Preservation in Progress

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Archive for the ‘Adaptive Reuse’ Category

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.

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.

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)

EmBracing Retrofits: Gridiron Condominiums

By the Gridiron team

This month Historic Seattle is embracing retrofits and HeartBombing unreinforced masonry buildings (URMs).

One URM that has already been retrofitted is Gridiron Condominiums located in Pioneer Square. The century-old Seattle Plumbing Building was a four-story unreinforced masonry warehouse. It is the only triangular historic building in Pioneer Square and sits at the southern gateway of the historic district and the rising waterfront park.

Daniels Real Estate turned the four-story masonry building into condominium homes by adding seven levels of housing plus rooftop amenities, blending historic and contemporary architecture.

It took over a year to retrofit the masonry building before the glass-sheathed residences could be built on top.  The first-floor commercial space still retains the warm brick and rustic beams original to the building.

And this year, we are celebrating that the first floor will soon come back to life as office space and some type of food and beverage venue, giving us all an opportunity to enjoy this unique building.

Daniels purposefully reimagined the historic building as commercial with condominiums on top given its proximity to the Stadium District and the new waterfront.

Railroad Way, named after the railroad track that formerly ran in front of the warehouse, will be one of four pedestrian gateways that will reunite Pioneer Square to the waterfront promenade, perfect for the new retail.

For homeowners, it’s a front row seat to over 20 acres of programmed open spaces, running and walking paths, vendors, entertainment, restaurants, and much more.  In addition to living in Pioneer Square, a National Historic Register & local historic District, you’re just minutes from Light Rail with access to anywhere north, south, east, and west.

Established in 1903 and reinvented in 2018, Gridiron is a model for repurposing unreinforced masonry buildings to meet a community need, and we are very excited that the commercial spaces are soon going to be adding to the vibrancy of Pioneer Square, our city’s sweetheart neighborhood for historic masonry buildings.

Learn more about owning a piece of history.

Gridiron 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.

Our Favorite People of Preservation in 2021

What better way to end this challenging year than by celebrating the people who we’ve seen doing great work in preservation throughout 2021?

We’ve worked with many incredible people throughout the past year, but here are the standouts our staff chose as their favorite People of Preservation in 2021.

Eugenia Woo (Director of Preservation Services)
For over a year, I’ve been inspired by the residents and neighbors of the La Quinta Apartments, a Frederick Anhalt-developed, 1920s, courtyard apartment building in Capitol Hill. The long-time owner had passed away; community advocates sounded the alarm about the future of the property early enough so that Historic Seattle could help by sponsoring the landmark nomination prepared by Northwest Vernacular. This place is important not just for its architecture but also for the stories connected to the people associated with the La Quinta for many decades. The advocacy group, called ¡Viva La Quinta!, succeeded in its efforts! The Landmarks Preservation Board designated the La Quinta Apartments and placed controls on the property in 2021. Residents brought their skills to the table by creating a website, designing cool graphics used for effective messaging, tapping their networks to build support for landmarking, and sharing their passion to fight for saving this historic place. Their commitment to save the La Quinta was inspiring.  

Photo credit: Jean Sherrard for Now & Then

Jeff Murdock (Preservation Advocacy Manager)
Not knowing exactly what they were getting into, in late 2019 Justin Lemma and his wife Victoria Pinheiro purchased one of the Victorian-era (1893) vernacular houses perched in a row along the east side of the 800 block of 23rd Avenue. Historic Seattle holds a preservation easement on four of the houses, and they are also designated Seattle Landmarks. As such, Historic Seattle and the City weigh in on proposed alterations to ensure the historic character of the buildings is maintained. Justin, an alum of the U.W. College of Built Environments and a Project Designer with Build LLC, was excited to get started on making repairs to the house and only slightly intimidated by the approval process. The ensuing pandemic provided Justin plenty of time at home to do the work. He made repairs to the rotting entry porch, cleaned up the overgrown yard, installed a new paver driveway and replaced the scraggly chain link with a trim cedar fence. They converted the tiny garage at the back of the property into a living space, complete with a bar and small loft, providing space for the couple to work from home in separate spaces. Justin even installed historic windows salvaged from another old house being torn down in the neighborhood. Recently, Justin convinced two more architects from his U.W. Architecture cohort to purchase the house next door, so there is now a community of preservationist architects on this block of 23rd Ave!

