Preservation in Progress

Historic Seattle’s Blog

ADVOCACY UPDATE: Historic Preservation in Seattle needs your voice now!

Feliks Banel with KIRO Newsradio has got it exactly right: Seattle City Council is making a mistake with the Seattle First National Bank Building (SFNB). Click here to read or listen to this story!

Having postponed the full council vote until Tuesday, January 10, City Council is still threatening Seattle’s robust landmarking process by not adopting already agreed upon Controls and Incentives (C&Is) for the SFNB. Instead, they may adopt an amendment, written up by the lawyers hired by Walgreens, to eliminate all controls and incentives. Some members of City Council seem to believe that preservation and housing are mutually exclusive. This is a false choice. It’s both/and; not either/or.

With the full council vote already delayed until January 10, NOW is the time to make your voice heard! Join us in telling the Council that denying C&Is for the SNFB:

A) sets a dangerous precedent for ALL future and current Seattle Landmarks without controls,

B) disregards a tried and true program (Transfer Development Rights) that allows preservation to be an asset in creating more housing within Seattle,

C) and insults our and your belief that preservation enriches the lives of all in Seattle.

AND, demand that City Council honor the Landmarks ordinance and process by adopting controls and incentives for the Seattle-First National Bank building.

Click here to review the 1/10/23 City Council Meeting Agenda, which includes three options to provide Public Comment to the Council:

  1. Remote Public Comment – Register online to speak during the Public Comment period at http://www.seattle.gov/council/committees/public-comment. Online registration to speak will begin two hours before the meeting start time, and registration will end at the conclusion of the Public Comment period during the meeting. Speakers must be registered in order to be recognized by the Chair.
  2. In-Person Public Comment – Register to speak on the Public Comment sign-up sheet located inside Council Chambers at least 15 minutes prior to the meeting start time. Registration will end at the conclusion of the Public Comment period during the meeting. Speakers must be registered in order to be recognized by the Chair.
  3. Submit written comments to all Councilmembers at council@seattle.gov

ADVOCACY ALERT: A potential threat to the Landmarks ordinance

12/30/22 UPDATE:

Seattle City Council will vote in their January 3rd meeting (this coming Tuesday!) to adopt or deny Controls and Incentives (C&Is) for the Seattle First National Bank Building at 566 Denny Way in Uptown. A vote to reject these C&Is subjects this existing Seattle Landmark to NO protections and increases its vulnerability to demolition.

Join us in telling the Council that denying C&Is sets a dangerous precedent for ALL future and current Seattle Landmarks and demand that City Council honor the Landmarks ordinance and process by adopting controls and incentives for the Seattle-First National Bank building.  

Click here to view the January 3, 2023 City Council Meeting Agenda, which includes the following options to provide Public Comment to the Council: 

  1. Remote Public Comment – Register online to speak during the Public Comment period at http://www.seattle.gov/council/committees/public-comment. Online registration to speak will begin two hours before the meeting start time, and registration will end at the conclusion of the Public Comment period during the meeting. Speakers must be registered in order to be recognized by the Chair.
  2. In-Person Public Comment – Register to speak on the Public Comment sign-up sheet located inside Council Chambers at least 15 minutes prior to the meeting start time. Registration will end at the conclusion of the Public Comment period during the meeting. Speakers must be registered in order to be recognized by the Chair.
  3. Submit written comments to all Councilmembers at Council@seattle.gov


WE NEED YOU to urge City Council to adopt Controls and Incentives for Seattle-First National Bank Building!

Seattle-First National Bank. Image credit: Construction News Bulletin, 1950.

Here’s the deal—we’re in a pickle: the Seattle-First National Bank Building (SFNB), located at 566 Denny Way in Uptown was designated a Seattle landmark in 2006. Walgreens purchased it after the designation, adapted the former bank into a retail store, and worked with the Landmarks Preservation Board (LPB) to reach a Controls and Incentives (C&I) agreement (in November 2021) that would apply to the site and exterior of the building. The last step in the landmark designation process is City Council approval of the C&I agreement, but we’re concerned Council may reject controls and incentives, thereby leaving the landmark vulnerable to demolition.  

