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Sunday, January 14, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pacific Northwest Magazine

Saving Ourselves

Preservation: It's everyone's business


The success this region has enjoyed in preserving its heritage continues to depend on a vigilant citizenry. There is no easy way! You are truly the watchdogs who know what is happening in your neighborhoods. If you have concerns about a particular property and its fate, you can contact:

Historic Seattle: Christine Palmer, preservation advocate; 1117 Minor Ave.; 206-622-6952; christinep@historicseattle.org. Historic Seattle offers one-day workshops on the landmarks process and helps people interested in preparing a city or county landmark nomination. The next one is April 14. Consult www.historicseattle.org for information.

City of Seattle: Historic Preservation Program; 700 5th Ave.; 206-684-0228; http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/preservation/.

Historic Everett: 425-258-1527; www.historiceverett.org.

Historic Tacoma: Sharon Winters, board president, 253-761-9349; www.historictacoma.net.

King County Preservation Program: Office of Business Relations and Economic Development,

701 Fifth Ave., Suite 2000; 206-296-8689; http://www.metrokc.gov/exec/bred/hpp/.

Washington Trust for Historic Preservation: 1204 Minor Ave.; 206-624-9449; info@wa-trust.org; www.wa-trust.org/.

Since 1997, Lawrence Kreisman, Honorary AIA Seattle, has been program director of Historic Seattle, a 32-year-old organization devoted to the preservation of buildings and sites important to Seattle's history. He is the author of seven books on regional architecture, landscape and preservation. Kreisman also has been writing about homes and preservation for Pacific Northwest magazine since 1988.

I WAS 8 years old when my parents took me to see my first opera at the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York. I remember the agonizing climb up each flight of stairs, expectation mounting as we ascended to a landing, then promptly deflating as another staircase appeared. Finally at the top, we entered the Family Circle and the grand house opened up to my view — of gold leaf, gold lattices, gold cupids, gold curtain, gold chandeliers, red velvet and crystal. Even after the lights dimmed and the curtain rose, my attention focused on the names of the composers carved around the proscenium arch and the frescoed figures romping on the ceiling rather than on the stage.

Undoubtedly, it was the magic of the old Met, where fantasy and art merged every evening and twice on Saturday, that awakened my interest in architecture and the design arts. It was also my first personal experience with endangered buildings and their loss.

I distinctly remember walking through the ruins of the old Met during its demolition in 1967 (it had not been given landmark status), picking up what would become a treasured artifact, a small piece of gold-leafed plaster. It wasn't simply the physical finality that upset me. After all, the building had never been an ideal performing space. But the memories that building carried for many thousands of people around the world would never be replaced by the marble, the Chagall murals or the imported crystal chandeliers of the new opera house at Lincoln Center.

In my 1999 book, "Made to Last: Historic Preservation in Seattle and King County," I wrote of the many accomplishments in preserving and protecting valuable buildings in this city and county. At the same time, I indicated that our community had experienced significant losses, including a former Presbyterian church and a telephone exchange on Lower Queen Anne Hill that were part of the Hansen Baking Co. complex, the Perry Hotel on First Hill that had served Cabrini Hospital for most of its life, and the ornate Music Hall Theatre downtown. In King County, barns, commercial buildings and mills that reflected the lifeblood of communities were collapsing from abandonment and neglect, or being razed for shopping centers, business parks and residential subdivisions. Little by little, we were watching our architectural, cultural and social guideposts disappear.

I even included an appendix, entitled "Obituaries," that listed buildings and objects that had either been demolished or were in danger of demolition for a variety of reasons. One of these was First United Methodist Church, a designated city landmark that had been removed from landmarks protection through a series of court rulings. At the time, there was no immediate concern for its future. Eight years later, it has made the endangered lists of both the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation — and its survival is still not assured.

As the region continues to build and as new land-use rules allow for taller, denser development, older buildings that might have continued to contribute to downtown and neighborhood life become less viable to their owners. The higher value of land, the impetus to increase investment income and the cost of remodeling over building new — with all the latest technological advances and efficiencies — make it all the more challenging for older buildings to survive.

The Seattle School District, for instance, has earned points for its Buildings for Excellence Program — bringing significant buildings before the city's Landmarks Preservation Board for designation before remodeling. But the rich history associated with such schools as Roosevelt and Garfield high schools has been largely obliterated. The most efficient way to remodel them to meet educational requirements was to gut them — removing the woodwork cabinetry, doors and decorative plaster that made for civic pride and fostered respect for property among generations of children. A small number of buildings, including University Heights and the Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Center (formerly Allen Elementary), still retain historic interiors because the district leases them to community groups.