Simon Wright (Facilities & Maintenance Manager)

The collective ownership and operation of the Good Arts Building. I’d long admired Cherry Street Coffee’s immaculately painted and maintained façade. Meeting Steve, Jane, Ali, Greg, and Armondo showed me that work was not done just for curb appeal and that the collective ownership has been amazingly successful in collectively restoring, operating and maintaining a historic building for a contemporary use!

Taelore Rhoden (Community Events Manager)

I give all of my flowers to Dorothy Cordova, Cynthia Mejia-Giudici, and Pio De Cano II. These three have been preserving Filipino American history for decades! It was an honor to partner with them and the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) to share the legacy and impact of Seattle’s Filipino American community with hundreds of people (and counting!) this year. Their leadership, camaraderie, and genuine love of people is deeply inspiring and worthy of all of the gold stars.

Cindy Hughes (Council Assistant & GSC Rental Coordinator)

Leanne Olson
is not a newcomer to historic preservation, having received Historic Seattle’s Beth Chave Award for being a “Preservation Champion” in 2018, but she has continued to work tirelessly throughout the pandemic for the preservation of Queen Anne Hill’s historic legacy.  The longtime Board member of the Queen Anne Historical Society and the chair of its Landmarks Preservation Committee, Leanne provides an example of a highly effective advocacy approach to preservation through her steady participation in meetings of the City of Seattle’s Landmarks Preservation Board. Additionally, she is my neighbor, and I enjoy running into her on the streets of Queen Anne and chatting about what’s happening on the Hill!

Jane Davies (Director of Finance & Administration)

Hats off to Beneficial State Bank, especially Cynthia Weaver and Stacey Krynsky.  They are responsive and personable and truly make banking fun.  Their creativity in solving our financial puzzles allows us to nimbly engage in preservation projects.  Additionally, they understand our mission of saving meaningful places to foster lively communities by connecting our organization with other groups, creating a preservation-minded network in Seattle.

Danielle Quenell (Office Administrator)

This spring, my partner and I bought a home in the historic Fort Ward district of Bainbridge Island. We quickly realized our new neighborhood was teeming with preservationists, including district commissioner Sarah Lee and the non-profit organization Friends of Fort Ward. Together, they managed to save the historic Fort Ward Parade Grounds in 2002 and have them dedicated as a public park, and most recently restored the 1910 bread bakery into a beautiful community hall.

Naomi West (Director of Philanthropy & Engagement)

This year, I’ve been awestruck by Stephanie Johnson-Toliver! In 2021 alone, she joined Historic Seattle’s council; became a new HS donor; attended several virtual & in-person programs, our gala, and tours of properties; was a panelist for our Central District History Collective; moderated our conversation with Candacy Taylor; and began working with us to plan a partnership with
Black Heritage Society of Washington State. Are you tired just reading that? Reflecting on this year, I recall her concern about her ability to commit enough time to being a part of our leadership. That’s because when she’s in, she’s all in. Her dedication, commitment, and generosity of spirit are remarkable. Thank you for all you are giving to the preservation community, Stephanie!

Kji Kelly (Executive Director)

I have so many favorite individuals and organizations within the preservation community. One individual who has stood out to me, frankly for his entire career, b
ut particularly over the past year is Kevin Daniels. The completion of The Lodge at St. Edward Park is an unbelievable achievement, a terrific example of creativity and sheer determination. 