We need YOUR Help! Write to City Council before January 3 (ideally by December 23) and demand they honor the Landmarks ordinance and process by adopting controls and incentives for the Seattle-First National Bank building (reference CB 120312). A decision to reject controls and incentives for SFNB puts preservation and landmarking at risk! Contact all Councilmembers by emailing council@seattle.gov. 

Context for said “pickle:” until recently, the SFNB has been declared as a building of significance (by virtue of its landmark designation), and a C&I agreement has been signed in which economic incentives are available to the property owner in exchange for committing to maintain the building.

You may recall from our ongoing Showbox advocacy efforts that landmark designation alone does not save buildings – controls and incentives are critical to protecting the places we love. The SFNB, having a designation and C&I agreement signed, means this building is well on its way to being preserved as an asset and public benefit to the City of Seattle. The final step is for the City Council to adopt Council Bill 120312.

OK, great! So, what’s the problem? On Friday, December 9, several members of the City Council’s Neighborhoods, Education, Civil Rights & Culture Committee met and challenged, without documentation or justification, the Seattle-First National Bank building’s landmark designation and the need to place controls and incentives on the building and site. 

In advance of the meeting, Seattle City Council Central Staff provided the Committee with a 10-page memorandum detailing the landmarking process and recommendations for next steps. Additionally, the Committee received a joint letter of support for adopting controls and incentives for SFNB from Historic Seattle and the Queen Anne Historical Society

The Council Committee’s recommendation to reject controls and incentives without reasons relevant to the Landmark Preservation Ordinance and in contradiction to the Landmarks Preservation Board (a group consisting of volunteers appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by City Council) is unprecedented and a major threat to preservation in Seattle and the City’s preservation program.

On Tuesday, January 3, 2023, Seattle City Council will decide whether to adopt the jointly agreed Controls and Incentives for the Seattle-First National Bank building. If rejected, the Council’s decision could undermine the landmark designation process for any designated landmark that doesn’t have controls and possibly any future designated landmarks. 

This is NOT OK! Again, we urge you to write to City Council (council@seattle.gov) before January 3 (ideally by December 23) and demand they honor the Landmarks ordinance and process by adopting controls and incentives for the Seattle-First National Bank building (reference CB 120312).

Questions? Contact Eugenia Woo, Historic Seattle’s Director of Preservation Services, at eugeniaw@historicseattle.org. 

Queen Anne Exchange: 2022 Best Preservation Project

Congratulations to Queen Anne Exchange!

In Seattle, there is often tension between preservationists and developers; a conflict between saving existing buildings and serving the needs of the community, specifically with places for more people to work and live. Queen Anne Exchange reconciles two divergent goals: through the adaptive reuse of a landmarked neighborhood building, it transforms a structure used as a storage facility for over five decades into 25 apartments in highly desirable Queen Anne.

The building now known as Queen Anne Exchange was constructed in 1921 as a two-story telephone switchboard operation facility for the Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Company. In 1929 a third floor was added with plans to expand to a fourth floor if necessary. According to the landmark nomination, the building facades express a “restrained neo-classicism” with vertically proportioned windows and a primary entrance on the east façade. The primary façades are clad in brick with wire cut, rug-faced texture and variegated buff to reddish-orange colors, and off-white glazed terracotta trim with “fine Greco-Roman detailing.” The terra cotta elements frame the main entrance and are used at the windowsills and at the exterior stair copings.

The building was donated to the Seattle Public Library in the 1970s and was remodeled in 1977 to serve as a materials distribution hub. As a structure intended for staff purposes only and not open to the public, this remodel served to stabilize the building and make it more functional for storage needs. The original sheet metal cornice, assumed to be in an unsafe state of disrepair, was removed and replaced with a flat band of light-grey exposed aggregate stucco.

The adaptive reuse of Queen Anne Exchange included the following elements: replacement and restoration of three window openings in the brick façade; restoration and preservation of the exterior brick and terra cotta façade; reconstruction and replacement of the original cornice; replacement of a glazed main entry door and sidelight; infill of a portion of the interior courtyard with a small addition housing a new elevator, exit stair, and shear walls; new fourth-floor addition only minimally visible from the street; new vehicle ramp and new garage entry to the lower level; and enlargement of six windows to create viable residential units at the lower level.

