CHS Block Party: 16th Ave’s Sanctuary is ‘holy crap’ expensive, ascendant in design

Block Party covers noteworthy real estate up for grabs on Capitol Hill, from the new and sparkling to the historic and charming. Mike Kent is an urban planner and writer who moved to Capitol Hill from NYC last year.

Last week we debated whether going green to the nth degree at the Sylvie warrants a higher price tag.  This week Block Party takes you to the Sanctuary, located on 16th Ave., where $1.5 million may just bring you, like Trent Reznor, closer to god. Next week Block Party takes a breather from the pricier end of the market and visits the Holiday, Capitol Hill Housing’s current renovation on 10th Ave., across from everyone’s favorite red wall (and future light rail station.)

The Sanctuary
 1841 16th Ave. at Denny Way, adjacent to the soon-to-be-completed Seven Hills Park at 16th and Howell

Unit Size and Mix:  12 two-bedroom (though more on that later) townhouses ranging between 1,543 sq. ft. and 2,624 sq. ft.

Price Range:  $799,000 – $1,575,000

Team:  Joe Sacotte and Joel Lavin (developer),  Runberg Architecture Group (architect), Sechrist Design Associates (interior designer), Babbs Weissman and Erica Clibborn, Windermere (realtor)

The Project:  The landmark First Church of Christ Scientist was gutted and sub-divided into 12 luxury townhomes, no two featuring the same floor plan. Though the units are listed as two-bedrooms, to call them as such is a bit misleading.  Many units include additional rooms that, because they lack windows and any source of natural light, cannot be counted as legal bedrooms.  Weissman suggests that these rooms could be used as everything from a “gear room” for snowboarders, to an entertainment room, to a poker room.  Units span from three to five levels and retain many of the building’s original features, most noticeably its stained glass windows, ornate columns, and dome.  The developers sought to reuse as much of the original church as possible;  church pews and wooden support columns, for instance, were converted into stairs.  Each unit has both an interior and exterior entrance, and many include one or more private terraces.  Eight of the twelve units are granted two indoor parking spaces, and the other four have one each.

Your run-of-the-mill townhouse project this is not.

The Backstory:  In 2006, 16th and Denny LLC acquired the First Church of Christ Scientist building for $2.28 million.  The Church was actively considering another bidder who had planned on demolishing the building, but Lavin said the Church selected him and Sacotte, despite their offering less money, because their redevelopment plan included the preservation and adaptive reuse of the building.

The 1906 building’s landmark status required that any exterior alterations be kept to a minimum.  The developers succeeded, though, in convincing the Landmarks Board to permit punching holes in the rear façade for west-facing views and dividing the monumental stairs facing 16th Ave. into separate landings.

Interior alterations, though, are another story.  The developers completely gutted the building and rebuilt the interior walls and floors.  However, Lavin insists that every interior feature that needed to be removed during construction has been returned to the building.  Renovation work included seismic upgrades, and the ton-and-a-half of structural beams were installed by hand; the building’s landmark status prevents use of construction cranes. Construction on the project is now reported to be 99 percent complete.

The developers received clearance for a future homebuyers tax credit that allows them to deduct $7.75 million in approved renovation expenses from the total appraised value of the townhouses, which will ultimately lower taxes owed by future homeowners.

The first sale in the building is currently pending.

The Splash:  Besides living in a designated Seattle landmark?  Units at the Sanctuary are utterly unique both from each other and from most others in the city.  “There is no standard here,” said Lavin.  “Every [townhouse] is as custom as can be.”

The units feature a combination of historic materials and modern finishes.  Kitchens include marble and stainless steel countertops and appliances by Bertazzoni, Liebherr, and Asko.  Eight of the twelve units feature terraces, several with views of Downtown and, on that rare clear day, Mount Rainier.  Two units have private elevator access from the garage, while the others use a shared elevator that leads to the central atrium and views of the original, stained glass, skylight dome.

“If everything gets built of the same materials in a ten-year period,” Lavin said, “everything looks the same, which you can see all over the city.”

The Outlook:  Despite the high prices, Lavin insists that the cost of living at the Sanctuary is actually less than at conventional townhouses, since homeowners will enjoy very low homeowners’ dues and the tax credit.  “We’ve run the numbers on comparably priced properties and our square footage costs are right in line with theirs,” he said.

