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Historic Seattle’s Preservation Blog

2017 Election and Preservation

The 2017 General Election is November 7th.

Historic Seattle is conducting a survey of candidates running for Mayor and Seattle City Council Positions 8 and 9 (both at-large). We are posting responses as we receive them and will continue to do so through Election Day. You may view the submitted responses on our website. As of this posting date (October 20), we have received responses from the two Mayoral candidates.

The candidates were asked the following five questions:

  • What’s your favorite historic place in Seattle and why do you think it’s important?
  • How can Seattle accommodate the growing numbers of residents and increase in density while keeping neighborhood character?
  • Do you believe historic buildings and places help create a more sustainable, affordable, and livable city? If so, how?
  • How would you strengthen the City’s historic preservation program to ensure continued protection of designated Seattle Landmarks and historic districts?
  • How do we use existing and new tools to better engage communities to ensure equitable cultural heritage preservation?

If you don’t see a response from candidates for the at-large City Council positions, we urge you to contact them directly and ask them to respond to our questionnaire.

Let the candidates know that historic preservation is a key quality-of-life issue and a valuable tool for building strong, livable communities!

Announcing 2017 Awards

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On Tuesday, September 19, 2017, Historic Seattle hosts its 9th Annual Preservation Awards celebration at the landmark Washington Hall in the Central District. Space is limited. Purchase your tickets today! The Awards showcase and recognize exceptional public and private projects, as well as individuals and community groups that preserve and protect Seattle’s built heritage for future generations.

Nancy Guppy will serve as emcee. Doors open at 6:00 pm. The awards presentation and dinner begin at 6:30 pm, followed by a dessert reception and performance by Garfield Jazz at 8:00 pm.

Wine and beer generously provided by Proletariat Wine and Standard Brewing

Congratulations to the 2017 award recipients!

Beth Chave Historic Preservation Award for Preserving Neighborhood Character

Southwest Seattle Historical Society: “We Love the Junction” Campaign

Best Adaptive Reuse

McMenamins Anderson School

Exemplary Stewardship

First United Methodist Church | The Sanctuary

Best Rehabilitation

The Publix Hotel

Outstanding Modern Preservation

Robert Reichert House & Studio

Neighborhood Reinvestment

Optimism Brewing

Community Advocacy

Vanishing Seattle

Community Investment

Building for Culture

 

Photo sidebar: 2016 Awards event at Washington Hall; Sticks and Stones Photography

Victory for Preservation in Supreme Court!

Screenshot of State Supreme Court oral arguments, October 6, 2017.

Screenshot of TVW video of State Supreme Court oral arguments, June 6, 2017.

An almost decade-long fight to protect historic resources at the University of Washington has culminated in a State Supreme Court ruling in favor of preservation advocates in the case—University of Washington vs. City of Seattle, Docomomo WEWA, Historic Seattle, and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. On July 20, the State Supreme Court of Washington issued its opinion—a precedent-setting unanimous decision—holding that the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Ordinance (LPO) applies to property owned by the University of Washington (UW). The Court ruled that the University of Washington is a state agency that must comply with local development regulations adopted pursuant to the Growth Management Act (GMA). The Court also held that the University is a property owner as defined by the LPO, overturning the trial court’s too narrow and technical decision that the UW is not an owner.

Oral arguments before the State Supreme Court took place on June 6 at the Temple of Justice in Olympia. If you really want to geek out on legal stuff, you can watch the proceeding on TVW here (about 45 minutes).

The importance of the State Supreme Court’s opinion in this case cannot be overstated. Read the entire opinion here and the article by the Seattle Times here.

In the week since the opinion was issued, Historic Seattle, Docomomo WEWA, and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation have learned more about what this all means and what might be ahead. It’s our understanding that all state agencies (including state universities) must comply with local development regulations adopted pursuant to GMA. This is HUGE.

In the weeks and months ahead, we hope to meet with the City and the UW to discuss what this new world order will mean in the future. The UW recently released its 2018 Campus Master Plan. Will it be updated to reflect that the University is now subject to the LPO? Will the historic resource survey and inventory of the campus (soon to be completed) be updated to include language about local landmark or district eligibility? Will the University change its internal review of historic resources and transform it into a more public process, taking into account the very public landmark nomination and designation review process? These are just some of the questions we have.