Both the site and building exterior were designated as a Seattle landmark in 2015, providing an opportunity to create a land use pathway for the structure to be redeveloped into multifamily housing, a use not typically allowed by the site’s SF 5000 zoning designation. Queen Anne Exchange provides an example of how, through creative design and a belief in an existing building’s potential, the preservation and re-use of existing buildings, especially those with long histories and a strong physical presence, can align with Seattle’s need for increased density and affordable housing. With this completed project, a precedent has been set for an ongoing win/win scenario.

Congratulations to Faul, LLC and the entire project team, winner of the 2022 Best Preservation Project Award!

Project Team:
Owner/Design: FAUL, LLC
Architect: BuildingWork
Interior Design: Graham Baba Architects
Structural Engineer: Coughlin Porter Lundeen
Civil Engineer: SiteWise Design
Landscape Architect: Karen Kiest Landscape Architects
Contractor: Venture Construction
Bank: Umpqua Bank

Lorne McConachie: 2022 Beth Chave Award for Preservation Champion

Congratulations to Lorne McConachie!

Lorne McConachie, Principal Emeritus of Bassetti Architects, has invested his career in preserving historic structures in communities and developing design strategies to upgrade and revitalize the built environment to support 21st-century learning and living. Lorne joined Bassetti in 1985, leading historic renovation projects across the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

Prior to that, Lorne worked at Bumgardner Architects for five years where he played a key role in the Queen Anne High School renovation and adaptive reuse. Bumgardner was hired to renovate this 1909 national landmark into apartments, and this project, along with the renovation of several historic residences, launched Lorne’s passion for historic places.

Over the past 36 years, Lorne has refined his expertise in the planning, and design of historic facilities. From the creation of the historic structures report for the St. Edward Seminary in Kenmore, WA to the renovation of a portion of the old Rainier Brewery into Fran’s Chocolate Factory in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood to the restoration of the Collegiate Gothic Mary Gates Hall building at the University of Washington, his tailored approach has produced projects that preserve the character, extend the life, and revitalize the purpose of historic structures that honor the past and protect cultural resources for future generations.

A report conducted in 2011 by the Preservation Green Lab, now the Research and Policy Lab at National Trust for Historic Preservation, concluded in all the studied cases that the rehabilitation and retrofitting of existing structures resulted in fewer carbon emissions over the life of the building when compared to new construction. Lorne’s support of the notion that “the most sustainable building is one that is already built” has led him to be a true advocate of carbon footprint reduction savings when revitalizing a historic structure.

In addition to his numerous articles, lectures, and workshops on modernizing historic schools, Lorne has served his community for decades and is regarded as an important resource by his peers. During his tenure on the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board, Lorne reviewed countless landmark nominations with great interest, in his role as a board member and chair. He presently serves on Historic Seattle’s Foundation Board and continues to share his expert knowledge of historic places.

We offer our sincere congratulations to Lorne McConachie, winner of our 2022 Beth Chave Award for Preservation Champion!

ABOUT THE BETH CHAVE HISTORIC PRESERVATION AWARD

Historic Seattle established the Beth Chave Historic Preservation Award in 2013 to honor our friend and colleague who served as the Landmarks Preservation Board Coordinator for the City of Seattle for 25 years. The award recognizes outstanding achievements in the field of historic preservation. Beth Chave (1955-2012) left an indelible mark on the city’s historic built environment. Her work with professional colleagues, landmark and historic district property owners, and neighborhood advocates throughout Seattle has left a legacy of honoring and protecting historic places that matter in our communities.

Images courtesy of Lorne McConachie. Image 2: Fran’s Chocolate Factory. Image 3: Natrona County High School.

Dr. James & Janie Washington Cultural Center: 2022 Community Advocacy Award

Congratulations to the Dr. James W. Washington, Jr. & Mrs. Janie Rogella Washington Foundation!

