619 Western Building Artists Take Art Walk Outside

1917. Pre-viaduct view of west and south facades of the Western Building, looking northeast / Photo: MOHAI

The artists who have their studios in the 619 Western Avenue building are doing First Thursday Art Walk today (August 4) outside in the parking lot adjacent to the building instead of inside. On July 20, 2011 the artists were notified by  property owner that they  have to vacate the building by October 1, 2011–six months earlier than anticipated. As of August 1, no public assembly use is allowed in the building, which means no more Art Walk in the Western Building. A Hazard Correction Order was issued by the Seattle Department of Planning and Development to the owners of the building  on June 22, 2011, directing the owner to make repairs to the structure which was damaged in the 2011 Nisqually Earthquake. The building was yellow-tagged after the quake but the owners never made the necessary repairs. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) will be shoring up the building temporarily during the construction of the tunnel for the proposed Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project–plans have been in the works to relocate the artists by March 2012. However, with the Hazard Correction Order, the displacement of the artists will happen sooner.

Back in January 2011, WSDOT had announced plans to demolish the Western Building, but after considerable consultation with State and City preservation officials, City Council members, and Section 106 consulting parties/advocacy groups (including Historic Seattle), the transportation agency presented a plan to stabilize the building during construction of the proposed deep-bore tunnel. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (1966) requires federal agencies to consider the effects of projects they carry out, approve or fund on historic properties. Since this project is partially funded by federal funds, it must go through Section 106.

The partially retrofitted Western Building would be returned to the private property owner once the tunnel boring machine has passed beneath the building. Under this plan the Western Building will be returned to the owner in a state that would allow the structure to be re-occupied. If the owner chooses to pursue a more substantial rehabilitation then that option will remain. This proposal for the Western Building is included in a memorandum of agreement which is part of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (released in July 2011) for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project. Although this is good news for the Western Building, the bigger impact to the cultural community in Pioneer Square will be strongly felt due to the displacement of the approximately 100 artists from the building. Tonight’s Art Walk will be especially meaningful. The 619 Western artists have been such an important part of the community for so long. While you’re in Pioneer Square, also check out the exhibit, “619 Western: 30 Years of Anarchy,” at Trabant Coffee and Chai (602 2nd Avenue). The exhibit opens tonight and runs through September 3. Follow what’s happening with the 619 Western artists on their facebook page.