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LANDMARK STATUS REACHED FOR THE SHOWBOX!
Thanks to the tireless dedication of a community of advocates, music lovers, and passionate preservationists over the past year, Historic Seattle is thrilled to announce that The Showbox is now the City of Seattle’s latest landmark. At the Landmarks Preservation Board’s (LPB) July 17 meeting, the LPB voted unanimously to designate The Showbox based on criteria C and D of the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance (C: It is associated in a significant way with a significant aspect of the cultural, political, or economic heritage of the community, City, state, or nation, and D: It embodies the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, or period, or a method of construction). The elements identified for preservation include the exterior of the building as well as select interior portions.
During the LPB meeting, Historic Seattle presented a timeline of The Showbox’s rich history. The Streamline Moderne building originally opened in 1917 for Charles and Emma Frye, founders of the Frye Art Museum, to open the Central Public Market, framed as a competitor to the Pike Place Market. Over the 102 years since, it has served as an entertainment venue for 57% of that time (58 years). The Showbox has housed performances of every significant genre of modern and emerging music, including jazz, big band, blues, rock-n-roll, rock, pop, punk, new wave, grunge, and alternative musicians, in addition to serving as a comedy club and a bingo hall.
Since news broke of the threat to The Showbox, the music community has been at the forefront of Historic Seattle’s efforts to save the venue. Following the LPB’s vote, Historic Seattle’s director of preservation services Eugenia Woo said, “We are ecstatic that our city, through today’s designation by the Landmarks Preservation Board, has formally recognized what so many people have known and said all along: The Showbox is a landmark and this place matters. Over the past year, it has been Historic Seattle’s honor and privilege to work alongside the music community, Friends of The Showbox, Vanishing Seattle, and Friends of Historic Belltown to fight to protect this beloved place.”
Woo added, “While we celebrate this exciting victory, we know that our work is far from over. Although landmarking offers protections for the physical elements of the property and not its use, this is a critical step that helps to save the building that houses The Showbox. To preserve its use as a thriving home to the music community, Historic Seattle is continuing our due diligence to purchase the property through a fundraising campaign. We have decades of experience in operating, rehabilitating, and maintaining historic properties, including unreinforced masonry buildings, that make us confident we can keep The Showbox safely in use for the public benefit for generations to come.”
Alongside our coalition of advocates (Vanishing Seattle, Friends of Historic Belltown, and Friends of The Showbox), Historic Seattle is thrilled to announce successful outcomes of two major elements in the fight to #SaveTheShowbox that happened in early June.
On Tuesday, June 4, dozens of people gathered in front of the City Council’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development & Arts Committee for a public hearing about a proposed 6-month extension to the temporary expansion of the Pike Place Market Historic District to include The Showbox. The original expansion was passed unanimously by the full City Council in August 2018. The Committee voted to advance this proposed extension to a full City Council vote on Monday, June 10. At this vote, the extension passed 8-1.
In speaking before the Committee, Historic Seattle noted the geographic, historic, and economic rationale behind such an expansion. There, Eugenia Woo, Historic Seattle’s director of preservation services, noted, “We researched the history of The Showbox which was originally known as the Central Public Market, built in 1917, ten years after the [Pike Place] Market was established in 1907…The City needs more time to conduct its due diligence in this process. Historic Seattle supports a six-month extension of the temporary district expansion in order for the study to occur properly.”
Continuing to speak on Historic Seattle’s behalf, Naomi West, the organization’s director of philanthropy and engagement, added, “All of the Pike Place Market directly benefits from The Showbox. Because of proximity, a thriving Showbox is inextricably linked to a thriving Market. 422 artists performed at The Showbox last year alone, and those bands love to head to the Market to explore upon arriving in Seattle. Bars, restaurants, retail spaces, hotels, and coffee shops all benefit from Showbox guests who like to go out in the neighborhood before attending a show. The Showbox brings 1,000 guests to the area approximately 200 nights each year. That’s 200,000 people spending their dollars in and around the Market annually. These data points aren’t new – there’s an 80-year history filled with local impact. The venue also provides 200 people with employment.”