The Dr. James W. Washington, Jr. & Mrs. Janie Rogella Washington Foundation was established in 1997 by the couple to “preserve the art, writing, and lifetime works of Dr. James W. Washington, Jr., their home and gardens, and share their vision through the preservation, interpretation, and showing of his works and studio, and the family gardens and home.  Also, to encourage others by providing a setting where they can grow beyond the book, spiritually and artistically, and to share their talents with a larger audience.”

Dr. Washington was born and raised in Gloster, Mississippi, and came to Seattle with his wife Janie to work in the shipyards as part of the WWII war effort. James was a renaissance man with a wide variety of talents and interests; besides his mechanical and industrial capabilities, he was a prolific painter and sculptor, becoming an eminent member of the Northwest School of Art, as well as a writer and community activist.

Dr. Washington’s world-class sculptures are not only in places such as the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Smithsonian, Rotunda of Achievement, but also locally at the historic Mount Zion Baptist Church, Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, Seattle Center, Washington State Capitol campus in Olympia, and in private collections worldwide. On May 20, 1973, James W. Washington Day was proclaimed by the Mayor of Seattle.

The Washingtons bought a house in Seattle’s Central District in 1949, where they resided for 51 years. A dream developed in them to bequeath their home to the community, leaving a place where people from all backgrounds could experience art, gather, and learn. To this end, the Washingtons established a non-profit foundation in 1997, personally selecting their board of directors, a few of whom are still serving the organization. When James and Janie both died in the year 2000, they left their home, a treasure trove of artwork, artifacts, and collections, as well as a substantial endowment as their legacy for the entire community.

Over the years, the Washington Foundation has maintained and upgraded the house, studio, and gardens and presented activities and programs for the community. Last year, the Foundation launched a Strategic Planning Committee to refresh its mission and vision and a fundraising campaign to continue the work and legacy of its founders.

As the winner of the 2022 Community Advocacy Award, the Dr. James & Janie Washington Cultural Center will receive a $3,000 prize in support of their efforts to improve and preserve the landmarked house, grounds, and studio of James & Janie Washington; renew the Foundation’s Artist in Residence program; make the studio space available for rental; install exhibits in the house on a rotating basis; and make available the library with over 3,000 books of potential interest to artists and scholars, as well as Dr. Washington’s personal documents, photographs, and African art collection.

Project Team:
The Dr. James W. Washington, Jr. & Mrs. Janie Rogella Washington Foundation Board

Images courtesy of The Dr. James W. Washington, Jr. & Mrs. Janie Rogella Washington Foundation.

University National Bank: 2022 Community Investment Award

Congratulations to University National Bank!

The University State Bank was incorporated in 1906 before eventually becoming the University National Bank of Seattle in 1922. The bank occupied two locations prior to constructing this Neoclassical building on the northeast corner of NE 45th Street and University Way NE. The Beezer Brothers, the building’s architects, relocated to Seattle from Pittsburgh, PA, in 1907 and designed a new and larger headquarters, built of steel and concrete, completed in 1912.

The gleaming white bank, sheathed in a skin of terra cotta tiles, replaced a fraternity house that had once stood on the property. Wells Fargo (under various entities throughout the years) operated the building as a bank branch until its closure in 2018, ending 106 years of continuous bank operations.

With the consolidation of its banking operations in the University District, Wells Fargo decided to put the building on the market for the first time. Recognizing both the historical significance of the building (its use, location, and legacy to The Ave) and the rare opportunity to acquire one of Seattle’s most handsome buildings, Hunters Capital closed on the property in the fall of 2020, making it the company’s first expansion beyond its home territory in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Hunters Capital worked with architect Stephen Day to lead the restoration project. The University National Bank building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and designated a Seattle landmark in 2021. Given the two-story building’s grand size of 25,000 square feet, the entire project took 26 months to complete. The project scope included adding new mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering systems, as well as the addition of fire sprinklers and fire alarm systems throughout the building. The team rebuilt the marble foyer and grand stairs to the second floor and made minor restorations in the grand vault, thus exposing the hidden heavy timber truss systems on the second floor. The scope also included a rebuild of the original mezzanine space that was used for sorority dances in the ’20s and ’30s, restoration of hardwoods to the upper floor, refurbishing original windows, and adding ADA lifts and restrooms to the building.