The Supreme Court win won’t bring back the Nuclear Reactor Building (may it rest in peace), but it can help save other properties owned by UW in the future and may serve as an important precedent for future cases regarding historic properties across the state.

Historic Seattle thanks our attorney David Bricklin, partner organizations Docomomo WEWA and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, Assistant City Attorneys Roger Wynne and Patrick Downs, and the Seattle Historic Preservation Program staff for their hard work to secure this collaborative victory for preservation. We appreciate the support of the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, Futurewise, and the Washington State Association of Municipal Attorneys who all submitted amicus briefs. We give a shout out to Abby Inpanbutr. Back in 2008, she was a graduate student in architecture at the UW. She alerted our three preservation groups about the threatened status of the Nuclear Reactor Building. Little did we know at the time that our advocacy efforts would be an almost ten-year fight. And finally, we offer a big thanks to our generous donors who have help to fund this effort!

Wait, there’s more! On October 6, in a ceremony in New York City, Historic Seattle, Docomomo WEWA, and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation will be honored with a Docomomo US Modernism Award of Excellence in Advocacy for our Save the Reactor efforts. We wish the Nuclear Reactor Building had not been demolished, but its destruction was not in vain.

A version of this article was first published in the Docomomo US e-newsletter on July 20, 2017.

Photo: Advocates at a HeartBomb event celebrating the Nuclear Reactor Building, February 2015. The National Register-listed building was demolished by the UW in summer 2016. Photo by John Shea.

Call to Action: Comment on Mandatory Housing Affordability

Share Your Thoughts on Affordability!
Comment Period Extended to August 7

Have you heard of HALA? MHA? What about DEIS? If these acronyms are not familiar to you, they should be! All will affect your life and your city’s future.

What can you do? We’re asking supporters of preservation to review the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) policy and submit your comments to the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) by Monday, August 7. The DEIS evaluates MHA implementation in urban villages, proposed urban village expansion areas, and all other multifamily and commercial areas throughout the city.

A key component of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) strategy, MHA will require new development to either build affordable homes or contribute to a City fund for affordable housing. OPCD estimates MHA will deliver more than 6,000 rent-restricted housing units over the next 10 years. As proposed, MHA will expand housing choices by granting additional development capacity to allow for construction of more market-rate housing and commercial space.

The 460-page DEIS evaluates three alternatives (one of which is “No Action”) for implementing zoning changes proposed under MHA, and includes a section addressing historic resources (Section 3.5). The DEIS does not include Downtown, South Lake Union, or the University District, where MHA is already proposed or in effect.

Historic Seattle shares the City’s concern about the lack of affordable housing and supports a number of HALA’s recommendations. However, in our opinion, what’s being proposed for MHA is a “one-size fits-all” approach that will have a potentially significant adverse impact on the livability and quality of Seattle’s neighborhoods.

Here Are Some Ways Historic Preservation + Affordability + Livability Intersect:

Housing Diversity and “Naturally Occurring” Affordability  

Older buildings provide a diversity of housing types and tend to provide more units of affordable rental housing than taller, newer developments. Research shows that neighborhoods with a high concentration of historic buildings and mixed-scale development are more vibrant and perform better in terms of environmental, economic, and social metrics.

Hidden Density 

Older neighborhoods contain hidden density. It has been demonstrated that “human-scale neighborhoods with older fabric are the ‘missing middle’ of cities and can achieve surprisingly high population densities.”

Social Equity

Neighborhoods with a smaller-scaled mix of old and new buildings draw a higher proportion of non-chain shops, restaurants, and women and minority-owned businesses than new neighborhoods.

TAKE ACTION! Historic Seattle will submit public comments on the proposed alternatives and potential impacts on historic properties. We urge you to get engaged so that your voice is heard!

Feel like wonking out a bit more? Here are some more talking points related to the MHA DEIS:  

MHA should provide a more balanced approach to achieving growth

Historic Seattle believes City leadership needs to strike a balance to achieve density without demolition, and affordability without sacrificing livability in order to ensure that how we grow is sustainable and resilient – while retaining urban character and sense of place.

