WHAT’S NEW? (Updated August 13)
On the morning of August 10, a group of more than 150 local and national artists signed onto an open letter in the centerfold of Friday’s Seattle Times urging Seattle residents to take action to #SAVETHESHOWBOX. The list is reflective of the depth and breadth of The Showbox’s history.
The group is led by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, Duff McKagan of Guns n’ Roses, Macklemore, and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam.
The letter notes, “For nearly 80 years, The Showbox has been home to some of Seattle’s biggest cultural moments, from Duke Ellington to Buffalo Springfield, The Police, The Ramones, James Brown, Heart, Ellen DeGeneres, Eminem, Soundgarden, Coldplay, Robin Williams, Chris Stapleton, Prince, and beyond. Despite this venue’s iconic status, it is under threat. The Onni Group, a BC-based developer, plans to tear down The Showbox, to build a 44-story luxury residential tower in its place. We cannot let this happen.”
The group is working with an advocacy coalition led by Historic Seattle to advance several policy solutions that can help protect The Showbox. In addition to designating the venue as a historic landmark, the letter urges people to take meaningful action to support the effort by contacting Seattle’s City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan.
Update (August 13): Your calls, emails, and public comments worked! The City Council voted unanimously today to temporarily expand the Pike Place Market Historic District to include The Showbox site, in effect adding protections for its use. This, advancing the landmark nomination we submitted last week, and finding a Showbox-friendly offer to present to the property owner is our comprehensive approach to this effort. We’ll need your continued support throughout the landmarks process (stay tuned), and we continue to seek ideas on alternative purchase options.
On August 9, at a press conference, Historic Seattle announced its advocate coalition – including Vanishing Seattle and Friends of Historic Belltown – submitted a landmark nomination for the Showbox. The nomination was submitted Wednesday afternoon, August 8.
“This is an exciting moment for the effort to Save the Showbox. We submitted the nomination ahead of the developer, allowing our advocates more time to demonstrate the significance of this iconic place and to make the case for why it must be protected as a landmark,” said Eugenia Woo, Historic Seattle’s Director of Preservation Services, at the press conference.
“We thank everyone who made this possible: our co-nominators, Friends of Historic Belltown and Vanishing Seattle; King County Executive Dow Constantine, a music enthusiast and preservationist; Jay Middleton, who organized the Change.org petition that now has nearly 91,000 signatures; City Councilmembers who have been working with us on this effort; Northwest Vernacular, who prepared this nomination, and last, but certainly not least, the donors who have given generously to our advocacy fund. Their support is what empowered us to hire the team that treated this as an emergency, working tirelessly to turn a research and writing process than can sometimes take months into 10 days,” Woo added.
Historic Seattle has said several times that saving the Showbox is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. There are three elements to the group’s strategy: successfully landmark the Showbox; create policy solutions that can also help save the Showbox, and places like it in the future; and identifying a Showbox-friendly buyer, investor, or donor that can help address the property owner’s concerns over finding an offer at fair market value.
The landmark nomination, while a victory in itself, is like coming to the end of the first mile. The effort to Save the Showbox still has a long way to go. In the coming weeks, we’ll be rallying the public behind the landmarks process, starting with the nomination hearing.
Historic Seattle will also continue working with the City on advancing policy solutions that can save the Showbox, as well as places like it in the future. The first proposal is the expansion of the Pike Place Market Historic District. City Council will vote on this plan on Monday, August 13. Historic Seattle encourages them to support it and asks those who care about saving the Showbox to contact their councilmembers and the Mayor to voice support for this expansion.
Beyond this, Historic Seattle asked the City to “work with us to strengthen protections for our historically significant places. People often say preservationists are stuck in the past, but we’ve been spending our time looking to the future,” Woo said at the press conference.
“As our City continues to grow, it is critical that we work together to further define the controls element of the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance to include protections for categories of use, including cultural venues,” Woo continued.
Historic Seattle also announced another policy recommendation, advising the City to proactively work with Historic Seattle to address the issue of unreinforced masonry (URM), by introducing an environmental impact fee on demolitions and new development projects that will help fund the seismic retrofitting needs of Seattle’s 1,100 URM buildings, including the Showbox.
“These are real solutions to real problems facing our City’s historic places, and we are eager to partner with the right people to see them through,” said Woo. “As we’re seeing with the Showbox, we are stronger when we come together. Seattle needs that strength now more than ever. Let’s work together to change the narrative from ‘preservation is an obstruction’ to ‘preservation is part of the solution.’”