West went on to deliver a statement submitted to Historic Seattle by Macklemore: “And, as a wise man named Ben Haggerty, aka Macklemore, told us in his statement regarding this issue, ‘The Showbox is also a venue that is critical in attracting many national acts to route their tours through Seattle. Losing it would mean fewer shows and lost revenue for the city…As our city continues to grow in density, it’s imperative that we protect the spaces that give Seattle its cultural identity. This is true of The Showbox, and it’s true of other important places in the city, especially in communities where displacement and gentrification are dramatically reshaping neighborhoods. If we value our musical heritage and want to leave the next generation with a piece of authentic Seattle, this is our fight.’”
Update: On June 21, the temporary expansion of the Pike Place Market Historic District to include The Showbox was struck down in King County Superior Court. Eugenia Woo, Historic Seattle’s director of preservation services, released the following statement:
Since last August, we have supported including The Showbox property in the Pike Place Market Historic District. Today’s ruling by Judge Patrick Oishi was disappointing and we did not expect there would be a decision today on the motions for summary judgment. The ruling was about land use and not about whether The Showbox is a significant music venue and cultural resource worth preserving.
We’ve always said that saving The Showbox would require a multi-prong strategy. We continue to focus on the landmark designation process and look forward to the designation hearing on July 17. We’ll continue to keep open communication channels with the property owner’s representatives and hope to discuss Historic Seattle’s serious interest in purchasing the property.
For 45 years, our organization has had a proven track record of real estate development involving the saving and rehabilitation of historic properties throughout Seattle. We currently own and operate eight historic properties that are community assets and contribute to the cultural health of Seattle neighborhoods. The Good Shepherd Center, Washington Hall, and the Cadillac Hotel are a few of our key properties.
We hope to add The Showbox property to our portfolio so that it may continue its long history as a significant music venue and cultural space—it cannot be replicated or replaced.
The Landmarks Preservation Board (LPB) considered The Showbox nomination at its Wednesday, June 5 meeting. Historic Seattle submitted the nomination in August 2018 alongside co-nominators Vanishing Seattle and Friends of Historic Belltown. At the LPB meeting, Historic Seattle stated, “No place can better represent the cultural history of music in Seattle.”
Collectively, public comment provided at the LPB meeting was overwhelmingly in support of the landmark nomination, including a statement submitted by Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready and presented by Showbox employee Misha Dumois. “There is so much history at Seattle’s Showbox and it would be a monumental loss to the city if the doors closed. I have so many great memories, not only from playing that stage with Pearl Jam and Flight to Mars, but I’ve also seen countless incredible shows over the years. To me, The Showbox is a vital landmark to Seattle’s rich music history, as well as today’s thriving community. Those doors should stay open, and those amazing employees should keep their jobs,” McCready’s statement noted.
Following public comments, the LPB voted unanimously to nominate The Showbox as a landmark. The LPB will meet on Wednesday, July 17 at a public hearing to consider designation, which, if approved, would bestow landmark status upon this iconic venue. Historic Seattle will provide additional information for the public as that date approaches.
While recognizing these victories and the ongoing effort to protect this meaningful place, on Wednesday, June 5, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation also announced its addition of The Showbox to its “Most Endangered Places” list.
In response to that news and the outcome of this week’s events, Kji Kelly, Historic Seattle’s executive director, said, “We agree that The Showbox, despite our recent victories, is as endangered as it gets in Seattle right now. More City Council and Landmarks Board votes remain; there is a lot of work left to do. As we’ve said since the beginning of this fight, the best outcome is a preservation-friendly buyer, and that’s why we stepped up to say we’re ready, willing, and able to take ownership of the building to keep The Showbox thriving as a venue for the next 80 years. We remain eager to work with the current property owner to make a deal happen.”