An exciting future for the Georgetown Steam Plant

Last month, Seattle City Light announced “a long-term lease and operating agreement with the newly formed Georgetown Steam Plant Community Development Authority (GTSPCDA), a non-profit organization dedicated to continued public use and restoration of the building. The agreement allows the GTSPCDA to assume programming and operations of the Georgetown Steam Plant, a nationally recognized and historically significant landmark in Seattle’s historic Georgetown neighborhood in the heart of the Duwamish Valley.”

In addition to being the recipient of Historic Seattle 2019 Best in Neighborhood Preservation Award, Sam Farrazaino, as described in the City Light article, “is the lead of the GTSPCDA team and is building on his past successes of redeveloping industrial properties for arts and cultural uses. As founder of Equinox Studios, Sam has championed affordable space for artists and artisans and fostered an engaged relationship with the Georgetown community and beyond.” In this month’s feature, we talked with Sam about plans for this exciting community-centric preservation project

Can you speak to the process of forming the GTSPCDA? What challenges were there in establishing the CDA?

Well, the CDA is intentionally not fully formed yet. The committee that is in place now is only meant to provide the framework for the community to come into, to form, and actually be the CDA. We haven’t formalized bylaws, or the board, or any of those pieces because we want the community to come in and be a part of that process. When we start the community engagement process, we will go through the steps of sort of distilling the large community first, into what we’re calling a Community Programming Team. This group will consist of folks that want to throw their voice into what this building will become. Next, will be the Community Advisory Team, which will consist of people with expertise in certain areas that we can call on and collaborate with for specific things. The final step of that process will be to build the board out of those layers of community. Once we build that board, and have good representation from the community, then we will leave it to the board to write the bylaws and apply for federal status.

What aspects of the GTSCDA’s proposal do you think resulted in the project’s selection during Seattle City Lights request for proposals?
I think the collaborative approach, the fact that we want to partner with City Light and the community, the comprehensive community aspect of things is what really shined and ‘won the bid,’ if you will.

What does your experience developing Equinox bring to plans for the Steam Plant?

Equinox was born and bred little by little, it’s been an organic process that has been shaped in large part by the people that have come to it. Whether its new people coming to the building, or us reaching out to the public, whether its people throwing their ideas in, their space in, or their money in, all of that engagement informs the evolution of Equinox. It’s in fact why Equinox has evolved. The Steam Plant is interesting because without the community, it is just sitting there, it’s static. Being able to partner with a lot of organizations and enabling them to come in and program there, that will bring the dynamic nature to it, that will bring the life into it. As was the case with Equinox, we first need to make the Steam Plant building safe (stabilizing, fire, seismic, etc.), and get it accessible to as many people as we can with elevators, ADA exits, etc. and then our hope is that over the next 100 years or more the community will really live into the building. It is a National Historic Landmark, and the community here will be the stewards of it, but it is really a national resource, and we really want it to live up to that expectation.

Do you feel personally connected to the Steam Plant’s history or to Georgetown’s (industrial) history in general?

I don’t have a personal history here other than the 26 years or so that I have been coming and going and playing and working in Georgetown. I’m not from here, and I didn’t grow up in a steam plant (haha), but all my life I’ve been drawn to spaces like this. I really love the sculptural, creative, elements of function — the mechanics of industry, gears, turbines, the noise. Mechanical collaboration, this idea of all of the parts and pieces coming together to create whatever you’re creating, is super inspiring to me.

I would LOVE to somehow have a window into when this plant was operating. In fact, we’ve actually been talking to Arts Corps, who is on our team, about creating VR tours where you could step into what it may have been like, maybe feel the heat, hear the noise, and smell the smells. That, to me, would be so awesome!

What are some of the big challenges this project is facing?

