There is a universe where comfortable dive bars in 93-year-old auto garages are designated historical landmarks. It is not ours. Next week, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board will hear the case for 721 E Pine, the current home of Bill’s Off Broadway and a lasting remnant of Capitol Hill’s auto row past. If recent history is any indication, the board is unlikely to be swayed by arguments to protect the old home of the Gear and Axle Service Company – surely the name of a future Pike/Pine barstaurant.
From the nomination document (the complete report can be found at the end of this post) for the property, here is what the Seattle Times had to say about the project back in 1919 as it was being built:
A building to be erected at the southwest corner of Pine Street and Harvard Avenue North for the John Collins estate will contain four retail store rooms facing on Pine Street and two on Harvard Avenue, and is expected to be ready for occupancy early next month. The building will be a one-story masonry structure to cost approximately $20,000. The store fronts will be faced with pressed brick and have plate glass show windows. The store rooms are planned to be especially adapted for automobile accessory dealers. (Seattle Sunday Times, December 14, 1919, p. 97.)
The review of the potential landmark comes as part of the permitting process for the seven-story, 90+ unit apartment building developer Denny Onslow’s company is planning to erect above the preserved facades of Bill’s and the neighboring motorcycle and auto garages at the corner of Harvard and Pine. The project, which still requires one last design review before construction, continues to move forward even as the massive 200+ unit, mixed-use and preservation project on the same block remains on hold.
Bill’s is slated to return to the development when it is completed.
As we have reported in the past, designation as a landmark wouldn’t necessarily bring the development project to a halt but it would subject 721 E Pine — one of more than 60 designated “character structures” in Pike/Pine — to an extra layer of review and could require certain elements of the old building to be retained and left untouched that would have been lopped off in the preservation process.
The nomination document for the property will not present a very strong case for protection. Without a high-profile Seattle architect and with significant changes inside the building from a 1974 overhaul for the old Mothers Tavern, the board would have to deem the building’s exterior intact and notable for the nomination to move forward. It’s possible some of the surviving fine detail of the building will sway them:
While the building design is simple overall, some details were employed in the finish brickwork on the primary façades. The verticality of the pilasters is emphasized by use of stacked bond, laid up the center, flanked by stacked headers, resulting in continuous vertical joints. A small tile detail is used near the top of each pilaster. A wide frieze band above the wall openings appears to be painted plaster and was likely originally used as a sign band. The frieze band is bracketed on the top and bottom by a rowlock course, and a larger, diamond-shaped tile detail is placed above each pilaster. This diamond detail appears to consist of eight flat terra cotta tiles arranged in a white plaster background. On the north façade, the second pilaster (from the left) is clad with painted wood paneling rather than brick. This anomaly appears to be original, and is visible in the 1937 tax record photo. A simple raised roof parapet is laid in running bond, with a sailor course along the top edge.
Unlike the great showrooms of Capitol Hill’s old auto row now celebrated for their re-use as some of the more popular restaurants, bars and stores in Pike/Pine, 721 E Pine represents a homelier but still much loved component of the neighborhood’s historic environment. A handful of the service garages that sprung up to do the dirty work for the glossy showrooms survive and also are being put to good use on the new Capitol Hill, the nomination document notes:
- Coleman’s Used Cars / Victrola Coffee Roasters (1909) at 314 East Pike Street
- Gallagher’s Fine Cars / Six Arms (1910) at 300 East Pike Street
- Nickols Manufacturing Company / Elliot Bay Bookstore (1920) at 1521 10th Avenue
- Universal Repair Shop (1923) at 1611 Boylston Avenue Piston & Ring Building (ca. 1925) at 1429
- 12th Avenue Puget Sound Motors / CK Graphics (1925), at 501 East Pike Street
It’s a proud roster — but probably not enough to make Bill’s a landmark.
The board will discuss the nomination Wednesday, July 17th at 3:30 PM in the Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 5th Avenue, 40th Floor in Room 4060. There is an opportunity for public comment. You can also email your feedback. The full nomination document is below.
All images: Hewitt