The Historic Resources section (3.5) is inadequate and lacks meaningful analysis. It is repetitive, imprecise, and non-specific

The section on Affected Environment (3.5.1) does not provide any real understanding of the study area’s history, context, and patterns of developments. It should include details on neighborhoods to adequately assess potential impacts to historic resources such as potentially-eligible individual properties and future historic districts. Added development pressure will result in increased demolition of potentially historic buildings and neighborhoods and adversely impact the character and scale of neighborhood blocks.

The analysis should reflect a better understanding of what exists that’s currently affordable, in order to determine the net gain or loss from the proposed MHA changes. What will the impact be in terms of tear-downs, net gain of housing, and how much is “affordable”?

The DEIS does not connect MHA to URM

Unreinforced Masonry (URM) buildings are mentioned in both Affected Environment (3.5.1) and Mitigation Measures (3.5.3), however, the DEIS does not reference the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection’s (SDCI) list of over 1,100 URM properties in the city. The analysis should include the number of URMs in each of the study area neighborhoods in order to understand how MHA might impact these properties.

Additionally, complying with a possible City mandate to seismically retrofit URMs to the “bolts plus” standard will present a substantial financial burden on many property owners. If preservation of existing affordable housing is truly a goal of HALA, it would then make sense to offer financial incentives to property owners who preserve and upgrade historic URMs and provide affordable housing.

The DEIS should provide substantive mitigation measures

Section 3.5.3 focus on two mitigation measures that are already in place–Comprehensive Plan policies and City Landmarks process, and proposes a third to continue funding of comprehensive survey/inventory efforts that have been inactive for years. A list of other potential mitigation measures follows in a separate paragraph but it is unclear whether any of these have any import or will be considered seriously. Mitigation should actually respond to the potential impacts and not rely only on existing policies, programs, and regulations without ways to implement through added funding and staff resources.

Please use your own words and include examples in your neighborhood that relate to the talking points above. Submit written comments by August 7 to MHA.EIS@seattle.gov.

Or mail to:

City of Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development
Attn: MHA DEIS
PO Box 34019
Seattle, WA 98124-4019

Thank you in advance for taking the time to advocate for Seattle’s future development and places that matter! If you’d like more information about this advocacy effort, please contact Eugenia Woo, Director of Preservation Services, Historic Seattle, at eugeniaw@historicseattle.org or 206.622.6952, ext 245.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

What is an EIS?
EIS Process
Preservation Green Lab (PGL) Older, Smaller, Better report
PGL Atlas of ReUrbanism
CityLab “Density Without Demolition”

 

Photo: Pike/Pine new construction adjacent to historic apartment building; source: Historic Seattle

Preservation Advocacy News

University of Washington vs City of Seattle, et al.

On June 6, oral arguments were heard at the Washington State Supreme Court on the precedent-setting case between UW and City of Seattle, Historic Seattle, Docomomo WEWA, and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

The fundamental issue is whether a public university is subject to a municipality’s preservation ordinance.

UW claims it is exempt from Seattle’s Landmarks Preservation Ordinance. Several justices questioned why UW complies with other City regulations (such as the Critical Areas ordinance) but not the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance. Knute Berger of Crosscut discusses the key issues in this article.

Grab your popcorn and watch the 45-minute proceeding on TV Washington.

Save the Reactor Wins Modernism Award!

Speaking of the UW…The Save the Reactor campaign was awarded DOCOMOMO US’s “Advocacy Award of Excellence” as part of its 2017 Modernism in America Awards. The awards recognize the highest level of preservation efforts for preserving and documenting modern architecture, and sharing it with the public. This collaborative advocacy effort was commended for going well beyond most efforts and for its impact on the future.

City Released Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Mandatory Housing Affordability Implementation

Last month, the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development released a DEIS for the Mayor’s Housing and Affordability and Livability’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) policy. The DEIS evaluates three alternatives for implementing zoning changes proposed under the MHA policy, and includes a section addressing historic resources. The DEIS does not include downtown, South Lake Union, Uptown, or the University District, where MHA is already proposed or in effect.