We congratulate Hunters Capital and the entire team on their beautiful restoration of University National Bank, their continued efforts to preserve this historic and cultural University District icon, and deserved win of this year’s Community Investment Award!

Project Team:
Owner/Design: Hunters Capital
Architect: Stephen Day
Contractor: JHC Construction

Feature image courtesy of MOHAI; images two and three courtesy of Hunters Capital.

Soul Pole: 2022 Preserving Neighborhood Character Award

Congratulations to The Soul Pole!

The Soul Pole is a historic artwork that has stood tall outside the Douglass-Truth Branch of The Seattle Public Library (SPL) at 23rd Ave & E Yesler Way in Seattle’s Central District for almost 50 years. The 21-foot wooden sculpture was gifted to the library in 1972 by the Seattle Rotary Boys Club. Carved by six young community artists in the late 1960s, it honors 400 years of African American history and the struggle for justice in the United States.

At 50 years old, the Soul Pole’s wooden structure has weathered many seasons. With its condition deteriorating, the artwork became a safety concern in recent years, prompting a partnership between the Black Heritage Society of Washington State (BHS) and SPL to oversee the restoration of the beloved Soul Pole.

In 2021, SPL contracted with Artech Fine Art Services, an organization with extensive experience in restoration and preservation, to deinstall the Soul Pole and evaluate it. The pole was relocated to their shop, and Artech collaborated with well-known conservationist Corine Landrieu on a plan to repair, stabilize, and protect the sculpture. Realizing its historical significance, the focus of the project was to preserve the Soul Pole as close to its current form as possible for generations to come.

SPL and BHS worked closely to research the history of the Soul Pole and the artists (all Rotary Boys Club youths) who carved it. According to documents from the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Soul Pole was created in 1969 as part of a summer arts festival associated with the Model Cities Program to bring attention to African American history. SPL and BHS remain interested in garnering information and stories related to the Soul Pole to expand archives at both organizations. Family members and friends of the artists have come forward to share their memories, including the supportive leadership at the Rotary Boys Club.

With community and neighborhood invested, and the community’s desire to follow the preservation process, a partnership was formed with Converge Media to document the restoration project, including its deinstall, conservation, and reinstallation. The conservation work was successfully completed in late 2021, and the sculpture was reinstalled at its historic home on the Douglass-Truth Branch lawn in April 2022. The sculpture is now prepared to withstand several more decades of exposure to Seattle weather. The sole visible alteration to the Soul Pole is a zinc cap placed atop the sculpture to protect it from rainwater. SPL is in the process of adding an additional plaque alongside the original plaque at the Soul Pole’s base to share more information about the conservation project and the history of the artwork.

In a neighborhood that has seen many changes influenced by gentrification, the Soul Pole is a tangible symbol that claims space and honors the African American history in the heart of Seattle’s Central District.

Cheers to the Soul Pole partnership team for saving this important piece of history and earning the 2022 Preserving Neighborhood Character Award!

Project Team:
Owner: Seattle Public Library
Community Advocacy/Project Lead: Black Heritage Society of Washington State
Conservation Partners: Artech Fine Art Services, Landrieu Construction, Converge Media

Feature image of Soul Pole Reinstallation Ceremony with Stephanie Johnson-Toliver, Elijah Mu’ied, and TraeAnna Holiday. Second image courtesy of Artech. Third image courtesy of Seattle Public Library.

Bremer Apartments: 2022 Outstanding Stewardship Award

Congratulations to The Bremer Apartments!

The Bremer Apartments, located in Belltown at 1st Avenue and Broad Street, was constructed in 1925 for client George Bremer and designed by architect Max Allen Van House. Today, the Bremer is one of a diminishing number of character buildings still standing in the neighborhood.

Van House had worked previously in Tacoma, Washington, and Butte, Montana. He was the architect of many notable buildings in Seattle across several styles, including The Mission Inn, 1743 Boylston Ave., The Ellenbert Apartments, 915 East Harrison St., The Bering Apartments, 233 14th Ave. E., and The Seaview Apartments.