Getting it right. The biggest challenge is making sure that we have truly authentic community engagement and that we’re being equitable and inclusive in everything that we do — in all of the processes. From selecting contractors and consultants, right down to the day-to-day use of the plant. We are not just trying to check boxes, we are actually trying to get as deep down into the community as we can and that takes time, energy, space, and money. One of our team member’s mantras is “moving at the speed of trust.” This means getting the community to that level where they trust the organization, trust the project, and really feel like they are an authentic part of it. It’s about making sure that this is really a community-driven and community-used resource and asset. Our goal is really getting that right.

The second biggest challenge is probably the money. Getting to the $20M we need (this is our working figure) will be a huge lift financially.

The last part is figuring out the actual details of things. Like, ‘how do we incorporate seismic bracing, fire sprinklers, elevators, and life safety things into the building? How do we weave that into the structure in a way that honors its history and makes sense?’ It’s a big puzzle and a matter of figuring out how to fit the pieces together.

What are you looking forward to (in terms of the project) within the next year?

The pandemic is definitely a factor in that, how do we actually do the community engagement part in the midst of all of this. We are in the process of reaching out to the organizations we are involved with to determine how we outreach. How do we ensure we reach enough of the community? We have started seeking bids and permitting, etc., for some of the necessary physical upgrades, so that is exciting. Hopefully by February we’ll have enough of the other parts (life safety, etc.) in place so that when we launch community engagement piece, we have this vessel (the plant) and the framework ready.  The question then becomes, “what do we (the community) want to do with this?”

Historic Seattle’s mission is to save meaningful places that foster lively communities. Place and community are at the center of our work. How do you envision this project/place fostering community?

From the actual day-to-day-ness of it. What the team has envisioned is for the plant to be open to the public every day, for people to experience it in that museum sense, dig into some of its history, and be inspired by it. Another part of the vision of the plant is as a daily educational facility, where people can learn in and from an inspiring space, and where people and partner organizations can bring kids of all ages in and program there. On the event side of it, it’s about bringing the community in in different ways. Whether it’s centered around celebration – like a wedding or a nonprofit gala — or it’s a community meeting, having the community really see themselves in this space is what we want to create. It’s about that invitation to have the community own this, to really hold it, and then activate it.

 

Local Small Business Spotlight: Risa Blythe, Proprietor of Girlie Press

Numerous articles and studies have been published citing the critical role that small businesses play in the vitality of cities and towns of all sizes. For example, small businesses help foster community, add to the unique character of a place, provide distinctive opportunities for entrepreneurism, and contribute to economic health. Beyond these significant contributions, there is also an important relationship between small businesses and historic neighborhoods and old buildings. In short, preservation relies on small businesses, and small businesses often rely on historic spaces — a relationship you can read more about in this recently published article by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

Girlie Press is a woman-owned small business located in an adaptive reuse space in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Read on to hear what the print shop’s proprietor, Risa Blythe, has to say about owning small business, preservation, and more:

After eight years and only two other jobs as an offset press operator, Girlie Press was originally founded in 1995 in the back of a building in Belltown and then moved into a historic Anne Michelson building on 10th Avenue. “I shared a space as an offset printer with BSK, a screen-printing company that did much of the printing for Sub Pop and the grunge music scene. That was fun and insane, and I worked, and worked, and I put money away,” said Risa.

Inside Girlie Press

In 2000, when Risa acquired the building where Girlie Press is now located, it had been subleased to a stone cutting artist and sculptor who essentially fled in the middle of the night – leaving behind a warehouse full of massive, heavy, stone cutting equipment. “One of the companies I did a lot of work for was the Seattle Men’s Choir. Doug Exworthy was on the choir and owned the rights to the building where the shop is now. He knew I did a lot of work for the queer community, and he contacted me and said, ‘you need your own building.’ He became my mentor, guiding me through the whole process. It was adventurous, but I pulled it off! This was back in the day when you could put on a suit and go into a bank and talk things through…with people,” Risa explained.

