritage continues to depend on a vigilant citizenry. We have the laws, but how do we create the ethic? People concerned about historic preservation and the quality of urban life must keep well-informed, actively participate in forums and hearings, and remain a visible, vocal constituency. Today's outstanding preservation program was created through citizen initiatives - litigation, petitions, endless lobbying and letter writing, and hundreds of meetings and hearings. There is no easy way!
A Preservation Report Card
5th Avenue Theatre 1308 Fifth Ave.
The 5th Avenue Theatre, designed by R.C. Reamer and opened in 1926, was modeled after the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heavenly Peace and the Throne Room of the Imperial Palace in Beijing's Forbidden City. Its ornate walls and domed ceiling, with its guardian dragon centerpiece, duplicate in plaster traditional Chinese heavy timber columns, beams and coffering. Interior design was largely the work of Gustav Liljestrom, trained in China and chief designer for Gumps in San Francisco.
The 2,400-seat house became uneconomical as a film theater and closed its doors in 1978. The city was unable to protect it as a designated landmark because of its unique position on the site of the original territorial university grounds owned by the state of Washington. Nevertheless, the threat of its destruction brought 43 businesses together in a rare showing of support. Theater architect Richard McCann was in charge of a $2.6 million renovation and the 5th Avenue reopened in 1980 as a live performance hall.
West Queen Anne Elementary School
515 W. Galer St.
West Queen Anne is one of the earliest brick schools still standing in the city. The firm of Skillings & Corner designed the first building, erected in 1895-96 and subsequently added to in 1900, 1902 and 1916. Closed in 1981, its preservation was ensured with private redevelopment of the building into housing with underground parking, private gardens and landscaped grounds. The $3.8 million project was designed by Cardwell/Thomas & Associates, Architects. The school reopened its doors to tenants in 1984.
Victorian Row Apartments 1234-38 S. King St.
Seattle's only surviving 19th-century frame row apartment building reopened as 14 low-income apartments in 1993. Built in 1891 to meet the needs of a growing housing market, the handsome Victorian building was moved several blocks southeast to its present location earlier in this century after the city widened and regraded Jackson Street and adjoining streets of the present International District. Its two-story rectangular bays, scalloped skirting and gabled entrance porches with milled woodwork were once commonplace in 19th-century American cities, including Seattle.
Historic Seattle developed and owns the property. With help from the city, the National Equity Fund and Pacific First Bank, it raised nearly $1.5 million to complete the project. The firm of Stickney & Murphy were architects. The property is managed by the Seattle Housing Resources Group.
Log House Museum Building 3003 61st Ave. S.W.
One of the most telling stories of grass-roots preservation is that of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society and its four-year drive to turn an unused log home in the historic Alki Beach neighborhood into "The Birthplace of Seattle" museum. The small log dwelling is believed to have been designed and built during 1903-4 as part of the Bernard family estate designed by Fred L. Fehren. (The estate's main house, Fir Lodge, is now the Alki Homestead Restaurant).
David Leavengood, a specialist in museums and in log structures, oversaw repairs and refurbishing, including replacing a large number of rotted logs. The museum opened on Nov. 13, 1997 - the 146th anniversary of the Denny party's landing at Alki.
Green Lake Public School 2400 N. 65th St.
To accommodate a growing school-age population, the Seattle School Board in 1901 adapted an innovative school plan by architect James Stephen that would allow its frame grammar-school buildings to expand as enrollments grew. The plan was first implemented with the Green Lake Public School, completed in 1902. Green Lake was built in two phases: first a central two-story frame portion and a north wing, then in 1907 a complementary eight-room south wing. The front entrance was a distinguished combination of neo-classical columns, pediment, cornices and entablature that was used, with variations, in other model schools, such as Stevens and Interlake. The school district demolished Green Lake in the mid-1980s to gain open space. Several "portables" now occupy some of that site.
Martha Washington School 6612 57th Ave. S.
Martha Washington School consisted of Georgian-style brick buildings designed by architect Floyd Naramore and built 1920-21 and 1928 as a school for troubled girls, operated by the Seattle School District. The prototype for the school was developed at the turn of the century by Maj. and Mrs. Cicero Newell to aid neglected, indigent and unfortunate children. In 1919, the school district purchased nine acres of land south of Bailey Peninsula (now Seward Park) for what was called the Girls Parental School. Apart from the buildings, the grounds included a rare grove of Oregon white oak and one of the largest madrona trees in the city. The buildings were razed by the Seattle Parks Department for open space.