Community Roots Housing (formerly Capitol Hill Housing) acquired the 49-unit property for use as affordable housing in 1992 and oversaw a minor rehabilitation at that time, which included the provision of new plumbing systems, plumbing fixtures, lighting, interior finish improvements, and energy-efficient window upgrades.

In 2018, the nearly 100-year-old apartments were deemed “high-risk” in the event of an earthquake by the City of Seattle. In a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the more recent rehabilitation included a voluntary seismic retrofit to address the building’s unique wood-framed, load-bearing structure and double wythe masonry veneer, stabilizing the veneer and the parapet against the effects of a seismic event and protecting the life safety of residents and community.

The project was a substantial alteration, and key life-safety elements of the building were brought into compliance with current building and energy code requirements. In addition to the seismic improvement, the building’s electrical, heating, plumbing, and ventilation systems were significantly upgraded. Extensive demolition was required in dwelling units to facilitate the seismic retrofit work and to accommodate the required envelope and systems improvements. While this resulted in the loss of some original features within the units, considerable effort was made to maintain or restore the common areas, including the principal stairwell and its 1st Avenue windows which were replaced with wood windows.

The Bremer Apartments rehabilitation illustrates how historic preservation can be used as a strategy for retaining affordable housing while, at the same time, addressing the critical issue of the climate crisis through the utilization of the embodied carbon already extant in the building. Belltown, like so many neighborhoods in the Seattle metro area, is seeing significant development and related increases in housing costs. Retention of affordable units through preservation is a vital way to keep communities economically diverse and maintain units proximate to employment, city services, and amenities. Community Roots Housing’s commitment to minimizing displacement through reinvestment in existing structures serves to retain both the character of our neighborhoods and our communities.

Congratulations to The Bremer Apartments project team, one of two winners of the 2022 Outstanding Stewardship Award!

Project Team:
Owner: Community Roots Housing
Architect: SMR Architects
Structural Engineer: Swenson Say Fagét
Mechanical Engineer: Sider + Byers
Electrical Engineer: TFWB
General Contractor: Buchanan General Contracting Company

Images courtesy of Community Roots Housing

Frye Hotel: 2022 Outstanding Stewardship Award

Congratulations to The Frye Hotel!

Built at the base of the original Skid Road (Yesler Way) in 1908, The Frye Hotel, originally advertised as Seattle’s “First Fire-Proof Hotel,” was Pioneer Square’s first luxury hotel to have en suite bathrooms. The building, 11 stories above grade with two basement levels, was converted to 234 units of apartments in the 1970s. In the late 1990s, the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) purchased the building, making it the largest Section 8 preservation project in Washington State.

LIHI is thrilled to have given this iconic beauty a new lease on life with mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems overhauls, as well as a new insulated roof and extensive exterior renovation. Rehabilitation costs totaled approximately $35 million. Included in the renovation was exterior masonry cleaning, repair, and seismic reinforcement, along with a full replacement of the failing cornice along the street front sides of the building. Windows were also repaired or replaced, with historic wood windows repaired and preserved along street front sides and new energy-efficient windows on secondary facades.

The building remained occupied during the renovation, adding substantial challenge to the project. The progress of the rehabilitation work was driven by the location of the plumbing stacks throughout the building, work was done in 10 vertical zones spanning  residential floors 2 to 11. Over the course of approximately two years, tenants were relocated within the building to clear the way for the construc-tion crew to progress through the zones. LIHI staff worked closely with tenants to make moves as easy as possible, with many house-holds moving only once – into a newly refinished unit.

The renovation, completed in 2021, increased the comfort and energy efficiency of the building, preserved affordable housing, and honored the historic features of this grand old hotel. LIHI staff, along with architect (Robert Drucker of Environmental Works), contractor (Walsh Construction Co), and many skilled subcontractors, worked tirelessly to complete this renovation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Historic Seattle is pleased to recognize this project as one of our two 2022 Outstanding Stewardship Award winners!

Project Team:
Owner: Low Income Housing Institute
Architect: Environmental Works
Contractors: Walsh Construction Company, Pioneer Masonry Restoration

Images courtesy of the Low Income Housing Institute.

