Capitol Hill’s auto row fades away | Mercedes dealership sold, will move off Hill

(Image: CHS)

It seems Capitol Hill auto row history will finish with a whimper, not a bang. The owner of the Bellevue Jaguar and Land Rover dealership has purchased E Pike’s Phil Smart Mercedes Benz and plans to move the business to a new facility on Airport Way, according to a statement released this morning.

The Phil Smart dealership opened on E Pike in 1959 and has continued as a family-run business:


Phil Smart Sr. has turned over the management of this “family business” to his son, Phil Smart, Jr., who continues in the great tradition of his father. Under his guidance, Phil Smart, Inc. has flourished and is one of the largest volume dealers in the region. Senior, as he is affectionately known, works tirelessly in the local community, committing time and resources to making our city a better place for us all.

Old timey E Pike (Image: Phil Smart)

The move mirrors the 2009 exodus of BMW to a larger Airport Way facility in 2009.

The Smart family’s connection to the area won’t end with the dealership’s move by new owner Al Monjazeb. The family continues to hold the land most of the block the dealership is built on between Pike and Pine for now, at least. What it plans for the soon-to-be empty dealership space is not known. CHS calls to the facility last week were not returned.

The facility left behind by BMW up E Pike looks to remain used if underutilized for the foreseeable future. We reported in January on a potential $10 million foreclosure on the property that has been planned for redevelopment for years. In the meantime, portions of the building have been leased to short-term tenants.

The Mercedes exit will leave 12th Ave’s Ferrari of Seattle dealership as the last of its kind on the Hill. UPDATE: We have forgotten about Seattle Volvo at 1120 Pike in the past — and we did again this morning. The dealership, perhaps, presents you with a more affordable alternative to (car) shop locally.

Like the Smart situation, the Ferrari and Maserati dealer’s ownership also owns the prime piece of real estate where the $300,000 cars are on display. We speculated on Ferrari’s potential exit from the Hill in 2009 when the BMW dealership began pulling up stakes. “It’s business as usual,” Tino Perrina told us in 2009. “We’re doing well and have no plans to move.” Of course, in the same article. a rep for Phill Smart also said the dealership had no plans for leaving Capitol Hill.

(Image: CHS)

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22 thoughts on “Capitol Hill’s auto row fades away | Mercedes dealership sold, will move off Hill

  1. yeah as much as I’d like to support all the local businesses I can, I have no use for another car, especially not a Mercedes/Maserati/Ferrari

    wait, no love for Seattle Volvo? It’s on the hill too

  2. Someone please buy that building, don’t tear it down, and just remodel the inside so it could accommodate say, 3-4 (maybe even 5?) businesses!

    That is the sort of preservation and revitalization that these spaces need. Re-utilization of the space and promotion of local neighborhood scale businesses is exactly what preservationists should be all over. This space definitely has enough room to accommodate a few smaller scale businesses. Which is in stark contrast to 90% of the new construction on the hill.

    Also, I guess If you are crazy and/or attention hungry enough, please someone marry THIS building.

  3. @ oiseau
    while i agree in concept with this strategy, it makes no economic sense. land/building value is not based on what is there, but rather, what the zoning allows you to build. it is based on future investment and possible profit. this means that replacing this building with a one story structure, or updating the current one, doesn’t make a lot of economic sense, which is why you see all of the 5 over 1 story buildings popping up everywhere on the hill – they are investment vehicles for your pension fund, 501k, state investment funds, private investors, and yes, some local investors, like liz dunn. liz is the rare investor that values historic preservation, so she figures out how to make a profit within the existing envelope of a building (piston and ring, melrose, for example) by being exceedingly creative. most people are just not that creative, or dogged in their beliefs about urban planning (especially run-of-the-mill developers). i am not meaning to be preachy here, but this is the neighborhood where density actually works and is embraced (the vacancy rate is like 2% right now) so i am not sure keeping a one story building always makes sense. i would rather see mixed-use and find a way to make the commercial spaces on the ground floor unique and neighborhood-based. if we had an subsidy for this, that would be awesome.

  4. I think “kdglg”‘s analysis is correct. Seattle doesn’t have the kind of zoning incentives to ensure a mix of reimagined historic buildings along with the speculative 5-over-1 claptrap. We simply have too much of the latter because, well, those speculative developers keep making money building the claptrap. I think creative zoning standards, encompassing both design and use, would help create a more dynamic Capitol Hill neighborhood. Could someone like CHS’s resident architectural historian, John Feit, perhaps shed some light on why Seattle has such a difficult time formulating those kinds of zoning standards?