Music Hall Theatre 702 Olive Way
Only a few of Seattle's many legitimate stage houses, vaudeville and motion-picture theaters are still intact. The Music Hall was one of the casualties. Designed by Sherwood Ford in 1927-28, its flamboyant Spanish Baroque exterior had fluted columns and rich decorative bas-reliefs surrounding colored-glass windows that illuminated the mezzanine lounge. The theme of Spanish exploration was exploited in the maritime images of ships' wheels and prows that embellished the organ grilles on either side of the stage. The showplace hosted Fanny Brice, George Jessel, Martha Graham, Yehudi Menuhin, Katharine Hepburn and many other music and theater stars over the years. The owners sought to eliminate landmark control, saying the theater no longer brought in enough money to support itself, and after a long hearings process, they won their case. The building was demolished in 1991. Plans for a hotel disintegrated and the site became a parking lot until recently. Now a commercial project is under construction.
Temple de Hirsch Sinai 15th Avenue East and East Union Street
Temple de Hirsch Sinai congregation is the oldest (1897) and the largest Jewish congregation in the Puget Sound region. The temple, designed by J.F. Everett in the Neoclassical style, was completed in 1908 and named for Baron de Hirsch, a benefactor who assisted Eastern European Jews in reaching the U.S. Clad in buff-colored brick with terra-cotta trim, its west front consisted of a Doric-columned entrance portico flanked by two substantial bell towers. Oriented east-west, the main sanctuary terminated at the east end in the rostrum and bema, surmounted by the ark and Torah, above which was a stained-glass window of Moses. The temple - long vacant and decaying - was considered as the location for a small concert hall. Given its condition, cost for rehabilitation and parking concerns, the congregation chose to raze the building in 1992. A few remnants of the dignified facade stand watch over a landscaped park today.
Harborview Medical Center 325 Ninth Ave.
Plans for upgrading and expanding King County's Harborview Medical Center call for demolishing Harborview Hall, originally the nurses' residence for the hospital, and making significant alterations to the hospital building's historic facade to accommodate expansion. Both buildings were designed by the prestigious firm of Thomas Grainger and Thomas in the modernistic style we now call art deco. In 1931, the central part of a much larger hospital complex was completed, using matching brick and complementary terra-cotta decorative trim for both buildings so that they related to each other across Ninth Avenue. The nursing hall still has intact its wood-paneled lobby and art-deco proscenium in the auditorium. Concerns about safety and the cost of seismic upgrades are cited in plans to demolish it.
Greenwood Elementary School 144 N.W. 80th St. Seattle
Greenwood Elementary was constructed in 1909 and is one of seven brick schools designed in the Jacobean style, with terra-cotta detailing. When it was constructed, it was a twin to Emerson Elementary School and similar to Colman and Adams (now demolished). These were the last school district buildings designed by James Stephen. The elaborate terra-cotta ornamental treatments of the central gable end were removed after 1963 and rebuilt as straight edges. But the building retains its ornate terra-cotta entrance. A 1920-21 three-story classroom wing by school architect Floyd Naramore incorporated an impressive terra-cotta entrance for the assembly hall. The building was nominated for landmark status late last year, but did not receive the required number of votes for designation. School-district officials have met with users and neighborhood groups and have recommended saving and upgrading the 1909 building while demolishing the 1921 wing to accommodate new construction on the site.
Crystal Pool (Bethel Temple) 2033 Second Ave.
B. Marcus Priteca's architectural design for the Crystal Pool also inspired his design of the Coliseum Theatre, which opened in 1916. Both buildings had high-relief, neoclassical facades fashioned of glazed terra cotta and corner entries with domes (now missing from both buildings). The Crystal became one of the most popular recreation spots in the city. The swimming pool was spanned by enormous arched steel trusses supporting a glass roof. Surrounding the pool were tiers of seats for as many as 1,500 spectators. Salt water for the pool was piped from Elliott Bay and heated, filtered and chlorinated. The principal exterior change has been replacement of the entrance pavilion. Modifications have been made to the interior for an assembly space but the building still has the pool's tile edging and its bleachers. A developer plans to demolish the building and build a condominium tower. The church ownership places the building outside city Landmarks Board jurisdiction.
Eastlake houses 1130-1134 Eastlake Ave. E.
Two single-family homes with mansard roofs frame a stairway leading to a double house above them. With their gabled porches, button-decorated pediments, brackets, open arches and windows with colored-glass borders, the houses are examples of a simple Queen Anne vernacular style once common to the city but extremely rare now. The three buildings were probably completed shortly after the 1891-92 construction of the Rainier Power and Railway Co.'s streetcar line from downtown. They are significant for their early construction date, for their symmetry and for their physical integrity, despite some missing or covered elements. The houses are among the meager remains of a residential neighborhood that disappeared with construction of Interstate 5 and more recent commercial buildings. Developers seek to buy the houses and raze them for commercial development permitted under the present zoning.
Lawrence Kreisman is program director of Historic Seattle and director of "Viewpoints," the tour program of the Seattle Architectural Foundation. He serves on the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board and is a frequent contributor to Pacific Northwest magazine.
Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.