MHA will require new development to provide affordable housing on-site or contribute to a City fund for affordable housing. To implement MHA, the City would grant additional development capacity to allow for construction of more market-rate housing and commercial space. The proposed upzones will impact Seattle’s urban villages and other commercial and multifamily residential zones across the city.

Historic Seattle will be submitting public comments on the proposed alternatives and potential impacts on historic properties. We encourage you to submit comments. The public comment period has been extended to August 7. Click here to find out how to submit comments.

In our opinion, what’s being proposed will have a potentially significant adverse impact on historic preservation. We strongly believe that the City can achieve a balance that will ensure that how we grow is sustainable and resilient while retaining urban character and sense of place. If Seattle continues its tear-down mentality, the city will lose what makes it a vibrant, livable place for all who call it home.

Coliseum/KeyArena and Bressi Garage Nominated as Seattle Landmarks

At its June 21 meeting, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board approved two separate nomination applications encompassing the Bressi Garage (Pottery Northwest) and kiln shed, and the Coliseum (KeyArena) site including the exterior of the Coliseum and its extant historic structural elements; the exterior of the NASA Building; and the exterior of the Blue Spruce Apartment Building. The West Court Building was not included in the nomination. Historic Seattle and the Queen Anne Historical Society attended the meeting to speak in support of the nominations. Designation for the two properties will be considered at the August 2 Board meeting.

Like the Space Needle and Pacific Science Center, the Coliseum meets all six designation criteria based on its historic, cultural, and architectural merit. Knute Berger, in a Crosscut article, sums up the building’s significance: “Its distinctive look (that hyperbolic paraboloid roof suggestive of a Salish rain hat) makes it a literal recognizable landmark; it’s a highly significant work by architect Paul Thiry, father of Northwest modernism; it is associated with the historic Seattle World’s Fair; and its original cable roof structure was innovative and, though replaced in the mid-1990s, the form of the roof is intact.”

Earlier in June, Mayor Murray announced that Oak View Group (OVG) was chosen as the preferred partner in negotiations with the City to renovate the Coliseum/KeyArena. The other bidder, Seattle Partners/Anschutz Entertainment Group, pulled out of the bidding process. OVG plans to use Federal Historic Tax Credits for this project, and hopes to have the arena renovated by October 2020. Historic Seattle is encouraged that the building’s future stewardship may be secured.

Upcoming Event: King County Modern / Church of the Redeemer Tour – Thursday, July 13

Church of the Redeemer, Kenmore (photo: King County Historic Preservation Program)

Church of the Redeemer, Kenmore (photo: King County Historic Preservation Program)

The King County Historic Preservation Program hosts a presentation on the historic context of modern residential architecture in the county. Susan Boyle, AIA, a principal at BOLA Architecture + Planning, and Docomomo WEWA Board member, will present findings from her research into the Modern era heritage of the county on Thursday, July 13. The event takes place in Kenmore at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, designed by Roland Terry.

Docomomo WEWA is co-sponsoring a tour of the church as part of our Modern Sacred Spaces series. Location: Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 6210 NE 181st Street, Kenmore, WA 98028. The event starts at 7:00 pm and will end by 8:30 pm. Parking is available on the south side of the main church building. This is event is free and open to the public.

Sidebar photo: lobby of the Temple of Justice, Olympia – parties gather after oral arguments were presented to the State Supreme Court

Two New West Seattle Landmarks!

West Seattle Junction’s Crescent-Hamm and Campbell Buildings Designated

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Campbell Building / photo: Sarah Martin

The Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board (LPB) has voted unanimously to designate two of West Seattle Junction’s iconic commercial buildings: Crescent-Hamm Building (4302 SW Alaska Street/4559 California Avenue SW) and Campbell Building (4554 California Avenue SW). The Hamm designation vote was on February 15th, followed by the Campbell designation on April 5th. These two prominent anchor buildings, occupying the northeast and northwest corners of California and Alaska, are the first official City Landmarks in the heart of the Junction.

Historic preservation consultants Sarah Martin and Flo Lentz prepared both nominations on behalf of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society (SWSHS) as part of its “We Love the Junction” campaign. The Johnson Partnership, who represented the building owners, made presentations to the Board for both properties. Their presentation for the Hamm building focused on the changes to the historic fabric and the issue of integrity. For the Campbell Building, they were there to clarify the owners’ support of the exterior designation, but not interior.