All of the items left behind were sold off to put money back into the building and to make way for printing equipment. With her penchant and passion for machinery, Risa was just the woman for the task. Her keenness for mechanics, a trait she recalls recognizing early in life, has continued to prove valuable throughout her career. For example, when it came to acquiring her own 10,000-pound press, she was able to purchase a broken machine for a low price and repair it herself.

“I remember at one point, I applied to be a certified woman-owned business,” explained Risa. “A guy called me to ask for clarification about some parts of my application, and he just couldn’t seem to comprehend that a woman was capable of fixing a machine like this! That he believed that this was beyond my…realm, that’s when I knew why it was important to get the certification. There aren’t a lot of women in print, but I grew up in a feminist, entrepreneurial household and I’m thick-skinned. So, I have been able to shoulder discrimination I’ve encountered in the field. I started my own business because I wanted to work with people who had a sense of humor and didn’t mind working for a woman in a male-dominated field. Nobody — no guy — who’s got a lot of issues can work here and go home at the end of the day and say, ‘yeah, I work at Girlie Press!’”

When asked if she considers herself a preservationist, Risa made a surprising connection between her love of machinery and historic preservation. “The part of me that is a preservationist is that I really like a well-built machine. I really like function. Newer things are more disposable, they are meant to have an end of life, whereas with an older machine  its gearbox can be rebuilt again and again and its function is to last long term. I also like new things that are super fancy and have lots of bells and whistles, but I like them to be built on an older mechanical premise,” said Risa.

This historic assessor’s photo shows a building which formerly stood on the site where Girlie Press is now located.

Risa enjoys the location of her current shop at 1658 21st Avenue. While she is attracted to industrial and gritty places like Georgetown (one of her favorite places in Seattle), she appreciates that the shop is not in a strictly industrial area, but is instead nestled within a neighborhood with a commercial and residential mix. “There’s a German philosopher — someone who I can’t recall — who presented the idea that something went wrong when people started working in places that were far away from where they lived. It allows for more tolerable levels of pollution, longer workdays, and less family interaction. I live less than a mile away in Madrona, in a simple 1902 Victorian. Another favorite place is my backyard because my wife is such a great gardener! And I like that I can work in a trade, but still work in an area where people are living too,” said Risa.

The community is very important to Risa. In addition to the long list of organizations Girlie Press supports, she uses her business to promote causes she cares about: “There aren’t a lot of print shops that care about the same things I care about so I have a unique opportunity to use what I do, and do well, to support those things. I like the idea of using the power of the press to help organizations make money or do good things. We’ve printed over 1,000 posters since the most recent events of the Black Lives Matter movement have been unfolding. A lot of times people will ask us to print something for them and we’ll ask, ‘Do you want us to print a bunch more of these and just give them out?’ It’s cool to be part of this ancient history of activism through art.”

Risa in the shop’s new mezzanine space

Lately, the effects of the pandemic have been felt at Girlie Press. At one point, Risa sheltered at the shop and ran the whole press herself in order to execute print jobs (including Historic Seattle’s emergency appeal) for grocery stores and other essential businesses. Many of her staff have recently returned to the shop after many weeks working remotely. Upon their return, staff were able to spread out further, occupying space in the mezzanine that was fortunately recently built in the warehouse.

In the previously referenced Washington Trust for Historic Preservation article, Breanne Durham wrote, “There has never been a more poignant time to reflect on the value small businesses have in our lives and in our work. The onslaught of COVID-19 has taken our local economies by storm…Small businesses employ about half of the private workforce in the United States. And without them, our historic commercial districts lack the activity and commerce that creates healthy, socially cohesive, and economically viable communities. If the preservation field is looking for its place within the COVID-19 crisis, here it is.”

Looking for other ways to support small businesses? Intentionalist.com allows you to search for Asian-owned, Black-owned, disability-owned, family-owned, Latino-owned, LGBTQ-owned, Native-owned, veteran-owned, and woman-owned businesses and social enterprises in select cities, including Seattle.

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