All of this is somewhat ironic at a time when the architectural profession focuses its attention on sustainability, which would seem to encourage reusing existing buildings and materials to reduce waste and conserve the energy and materials needed to make a replacement. Yet Puget Sound country has now joined California and New York in being a place where million-dollar "tear-downs" are not only possible but actual. Seattle isn't the only Northwest city doing it. In May 2006, someone paid $1.5 million for a beautiful 6,400-square-foot English Tudor revival mansion in Tacoma, then razed it to put up a 10,000-square-foot replacement.

Regardless of progressive ordinances and legislation, seemingly rock-solid buildings are, in reality, as fragile as sand castles. Without a concerned and vocal citizenry, they must depend for their survival on how they fit in the modern marketplace. Even landmarks are not out of danger. For example, the Wadsworth Building on First Avenue, designated a city landmark in 2001, was demolished, along with its significant but not designated 1889 neighbor to the south — the Warshal's Sporting Goods store — for the luxury Hotel 1000.

As an architectural historian, preservation advocate and educator, I worry about this. I worry that as we strive for "world class" status we are settling for the lowest common denominator of taste and losing the quirky, idiosyncratic characteristics that make our neighborhoods and the downtowns of our cities different from one another. Whether it is a significant work by an important designer, such as the Willatzen and Byrne-designed residence for the Black family on West Highland Drive, or the iconic roadside restaurant the Twin Teepees, the vestiges of old Seattle are vanishing.

As a community, we need to strengthen a value system in which historic structures and cultural resources have meaning and traditional neighborhoods are regarded with respect. Otherwise, we stand to lose far more than buildings. We lose the memories and associations that tie each of us to our street, our neighborhood, our shared community.

The National Trust and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation prepare endangered lists each year to bring attention to threats on significant properties. In that spirit, here is my personal list of buildings and building types that deserve attention. It is meant as a way of jogging readers' memories and experiences, and encouraging property owners, developers and design professionals to carefully consider their short-term goals in light of the long-term benefits to our fragile built environment. Many people have the attitude, "Why worry anymore? We know better now." But the evidence shows that we should never let our guard down or we will continue to lose buildings we hold dear.

RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS

First Church of Christ Scientist, 16th Avenue and East Denny Way

Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist, 2555 8th Ave. W.

First United Methodist Church has received well-deserved media attention since 2004, and it has been important for Seattle leaders to band together to question the demolition of a building that has been a significant architectural and cultural landmark downtown for nearly 100 years. But other churches face similar challenges:

This past year, two Christian Science churches became endangered. The First Church on Capitol Hill's 16th Avenue East and East Denny Way -- designed by the firm of Bebb and Mendel and an early designated city landmark -- may be converted to condominiums. Its congregation has already relocated. While the congregation still meets at Seventh Church on Queen Anne Hill, a charming 1926 Byzantine work by Harlan Thomas, the building may be demolished for housing development.

Admittedly, it's a challenge to make money by reusing these buildings, but it can be done because designated landmarks enjoy code and zoning flexibility when they are put to another use. Town Hall Seattle paved the way as a makeover space that now books 375 events a year with music, lectures, comedy, drama and fairs. Kirkland moved its Christian Science church and turned it into a heritage hall.

HISTORIC SHIPS

Wawona and Kalakala

The struggle to raise enough money to restore the rare 19th-century schooner Wawona — the first historic vessel to be listed on the National Register — or the streamlined icon Kalakala is a constant reminder that we in the Northwest do not appreciate our rich maritime history. You'd think a city reputed to have one of the highest per capita boat ownerships in the country would also have a core of well-to-do investors who saw the value of preserving two of the most significant boats tied to Puget Sound history and commerce. The good news is the effort by a number of organizations to turn King County-owned property on North Lake Union into the Seattle Heritage Shipyard, a safe haven for historic boat repair and maintenance. Nevertheless, the large size, the deteriorated condition and the projected cost to restore the Wawona leave its preservation in jeopardy.

SMALL-SCALE RETAILERS Pande Cameron Building, 9th Avenue at Pine Street

From elaborately embellished terra cotta and cast-stone commercial buildings downtown to simpler one- and two-story brick and frame shops that anchored city neighborhoods from West Seattle to Greenwood, the pulse of early city life took place on a small scale. The core of traditional neighborhoods is disappearing, replaced by medium-rise apartments, condos and chains. A dramatic example of what can happen stands on the corner of 9th Avenue and Pine Street. In an effort to sell the building to a developer, the owners had the handsome terra cotta façade removed. Was that an attempt to keep the city from considering it for landmark status? Will others follow suit?