Members of the “We Love the Junction” Task Force along with other community members attended both hearings to speak in favor of their designations. Peder Nelson, SWSHS board vice-president and co-chair of the task force, said he represented “hundreds of people in West Seattle” including Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and former Seattle Council member Tom Rasmussen.

Crescent-Hamm Building

Crescent-Hamm Building / photo: Sarah Martin

Crystal Dean, a task force member, described the Hamm Building (home to Easy Street Records) as a “jewel…the Junction’s north star,” adding that the “Hamm and Campbell Buildings are to West Seattle what Pike Place Market is to downtown.” Board comments were overwhelmingly positive as well. Steven Treffers said the building “truly does embody the two-part commercial block” and remains very intact.

The Board’s deliberation for the Campbell Building  (main tenant Cupcake Royale) looked at four of the designation standards: Criteria B, C, D, and F. Treffers expressed his gratitude to the consultants, as well as the outpouring of community support. He voiced his support of Criterion B due to its strong ties with real estate developer William T. Campbell, saying it was the first of his commercial buildings and the one that he held onto the longest.

Board member Deb Barker praised the Calvo family, owners of the Campbell Building since 1943, for their “loving care over the years,” saying that the two-story brick structure stands as the “cornerstone of the crossroads.”

Nelson said their group is “thrilled by these designations” which marks a high point in their campaign. In March 2016, they released the results of their two-year historical survey, What Makes the West Seattle Junction Special?, funded by 4Culture. The joint collaborative effort – which included the West Seattle Junction Association, Southwest District Council, Junction Neighborhood Organization (JuNO), and ArtsWest – led to the launch of the “We Love the Junction” campaign.

The next step is for the City to work with both owners in negotiating a Controls and Incentives Agreement for the landmarks. Only the exterior of both buildings were designated.

Congratulations to the Southwest Seattle Historical Society and “We Love the Junction” Task Force for their pro-active efforts in protecting the community’s history. A leader in these efforts has been SWSHS Executive Director Clay Eals. The organization just announced that Clay will be stepping down from his post in July. He’ll go out on a high note. Learn more about Clay and his work with the SWSHS and the organization’s search for a new Executive Director.

Upper left photo in sidebar: “We Love the Junction” Task Force members / credit: SWSHS

Coliseum / KeyArena Proposals Submitted

As anticipated, two groups submitted proposals for the redevelopment of the Coliseum / KeyArena in response to the Seattle Office of Economic Development’s (OED) Request for Proposals (RFP). Historic Seattle and other local preservation organizations have been following this process with great interest because of the significance of the building and concerns about RFP language allowing for a tear-down option in addition to a renovation proposal.

Historic Seattle recently met with OED and Seattle Center staff to discuss the landmark nomination and the City’s goals for the property. The nomination will be reviewed by the Landmarks Preservation Board in late Spring / early Summer.

Proposals to OED were due today, April 12. We are in receipt of the executive summaries for proposals from AEG with Hudson Pacific Properties and from the Oak View Group.

Download PDFs the executives summaries:

AEG and Hudson Pacific Properties Executive Summary

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AEG rendering of the new Seattle Coliseum / image credit: AEG Executive Summary

Oak View Group Executive Summary

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Oak View Group’s rendering of the new arena at Seattle Center / image credit: Oak View Group Executive Summary

Historic Seattle hopes to be able to review the full proposals in the near future. We are interested in how each proposal treats the historic character of the 1962, Paul Thiry-designed Coliseum (originally built as the Washington State Pavilion for the World’s Fair). The Oak View Group notes that it plans to seek National Register listing. There are renderings that show how each group imagines the final project. Ultimately, we would like to see a viable project to benefit the community and city; one that honors the history and design of the original structure and allows for improvements to make the structure a great destination for sports and entertainment. We hope to see one of these proposals succeed. The outcome we don’t want to see is for both of these proposals to be rejected, leaving the future of the building in question.