Giving a New Life to a 1909 Schoolhouse

By Bassetti Architects

Located at the heart of the Beacon Hill neighborhood and designed by Seattle renowned architect Edgar Blaire, the Original Van Asselt School building was constructed in 1909 as one of the first elementary grade schools in south Seattle. Four classrooms organized around a central stair comprised the original two-story, wood-framed structure. The Original Van Asselt building has been described as a “free interpretation of the Tudor Style”, with a heavy timber porch and decorative half-timbering at the central gabled bay.

Subsequent major additions included the 1940s basement classroom additions and a 2002 elevator addition. Both additions were built to the west – what is viewed today as the back side of the building. In 1950, a sprawling, one-story mid-century modern high school with a flat roof and brick veneer siding was constructed adjacent to the original 1909 school, largely obstructing its view from Beacon Avenue S.

In 2019, 110 years after the school saw its first cohort of students, Seattle Public Schools hired Bassetti Architects to renovate the 1909 school building as part of a master plan to add capacity to the campus. This site was identified by Seattle Public Schools to be used as a swing site for several schools during their own renovation or replacement construction period.

Vacant and boarded up since 2016, the building was in disarray, but the design team could see its potential. In May 2019, the building was designated a City of Seattle Landmark, and both the exterior and interior of the original 1909 construction were considered significant contributing elements.

As part of the restoration, the classrooms will keep their original plaster walls and black slate chalkboards, while new mechanical, electrical, fire safety, and technology systems will be thoughtfully integrated to bring those spaces up to 21st century learning environment standards.

The main central stair will see its original plaster restored and the space will be brought up to code compliance on several fronts: the guardrail height will be increased while maintaining original elements, a new automatic sprinkler system will be installed, new light fixtures will be added, seismic upgrades will be completed, and fire separations will be provided. The building’s exterior wood and stucco siding will be repaired and painted, and its original wood window sashes and frames will be restored, reviving this community landmark’s historic character and integrity.

What is particularly unique about this project, is the successful revitalization of an abandoned centenary schoolhouse into a contemporary learning environment. Historic schoolhouses are often repurposed into apartments, museums, retails, or offices.

Because 21st century classrooms and other school resources require spaces and systems that are difficult to fit into smaller and older structures, the reuse of historic schoolhouses as modern teaching environments can be challenging. Thus, it’s no surprises that restoring the Van Asselt schoolhouse to its original purpose and protecting this part of Beacon Hill’s history while developing the site to best respond to the school district’s needs is an effort that was praised by the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board, the School District staff, and the neighboring community alike. The schoolhouse’s new lease on life is an opportunity to make Original Van Asselt the shining jewel of the site once again and an integral part of the campus life.

To accommodate the swing site capacity need, Bassetti designed a new two-story classroom and gymnasium addition to provide space for an additional 650 students on campus. This new structure is designed with sustainable structural system of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and will adjoin the Original Van Asselt school in a way that maintains the prominence of the original schoolhouse entry and provides a backdrop against which the landmark structure is featured. A formal courtyard, designed to accentuate the symmetry of the 1909 façade, further elevates the architecture and the neighborhood presence of the landmarked building.  

The color palette of the 1909 building was selected to accentuate the different architectural features while the exterior finishes of the new addition will complement the original schoolhouse, thus the buildings will read as a comprehensive composition within the larger campus. Bassetti focused on maintaining a level of simplicity in the design of the new addition. In doing so, the restored 1909 building is clearly established as the focal point of the site and remains the tallest and most ornate structure.

A true testament to the Landmark review process, the Original Van Asselt project is a shining example of a historic schoolhouse rehabilitation that will be celebrated and enjoyed by many more future generations of students, teachers, and community members.

Bassetti Architects is a generous sponsor of Historic Seattle’s 2022 Community Education & Advocacy Programming. This post is part of a series of guest blogs submitted by members of the Historic Seattle community.  The views and opinions expressed in guest posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Historic Seattle.

Photos:
1: 1909; 2: 1950; 3: 2022; 4: original classroom; 5: classroom remodel rendering; 6: hallway perspective; 7: site perspective (all courtesy of Bassetti Architects)