  5. @dboy
    my impression is that the issue lies in the gap between zoning standards and proscriptive rules about how to build-out or rent your space. an example: zoning can regulate whether and how much commercial you have to deliver on the first floor of your building, but it does not (and some would argue cannot) tell you how to rent out that commercial space. (i.e. whether a developer rents to a local biz or a national chain is totally their decision). while at first it sounds like a good idea to mandate only “local” businesses, it is a really slippery slope. (and moreover, sometimes i kinda like my lunch at panera!) it becomes really subjective fast, and i am not sure I want the city in the business of driving those decisions. next thing you know they will be telling me what colors I can paint my house….a good solution, in my opinion, is to offer some kind of “incentive” program that is catered to the small local business owner. Either a financing product or something that gives the developer a reason to design and rent their spaces for the little guy. My understand of why this does not happen is because of the “lending of public money to private corporations” rule in the State Constitution, which was primarily enacted so as to not subsidize the big businesses that ran Seattle when it first sprouted up. maybe there is a way around this, I don’t know. but there just isn’t the groundswell of political support around the issue to make anyone willing to tackle the change needed…maybe because they like eating at panera too :)

  6. I just went back to the chs story from 2009 announcing BMW’s departure from the hill. The manager said BMW left because they need “a 5 story building to sell their cars”. I don’t mind Mercedes drivers but I know from years of experience that BMW drivers are the worst and most aggressive. The cars are usually driven by 20-40 something, males who have “something to prove” on the road. Glad BMW left Cap Hill, sad to hear that BMW will be selling more cars in Seattle.

    What’s the difference between a porcupine and a BMW? With a porcupine, the pricks are on the outside lol.

  7. One new tool available in most of Pike/Pine is the use of TDR’s.
    The Transfer of Development Rights Zone was passed by the City Council last year. This was a long-standing goal for PPUNC (Pike/Pine Urban Neigherhood Council). The TDR allows property owners to preserve their current older building and transfers the development rights above them to another project within the P/P TDR Zone. See CHS archives(2011)for more details on the TDR’s. The goal is to preserve more of our current historic building stock while continuing to add more density to the Pike/Pine Urban Corridor.

  8. For the health of our cities coffers, be grateful BMW didn’t set up shop just outside Seattle City Limits. Auto sales provide a lot of revenue for other things even non car owners enjoy. We’re all in this together, folks.

  9. Hate to break it to you folks … but you pick your planning battles. I’d rather see an old dealership turned into a density appropriate building than see a truly historic structure knocked down. So use TDR’s appropriately …

  10. My first car was a $500 Desoto purchased at the Oldsmobile dealership which was located at the bottom of Olive Way, across the street from the Edsel showroom. I got my next car from the Pontiac dealership at Broadway and Pine, while my father was buying his new car from Sparling Cadillac. But before I bought the car at Central, I also looked at Studebaker and Plymouth. I didn’t look at Rambler or Mercury becuae those were “Old Man” cars.

    It’s not just the dealerships that are disappearing!

  11. Oh man I hear you! Those darn BMW drivers are a pain! Always trying to get somewhere and showing no tolerance for slow drivers. And how about those Prius drivers, leaving a trail of eco smugness as they coast silently 10 mph under the speed limit. What an entitled lot they are. Don’t get me started on Volvo or milk delivery drivers…

  12. I’ve always thought that if the dealerships moved there would be a great opportunity for new businesses. I’m glad to see them leave the Hill and wish them all the best on Airport Way.

  13. I was imagining what would become of this prime block – and the related spaces across Pike Street and Belmont Street – and then mentioning it to a neighboring business while shopping.

    Turns out it appears to already be known. From Mercedes to Landrover/Hummer. No potential, in fact, transforming loss. Hummer… sadness results.

  14. Are you serious, Ductape? You trash on BMW drivers for their supposed lack of tolerance for slow drivers, and in the very next sentence you bash Prius drivers for driving too slow for you? Really.

  15. I am a Seattleite working in Germany currently. Rural village to metropolis: mixed use is a way of life here. There is no store front that is not co-located, or residential: above-beside-behind. It is how history survives, endures and is preserved; mixed with the minimalist Euro-modern. When you have up to 1,000-year history of a structure to protect: it must be, and it is embraced. For the “newest” cities of the planet: all they need to look at some of the oldest in the western world as the paradigm and benchmark.
    It is good to come home to. It is good to bring friends to my hometown, and still be able to show them the places I have known and love and exist not just in the Seattle I remember from my earliest memories, but is still the Seattle of today. Change is the only constant in our existence. It does not mean we have to raze the “old” to get to it.
    As for Phil Smart: I am a multi-generation German auto owner. I go out of my way to do business with family-owned enterprise. Our family will be sorry to see him go.

  16. FINALLY find a local dealer where getting to and from for my service does not involve a rental car. Now they move down to where leaving your car also requires another form of transporation and an additional 1/2 hour of time each way. Convenience is out the door. Bummer