UNIQUE SMALL BUILDING TYPES

Ballard Carnegie Library, 2026 N.W. Market St.

C&P Coffee House, 5612 California Ave. S.W.

Small-scale buildings of all types are feeling these same pressures. Dozens of important vestiges of early-20th-century growth are threatened by development and are not now protected. For example, the Ballard Carnegie Library, now Carnegie's restaurant, is on busy Market Street in a part of the city that's being called the new Belltown. That means the land value is escalating rapidly and, despite its listing on the National Register, without city landmark status, it is very much at risk.

Another example is a West Seattle shingled bungalow with battered buttresses and dramatic cornices. Originally home to the Fairmount Real Estate offices, it represents a historically significant aspect of city development outside downtown. Published in a 1913 issue of Bungalow magazine, the offices were designed inside and out to present the aspects of a cozy clubhouse to would-be lot buyers. After its use as an office, it easily became a private home. It is now leased as a coffee house. Squeezed in by apartment buildings and commerce, this little Craftsman holdout is on borrowed time.

HOSPITAL BUILDINGS

Harborview Hall, 326 9th Ave.

A program plan supported by bond funding and calling for improvements to Harborview Medical Center involves seismic stabilization and building new facilities. It also includes plans for demolishing Harborview Hall, pending landmarks review. Harborview Hall was designed in 1931 by Thomas, Grainger and Thomas to complement the firm's most significant Art Deco landmark, Harborview Hospital. The nurses residence hall facing the hospital mirrored its brick and terra cotta vocabulary. To this day, the hall's lobby and auditorium exhibit the geometric, abstract and stylized imagery that are hallmarks of design.

When the Research and Training Building on the Harborview campus was opened in 1999, the design firm, MBT, made the point that the new building had been designed in contemporary Art Deco style to integrate it with the older Harborview buildings. There is irony that efforts to design in context with this architectural vocabulary will have been for naught if one of the two signature buildings that set the course is destroyed. Better to follow the example of another major Art Deco landmark, the U.S. Marine Hospital that crowns Beacon Hill, where seismic upgrades and a contextually appropriate addition allowed the old medical facility to be transformed into the headquarters of Amazon.com.

REGRADE HYBRID BUILDINGS

Wayne Apartments, 2224 Second Ave.

The regrading of Seattle's Central Business District, Belltown, Chinatown and Pike/Pine created an oddity: one- and two-story frame buildings from the late 19th century and early years of the 20th century that were raised so a retail first floor could be slipped underneath to meet the newly graded street. The few that still survive are hardly recognizable, resheathed with vinyl siding and different windows. Regardless, they are the silent reminders of a city that was practically inaccessible and had to be methodically molded into shape. One such building in Belltown, the Wayne Apartments, c. 1890, is perhaps the oldest and most endangered, given its location. The Victorian three-bay frame apartment building sits astride a single-story retail building from 1911. While the integrity of this building has been compromised over time, it is unique to the neighborhood and tells the story of the evolution of downtown as it faced the challenges of its topography.

INDUSTRIAL SPACE

Snoqualmie Mill power plant

Boeing Plant No. 2

An article in The Seattle Times in late September on the uncertain fate of Boeing's Plant No. 2 on East Marginal Way brings to question how the industrial buildings that shaped the region fare when they no longer serve their initial purposes. We have already seen the loss of sawmills, the lifeblood of early Pacific Northwest lumbering communities. The power plant at Snoqualmie Mill is the sole reminder of the logging and mill operations that built a company town. From an historic perspective, Plant No. 2 certainly qualifies as a local landmark as the production facility for the signature bomber during World War II. The story of the suburban neighborhood camouflage so meticulously developed for its roof alone sets it apart as an important reminder of this period.

Other industrial buildings may tell less exciting stories and so we should expect to witness the loss of wood-framed factories and warehouses with sawtooth sky-lit roofs as the pressure for gentrification and commercial development slips into former industrial precincts south of downtown and along the working waterfront.

Nevertheless, there are some excellent models of successful salvation: At the Rainier Brewery, Ariel Development took a creative look at how the huge, unwieldy series of buildings could provide office, meeting, studio and community spaces under the umbrella ArtsBrewery. A decade ago, Shurgard turned the former Ford Motor Co. assembly plant on Lake Union into its corporate headquarters. And the enormous Sears distribution warehouse became the headquarters for Starbucks.

Information in this article, originally published January 14, 2007, was clarified March 13, 2007. Warshal's Sporting Goods was founded in 1922 by brothers William and Adolph Warshal. A caption in a previous version of this story failed acknowledge the involvement of Adolph.

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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