Photo credit: sidebar image – Washington State Pavilion rendering, Century 21 promotional booklet, 1959

HeartBomb for KeyArena

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On February 14, Valentine’s Day, about 30 people (and two dogs!) gathered in front of KeyArena to show their love for the modernist icon from the Seattle World’s Fair. Participants showed off their creative handmade valentines. The HeartBomb event was co-sponsored by Historic Seattle, Queen Anne Historical Society, Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, and Docomomo WEWA.

HeartBombs are a form of advocacy and a fun and creative way to bring people together and raise awareness about what’s cherished in a community–a sort of city-wide love letter to places that matter.

The groups gathered to make a statement about KeyArena’s significance. The City of Seattle has issued a Request for Proposals for the rehab and reuse of KeyArena, a world-class sports and entertainment venue. But there’s also a tear-down option. We believe the landmark-eligible historic structure from the Seattle World’s Fair should be preserved and reused. Designed by architect Paul Thiry and built in 1962 as the Washington State Pavilion for the Seattle World’s Fair, the structure became the Washington State Coliseum after the fair.

keyarena_heartbomb_valentines_blogHistoric Seattle is following the City’s RFP process and is in contact with Seattle Center and the Office of Economic Development. We’ll continue to advocate for preservation and reuse. A landmark nomination is being prepared by Artifacts Consulting, Inc. for Seattle Center. We will share news of when the nomination goes before the Landmarks Preservation Board to encourage public support for landmarking.

 

Photos: Jennifer Mortensen, Washington Trust for Historic Preservation

Mama’s Building Designated a Landmark

fohb members_mama's_011817_blogAt its January 18 meeting, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board voted unanimously to designate Belltown’s iconic Mama’s Mexican Kitchen building (2234 Second Avenue) as a Seattle Landmark. David Peterson of NK Architects, who prepared the landmark nomination on behalf of the property owner, gave a presentation about the building’s history and design. He stated that it was “typical” of the low-scale commercial structures in the neighborhood from the early 20th century and didn’t rise to the level of landmark status. However, the Department of Neighborhood’s (DON’s) Historic Resources Survey describes the Bell Street storefront as “one of downtown’s most intact examples of an auto repair garage.”

The owner’s consultant next addressed changes to the building’s three facades and interior spaces, arguing that when taken together, the alterations have impacted the overall physical integrity. Jack McCullough, the owner’s legal counsel, argued against designation, downplaying any significance and focusing on integrity issues. McCullough made the statement that “the bar for integrity needs to be higher” for these more utilitarian buildings.

After several questions from the Board, public comments were taken. Historic Seattle joined representatives from various community groups including Friends of Historic Belltown (FOHB), Belltown Community Council, and Project Belltown. Everyone in attendance spoke in support of designation with the overall consensus that Belltown doesn’t have a lot of high-style buildings, but more humble buildings for “the common man” that embody the neighborhood’s heritage.

Steve Hall, a community organizer and spokesman for FOHB, said that Mama’s is already an unofficial landmark, “If you say, ‘Meet me at Mama’s,’ kind of like the pig at the Market, it’s just one of those places that is known in the community, and important to the community character.” He also stated that it’s “not a contest” – for example, it doesn’t have to be the best and most intact example – and the structure needs to be looked at in its entirety.

Historic Seattle’s Eugenia Woo addressed McCullough’s assertion about a higher bar for integrity, making the point that the Landmarks Ordinance does not have different levels of integrity for high-style versus vernacular buildings and that the Mama’s building should not be held to a higher standard.

The Board then deliberated for over 30 minutes before making a motion and voting 6-0 to approve the designation, based on Criterion D and F. Board Chair Jeffrey Murdock clarified that the language in the designation standards does not require a property to be “exceptional;” Criterion D states that a property needs to embody “the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, or period, or a method of construction.” Steven Treffers, a newly-appointed Board member, said that the Mama’s building “tells a story about a community, period of development,” adding that it retains a “remarkable degree of integrity” to convey the qualities and characteristics of a 1920s auto building.

FOHB said that the Board’s vote comes at a critical time for Belltown as it “faces stupefying change, as Amazon and other tech businesses continue their meteoric transformation of the South Lake Union area.” Hall wishes these types of advocacy efforts weren’t so adversarial: “I would like it if developers would see these iconic and historic buildings as an asset, too, which is great for their business, rather than a liability to be dealt with.”

