Preservation/Architecture News – the Good, the Bad and the Really Bad

Paul Thiry Architectural Office Building, 800 Columbia St. on First Hill. Slated for demolition. Photo: Historic Seattle

The Good: At its March 7, 2012 meeting, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board (LPB) voted unanimously (11-0) to nominate the P-I Globe.  The designation hearing for the Globe is scheduled for April 18. Earlier in the day, Seattle City Councilmembers Tim Burgess, Sally Clark and Jean Godden held a press conference announcing the transfer of the P-I Globe from the Hearst Corporation to the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) once the Globe is designated. MOHAI will be the new steward of the icon. MOHAI Executive Director Leonard Garfield revealed the launching of its “Light Up the Globe” campaign. The Globe Fund will provide resources to make initial repairs to the neon. Check out this KOMO News video on the P-I Globe–includes great historic photos and footage.

The Bad: MAin2 reported in January 2012 that the Jensen-Byrd Warehouse in Spokane is endangered. Our friends at Spokane Preservation Advocates (SPA) are working hard to try to save this important industrial building from demolition. SPA has an online petition drive going and they need your support! Sign the petition and help send a message to WSU that it’s not ok to tear the building down. There are alternatives to demolition. For more info on SPA’s efforts, go to their website.    

The Really Bad: On March 5, 2012, the Daily Journal of Commerce reported that the site where the Paul Thiry Architectural Office Building (800 Columbia Street, First Hill) is located has been sold to Alecta, a Swedish pension fund. The seller was the Thiry Family, LLC. The site and adjacent parking lot to the north were sold for $5.4 million. Unfortunately, a demolition permit has already been issued by the City’s Department of Planning and Development. The Thiry family applied for a demo permit in November 2011 and the permit was issued in January 2012. The property was then sold to Alecta.

This case demonstrates a loophole in the environmental review and preservation processes at the City. A proposal to demolish, modify or add onto an existing building that may meet Seattle landmark designation criteria is required to undergo SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) review if it meets the thresholds for review for more than four (4) dwelling units or 4,000 s.f. of non-residential use. If an existing building that may meet the Seattle landmark designation criteria is under these thresholds, then SEPA review is not triggered. Triggering SEPA review for a potential landmark would mean submitting a landmark nomination for review by the LPB. The Paul Thiry Architectural Office Building, at 3,077 s.f., is under the threshold and fell within this loophole and did not require SEPA review or preparation of a landmark nomination. Splitting the demolition application from a proposed new project application may meet the requirements for obtaining permits, but it’s also a way to get around landmark nomination review. This is what happened to the Twin Teepees.

Small-scale commercial buildings that may be eligible for landmark designation throughout the city are at risk from the same fate as the Thiry building and Twin Teepees. We’ve all seen what replaced the Teepees. There is no doubt the Thiry office is highly significant and would meet the standards for landmark designation. Being described as “run-down” and “public nuisance” does not detract from the building’s inherent significance of its association with a key figure in the modern movement of the Pacific Northwest. For more background on Paul Thiry, we direct you to biographies on HistoryLink’s and Docomomo WEWA’s websites.