As these policy and process elements unfold, Historic Seattle remains eager to work with interested investors, buyers, or donors to make an alternative offer to the property owner. “We are aiming to find a win-win solution that satisfies the current property owner while still saving the Showbox.”
Following the landmarking news, we’ve updated the list of FAQs.
What You Can Do NOW!
All your efforts to contact City Council have paid off with the August 13 vote on expanding the Pike Place Market Historic District. Now it’s time to tell Mayor Durkan to sign the Council’s legislation!
What’s Going On?
All of Seattle woke up Wednesday morning, July 25, to the news that the Showbox is endangered. Onni Group, a Vancouver, BC-based developer, had filed plans to demolish the building and replace it with a 44-story residential tower. They also intend to submit a nomination to determine landmark status.
The HistoryLink essay on the Showbox describes the significance of the Showbox well. Here’s an excerpt: “Founded in 1939 as the Show Box, Seattle’s historic Showbox Ballroom (1426 1st Avenue) is one of the town’s very few extant entertainment venues that can lay claim to having provided local music fans such an astonishing breadth of music over the decades. From the Jazz Age to the hip-hop and grunge eras the storied ballroom has featured shows by touring icons like Duke Ellington, Muddy Waters, and the Ramones, and up-and-comers like Coldplay, Katy Perry, Moby, Lady Gaga, and Lorde, as well as concerts by homegrown talents ranging from the burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee to Merrilee Rush, the Sonics, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Macklemore.”
On July 30, Historic Seattle met with Vanishing Seattle and Friends of Historic Belltown to discuss the demolition plan and developer effort to submit the Showbox for landmark nomination* (see more on this below).
To harness and channel all the community energy into productive action, Historic Seattle will be serving as the lead organization to SAVE THE SHOWBOX. We are the city’s largest historic preservation nonprofit and have been working to save meaningful places that foster lively communities for more than 40 years.
As the landmarks process unfolds, we will ask you to submit comments, testify at hearings, and help us make the case for preserving this community icon.
Also last week, Historic Seattle connected with City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s office regarding her rally at City Hall today and her statement indicating support for landmarking the Showbox.
Historic Seattle appreciates the intent behind CM Sawant’s statement and upcoming resolution. As the city’s leading organization in preservation, we also want to clarify a point made within the original statement.
In particular, the statement says, “Because the Showbox has so much historic value, the Landmarks Preservation Board should agree to landmark it if they hear from a large enough community of people. However, the board often preserves only the outside of buildings, and in this case we need the Board to also preserve the music venue inside.”
Historic Seattle’s Director of Preservation Services, Eugenia Woo, clarifies, “We’ve spoken with Councilmember Sawant’s office to let them know a non-binding city council resolution cannot influence the independent Landmarks Preservation Board, which is bound by the regulations of the City’s Landmarks Preservation Ordinance. The ordinance in its current state does not afford the opportunity to protect a property’s use, as much as we wish it did.”
Woo adds, “The limitations of the landmarks ordinance are on display in this case, and the City Council and Mayor Durkan have the ability to pursue policy solutions to the problems highlighted by the Showbox’s possible demolition. We encourage them to work with us on such solutions to our city’s teardown trend. Use policy, in addition to the pulpit.”
Historic Seattle believes that CM Sawant, all other councilmembers of the City of Seattle, and Mayor Durkan can work effectively to strengthen protections and create legislation that addresses the many issues brought to light through the development plan submitted for the Showbox site. Opportunities include revising the current zoning code, expanding the Pike Place Market Historic District and other historic districts, providing protections and support for legacy businesses, and enhancing elements of the landmarks preservation ordinance related to cultural impact. Historic Seattle welcomes the opportunity to work alongside the City Council and Mayor to protect places that matter while building for our city’s future.
*It is important to understand a few things about this chess game we call preservation. 1) Developers often submit nominations to determine landmark status with the intent of controlling the process so that the nomination fails. By channeling your energy into following the process correctly, you can help counter that strategy. We will advise you on the best ways to do this, down the line. 2) Landmarking does not protect use. If the building is not landmarked, it is a certainty that the Showbox will be demolished. If it IS landmarked, it is still possible that AEG could lose its operating rights when its lease ends in a few years. We would like to connect with any Showbox-friendly investors who could put forth an offer to buy the building and keep the Showbox in place. 3) This is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. The landmarks process will take months. Please work with us to see it through to the end. It’s the best chance this important place has to remain in our community for generations to come.
In The News
KISW: Hear Duff McKagan Talk about His “Secret Historic Seattle Meeting”
Seattle council votes on plan to preserve the Showbox
Daily Journal of Commerce
Historic Seattle seeks buyer for Showbox