The community group refers to this decision as the “Mama’s Superbowl” since its designation would represent the second landmarked building on the key block at the corner of Second and Bell. The Wayne Apartments, situated to the south, was recently designated a City landmark.

The property owner, Minglian Realty LLC of Vancouver, BC, acquired the site in 2015 with plans to construct an eight-story apartment building. We do not know if Minglian Realty has a “Plan B” since the building is now designated.

The next step is for the Board staff to negotiate a Controls and Incentives Agreement with the property owner that defines how historic features should be preserved, along with preservation incentives (i.e., special tax valuation and zoning/building code relief). The Board designated the building exterior; no interior spaces and/or features were included in the designation.

Even though Mama’s is designated as a landmark, it doesn’t guarantee that it won’t get altered and/or demolished. Although it’s a complicated process, the owner can still tear down a landmark if they can demonstrate that operating it within the constraints of the landmark designation does not deprive them of “reasonable economic use” of the property.

Photos: East and north facades of the Mama’s Mexican Kitchen Building; and happy members of Friends of Historic Belltown after the designation hearing (images courtesy of Friends of Historic Belltown)

Mama’s Mexican Restaurant Building Nominated

mamas_building_posterOn Wednesday, December 7, 2016, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board voted unanimously to nominate the iconic Mama’s Mexican Kitchen building at 2234 Second Avenue (in Belltown) as a Seattle Landmark. The nomination was submitted by the property owner/developer, who has plans to redevelop the property. Preservation advocates call these types of nominations “anti-nominations,” in which the owner tries to make the case that the property does not meet the designation standards of the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, and/or does not possess integrity or the ability to convey significance.

The developer’s attorney, Jack McCullough, started out by arguing that it was a “run-of-the-mill” structure that didn’t deserve to be protected. David Peterson from NK Architects, who prepared the landmark nomination, highlighted the building’s supposedly poor condition and physical alterations – including the 1950s aluminum storefront on the center bay, signage over the transom windows, and other infill along the north facade – that compromised the overall integrity. Referencing the neighborhood historic context statement, he stated that the Mama’s building was a “simple, utilitarian” structure and not significant enough to meet Standard D of the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance, (a property “embodies the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, or period, or a method of construction.”)

Historic Seattle joined representatives from various community groups – including Friends of Historic Belltown, Belltown Community Council, and Project Belltown – to offer public comments in support of the nomination. Friends of Historic Belltown noted that “Belltown doesn’t have many fancy buildings, but rather that the community’s history is with working buildings for ‘the common man,’ and that the Mama’s building embodied that history.”

David Levinson, a Belltown Community Council member and longtime resident, described how the restaurant served as a community gathering place for decades, including Belltown’s labor union members who met there regularly.

The Board demonstrated support for moving the nomination forward to the designation phase, noting that the building may meet several standards and still remains largely intact. Deb Barker said that the portions that haven’t been altered (NE and E alley façades) make it “crystal clear” what the building was. Julianne Patterson stated that the alley facade has “almost perfect integrity,” and she mentioned the idea of “intangible heritage” and how the building is tied to its association with Mama’s Restaurant, even though the restaurant is no longer there.

Friends of Historic Belltown say they “feel a bit bad for the developers, who had been working with the community to design a proposed development that fit in with the neighborhood,” adding that they did not take into consideration the building’s historic value before purchasing the property. “It’s like buying property with a wetland and eagle’s nest on it — you can’t simply bulldoze it just because you didn’t know those features have public values that are protected by law.”

A designation hearing for the Mama’s building will be scheduled in January or February 2017. Friends of Historic Belltown are “elated that the Board saw things the same way we do” and are “looking forward to the next round — the Mama’s Superbowl – to establish our second Landmarked building on ‘the block.’” The Wayne Apartments, built in 1890 and located adjacent (south) of Mama’s, was recently designated a Seattle landmark.

 

Images: Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board votes to nominate the Mama’s Mexican Kitchen Building, photo: Steve Hall; “Preserve the Mama’s Building” poster, Friends of Historic Belltown