What You Can Do NOW!
Send comments in support of landmark designation to Sarah Sodt by Thursday, July 11 or speak at the Landmarks Preservation Board designation hearing on Wednesday, July 17. We’ll share the agenda for that hearing once it’s published.
Remember when we said this would be a marathon? It’s been nearly 10 months since the development plans for The Showbox first made the news…The Showbox is still under threat of demolition, and we still need YOU to help us save it. (Need more proof of why this place matters? Check out Ethan Steinman’s documentary “No Reentry: The Irreplaceable Showbox,” which premiered at The Showbox on May 22.)
Historic Seattle submitted a landmark nomination in conjunction with Friends of Historic Belltown and Vanishing Seattle in August 2018, following an announcement that the building housing The Showbox was being considered for redevelopment. Contrary to several reports, a sale of the property has not yet taken place.
Recently, Crosscut reported on the City of Seattle’s efforts to negotiate with the owner of The Showbox building to reach a standstill on the owner’s litigation and the City’s permanent historic district expansion. Since that report, Historic Seattle reached out to the property owner with a preliminary offer to buy The Showbox. We have not received a formal response to that offer.
The LPB meeting is scheduled to begin at 3:30PM and is the first of two steps to successfully turn The Showbox building into a landmark. Following a successful nomination, the LPB will schedule another meeting regarding designation.
To support the nomination, you can submit written comments in advance of the meeting to LPB Coordinator Sarah Sodt by May 30 or attend the meeting at City Hall to provide your comments in person.
To be considered relevant, what you write or say must pertain to how The Showbox meets at least one (or more) of the six designation criteria of the City’s Landmarks Preservation Ordinance. The focus of our nomination is criteria C and D.
The criteria are:
- a) location of, or association in a significant way with, a historic event with a significant effect upon the community, City, state, or nation;
b) association in a significant way with the life of a person important in the history of the City, state, or nation;
c) association in a significant way with a significant aspect of the cultural, political, or economic heritage of the community, City, state or nation;
d) embodiment of the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, or period, or a method of construction;
e) an outstanding work of a designer or builder;
f) because of prominence of spatial location, contrasts of siting, age, or scale, it is an easily identifiable visual feature of its neighborhood or the city and contributes to the distinctive quality or identity of such neighborhood or the City.
In your comments, share your personal experiences at The Showbox in ways that relate to the architecture, the neighborhood, and the cultural significance.
In addition to the newly scheduled LPB meeting date, the City of Seattle provided public notice in the Daily Journal of Commerce on May 2 for a public hearing scheduled for Tuesday, June 4 on a six-month extension of the interim expansion of the Pike Place Market Historic District to include The Showbox. Historic Seattle has advocated for this expansion since August and continues to support it as the study on permanent expansion remains underway. Comments in support of this extension may be directed in writing to Councilmember Lisa Herbold by Monday, June 3 or presented at the public hearing on June 4 at 5:30PM at the City Council Chambers in City Hall.
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 29): Your calls, emails, and public comments worked! The City Council voted unanimously to temporarily expand the Pike Place Market Historic District to include The Showbox site, in effect adding protections for its use. On August 24, Mayor Durkan signed the temporary expansion into law.
This expansion, advancing the landmark nomination we submitted, 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 that 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.”
All of Seattle woke up on 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.
Following the landmarking news, we’ve updated the list of FAQs.
In The News
The Uphill Fight to Save the Showbox Begins
City Inside/Out: Showbox
KISW: Hear Duff McKagan Talk about His “Secret Historic Seattle Meetings”
Pearl Jam & Stone Temple Pilots Unite For The First Time
Seattle council votes on plan to preserve The Showbox
History’s Not a Facade
Daily Journal of Commerce
Historic Seattle seeks buyer for Showbox
Showbox at the Market gains temporary protection in fight for its preservation
What Can We Save?