Floor plans at the Sanctuary will require creative homebuyers who can learn to make the most from rooms without any natural light or, in certain instances, only stained glass windows.   (Note:  the stained glass windows do tilt open, but leave no option for screens.)   However, Weissman said, “An urban buyer understands unique spaces.”

Weissman makes no qualms about why someone might be willing to drop more than a $1.5 million, or nearly the price of three Capitol Hill townhomes, to live at the Sactuary: “This is a once in a city experience.  This is art.  Our buyer is someone who respects the craftsmanship that went into this space.”

Want to take a look at the Sanctuary?  Because of the building’s unique layout and the ease with which visitors may get lost wandering between the units, showings are by appointment only with no open houses.

Is the Sanctuary your cup of holy water, er, tea?  Last week readers had trouble swallowing $800,000+ at the Sylvie.  How you do feel about $1.5 million at the Sanctuary?  How would you feel about a stained glass window as your main source of natural light?  Do you believe in god? Does the meshing of historic and high-end work for you?

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5 thoughts on “CHS Block Party: 16th Ave’s Sanctuary is ‘holy crap’ expensive, ascendant in design

  1. I walked through this project a few months ago when they were still doing open houses, and I just cannot imagine paying what they’re asking for spaces without natural light. The rooms with stained glass windows had an eerie yellow glow, and the weirdest part? All the units face into the echoing central atrium … you better hope you like your neighbors, because if you hate them and they throw a party that echos all night in that atrium…YIKES. Have fun with that.

    I totally appreciate a unique space, but this conversion is downright tragic. The spaces simply didn’t feel livable — and if you’re going to spend 1.5 million, livable seems like a given. About the only use I could see for one of these units was as a location for film. Or, I pictured a haunting, eccentric millionaire liking it. Perhaps a gothic trust fund kid?

    There was a rumor that the building was initially considered as a Town Hall-style theater — if that’s true, it’s very sad that it didn’t turn out that way.

  2. I have to say I disagree with the previous comment whole-heartedly. It’s all a matter of taste and style, of course, so there is no right or wrong. I, too, toured the building when it was still open—in fact, I toured it 3 times and took groups of friends as I wanted people to have a chance to see this innovative and, frankly, gorgeous project before it was closed to the public. I’ve never seen something so expensive where I could immediately say, “it’s worth it.”

    I’ve toured the Sylvie (nice) and other buildings, but have been shocked to see such things as wire racks in closets on units with 750K pricetags. None of that at the Sanctuary. Just pure beautiful appliances, design and salvaged/reused materials.

    I, for one, thought the open atrium was an innovative and beautiful quality to the building, but I admit I didn’t think about the noise factor. Still, given that this is what is referred to as “common space” in most condo buildings, the owners can agree to regulate the use of this space.

    As for the windows…I’m a huge fan. I love stained glass and the reality is that they let in plenty of light—whether it’s sunny or raining—it’s just getting used to the difference. While these units are WAY out of my price range, I think they’re a spectacular opportunity to own something UNIQUE! But I guess that is why I bought in an Anhalt building, because I value the beauty and historical value of the architecture.

    Go see them if you can!

  3. I agree with the second commentator. In the last decade it’s been all boring in-fill 4-pack townhouses with faux-craftsman detail and stick-built 4-5 story condo buildings with a “roof projection” or two that have unusable spaces/corners everywhere b/c the builder was maximizing the number of units.

    This is unique, I like that they preserved the building and much of the materials, and I actually think it’d be pretty cool to say I lived there. The only thing I didn’t love about some of the floor plans was just how vertical they felt (want to do something other than what you’re doing now? that’s on another floor). Hopefully the atrium won’t be a major noise issue.

    That said, it’s only going to appeal to a small niche of buyers given the cost and “unique” design. Of course there are only 12 units, so it doesn’t have to appeal to the masses.

    Good job developers for trying something different and for the preservation.

  4. When they had the open houses, I walked through the model unit twice. I think it’s an amazingly beautiful structure. However, I think that the mix of modern and old, along with the lack of natural light, is going to appeal only to a very specific aesthetic. I’m immensely pleased that the developers didn’t tear down the building, that they were this creative with it. I hope that the property is successful. I’d never move there — too much money and not to my taste — but I have friends who if they had the money, would.

  5. I went thru those units without clear windows and, honestly, if they were $100,000, i wouldn’t live there. the windows/light from the atrium is just not enough natural light. a realy deal-breaker for sure. i liked the west-facing units better.