Callahan’s Auto shutters as Seattle earthquake readiness mandates loom for Capitol Hill buildings

Long may she wave (Image: CHS)

A longtime Capitol Hill business has closed possibly due to the costs of impending city regulations mandating that old buildings become earthquake ready. Callahan’s Auto, which has operated from its 1319 E. Madison location since 1948, moved to Monroe in Snohomish County in December. 

CHS has made repeated unsuccessful attempts to contact owner Kevin Callahan. One employee reached by phone confirmed that the move had to do with the cost of updating the building with seismic supports.

The neighboring buildings housing Chop Suey and the Madison Pub are separate structures.


While Callahan’s has for decades avoided retrofitting their building, new development regulations rolling out this year would require all “unreinforced masonry structures” to make the expensive upgrades. DPD’s 2012 URM Policy Committee released the mandate recommendations earlier this month.

The Talbot building, which housed Callahan’s, is one of the neighborhood’s several “pre-earthquake readiness” structures not be retrofitted with seismic supports. City requirements for seismic upgrades currently only kick-in when the building or its use undergo a major change. The new regulations, expected this year, would mandate all buildings have seismic supports. 

The Talbot building ranks as one of Capitol Hill’s highest seismic risk structures, according to a 2007 FEMA survey of unreinforced masonry structures in the area. The two-story building — constructed in 1920, according to King County records — still has its original solid wood supports and beams, each measuring about one-foot in diameter. Callahan previously told CHS that the building has remained structurally unchanged ever since.

According to King County records, Frances Kirsch-Erdman owns the deed for the property. She could not be reached for comment.

CHS wrote about the building’s development potential here last spring based on the FEMA survey ranking and the highest-risk properties slowly being ticked off the list as part of planned developments.

CHS also reported last year on the concentrations of URM structures on Capitol Hill and created this map to show the extent of their presence:

Here’s the map of the city’s survey findings — you’ll note the large pocket of unreinforced masonry structures in Capitol Hill’s core as well as remaining concentrations in downtown, Pioneer Square and smaller pockets elsewhere in the city. You can zoom in and click on specific addresses to learn more. Note that the dataset is heavily caveated by DPD — there may be errors and we have found several funky address issues. If you find anything weird, let CHS know and we’ll see what we can do to further scrub the data.

The Capitol Hill development community is already on the case. Later this month, the Pike Pine Urban Neighborhood Council, the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and developer Gerding Edlen have planned a workshop on Seattle’s coming URM policy:

The meeting will be held at the Melrose Studios in the basement of the Melrose Market. No worries, by the way — the Market underwent a full seismic upgrade.

You can register for the event here.

25 thoughts on “Callahan’s Auto shutters as Seattle earthquake readiness mandates loom for Capitol Hill buildings

  1. I couldn’t agree more. AND with the City’s blessing………….

    Really it is a brilliant ploy that most people won’t even notice. Simply condemn the buildings, force out the (mainly small) businesses and hand ‘em over to Mr. Developer.

    Of course the building value will suffer as a result giving the developers an even better deal when they go to purchase them!

  2. Yes, of course. People working in these buildings have nothing to worry about in an earthquake. The hipness of Capitol Hill will protect them from any harm. Who needs building codes?

  3. What is wrong with the system in place – if the building is getting a high use tenant such as restaurant or office, they will need to upgrade siesmically. It all works out – rents go up for owners, life of the building is lengthened and the building becomes safer.

    The city is thinking about forcing longterm owners with low occupancy uses to upgrade and pay for it themselves?? Get ready for a major lawsuit DPD – that is not fair at all and will not be held up in a court of law.

    Maybe they could force this at the sale of a building… but not automatically – it would be a big black eye in a court for the city. Think of the longtime families up here that own property being forced to sell to big national guys – wow that could get ugly.

  4. People squawking about oppressive regulation would be screaming the loudest about fat-cat property owners neglecting their properties, when some employee get killed in a building collapse. It’s always so much easier to take pot-shots from the peanut gallery when it’s not your responsibility, your property, or your money involved.

  5. Seems like overkill. Seattle has had a fair number of earthquakes over the years . . . and these old buildings have withstood them all. Makes me fell the suspicions re turning them over to development when the current ownership cannot afford retrofitting may have a real basis this time.

  6. I wonder if the city would have any liability if they said a building was safe for occupancy, and an earthquake damaged/demolished the building? We all know the city has done the seismic survey, we know which structures aren’t sound, and if you were a customer/employee in one of these buildings when an earthquake hit, would the city be liable?

  7. It’s like insurance. People shouldn’t be forced to get it. An earthquake that will be big enough to completely destroy this building is a very low possibility. I am sure those who work there know they are taking a chance.

    What’s next? Should the city forces all the homeowners to do seismic upgrades too?

  8. I’m inclined to agree. And, considering multifamily housing, many of the most affordable units in this neighborhood are in URM buildings. Tenants will end up paying for improvements to buildings that have already withstood several earthquakes, all to the benefit of our development community. Seems like unnecessary costs designed to benefit builders, all in the name of “public safety.” Bahh.

  9. Amen. I’ve got mine, so everyone else should just GTFO!

    Go find some other well-located, transit-connected, fully-serviced, already-dense neighborhood to move to (but please continue to visit our shops, bars and restaurants ’cause I really like all that stuff and I’d like to see it survive). You’re just not welcome to live here.

  10. Surviving previous earthquakes is no guarantee that they’ll survive the next one. In fact, quite the contrary– previous earthquakes might render them partially damaged or less stable, only to have the next earthquake finish them off.

  11. It’d be easy to clutch my pearl necklace over the process like many others here. Regardless of what happened,, this is a fairly terrific building. I’m a 15 year Capitol Hill resident and I’m also fortunate enough to own a condo (shock, horror, yes some of us grow up and wind up owning property here) at a restored warehouse down the street that had been tagged for demolition after the 2001 earthquake, and was seismically retrofitted, maintaining much of the old structure and not just the facade.

    Whatever happens to this building, our focus shouldn’t be on the process, but on retaining as much of this structure as possible, and not just the front wall that faces the street.

    Madison might be a noisy arterial today, but one day we’ll be cherishing this string of old buildings

  12. The facts for leaving this great area, with great people and many friends, is a simple one. The owner of 1319 e. Madison St. getting up in age, required family to assist in the financial affairs. Knowing that code issues for 2013 would be costly a decision was made to close down for the sake of safety. I’m sorry if this has put a void in the community but it is necessary. The building has been a part of our lives for many years [ 1952-2012 ]. We take with us good memories and we wish all our friends and extended family the very best for the future ahead.

  13. Pingback: Ahead of city’s quake readiness mandates some Hill building owners fight, others get to work | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  14. This URM (unreinforced masonry) building policy is still up for approval. It’s true that people with modest incomes and low incomes live in URM buildings so we’re not talking about rich whiners even if they own co-ops and condos in these buildings. For example, many retired people who bought 30 years ago or more cannot afford to pay for seismic retrofitting. The way the current policy is written it states the City of Seattle is trying to preserve historic buildings but their track record is bad. I wrote a letter to the Seattle City Council asking them to consider the potentially displaced residents and to guarantees protection of historic buildings. Otherwise, buildings will be sold or condemned and fined and then developers will bulldoze these beautiful buildings that are not earthquake damaged currently and put up cookie cutter buildings in the name of public safety. If the policy is approved property owners should band together to fight it.