Not much preserved when Pike/Pine preservation projects dig in


The future Pike Motorworks -- and its preserved "character structure"

The future Pike Motorworks — and its preserved “character structure”

CHS recently noted the “hard hat special” underway in the heart of Pike/Pine as a cluster of major developments start to dig in and add to area construction already underway. We’re also hearing a familiar type of feedback about the largest, most significant project of the new bunch. People passing by the demolition process for the Pike Motorworks project that will soar to seven stories in exchange for incorporating portions of the former BMW dealership at Pike and Harvard send us the same message, again and again — “I thought they were supposed to preserve the building.”

Instead, only the building’s Pike-facing southern facade — and barely that — still stand. What’s going on?

After being rejected as a landmark years ago, this old building at 12th and Pike is also coming down

After being rejected as a landmark years ago, this old building at 12th and Pike is also coming down

It’s a similar situation to what we reported in the giant development at 10th and Union — preservation under the terms of the Pike/Pine Conservation District includes plenty of room for interpretation.

The city code spells out very little specifics of what it means to preserve a “character structure” — though it does spell out what a character structure is:

Character structure” means a structure on a lot within the
boundaries of the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District that has been in existence for at least 75 years, thereby contributing to the established scale, development pattern, and architectural character of the area.

Developers on the 12th and Pike project aren't utilizing the area's preservation incentives so none of the original structure will survive. More on the project here

Developers on the 12th and Pike project aren’t utilizing the area’s preservation incentives so none of the original structure will survive. More on the project here

The requirements for qualifying for height and size bonuses for preserving character building elements are fuzzier.

“The portion of the structure that is retained is sufficient to give the appearance of a free-standing building,” the code says. And “all street facing facades of the character structure are retained.” That’s simple enough. It doesn’t say, however, what happens when, like in the case at 10th and Union, the developer says the character structure’s existing elements are found to be unsafe. Instead, the code says things like this:

A project that is granted an increase in floor size under
the provisions of this subsection 23.73.010.C shall maintain the character structure, or portions of the character structure, both interior and exterior, in good condition and repair and in a manner that preserves unique features and characteristics for the life of the project.

Well, there you go. What you get is a 50-foot stretch of the old brick facade — provided the bricks don’t need to be replaced.

Not everybody will be broken up by the loss. The incentives are allowing developer Wolff Company to move forward on an ambitious, 260-unit, mixed-use project that will incorporate internal passageways eventually filled with retails, food and drink ventures. Also, without gutting the block, there would be no way to build the three-level underground parking with more than 200 stalls the developer is permitted to create for the project.

Currently, there are no formal complaints against the demolition at the E Pike project on file with DPD. The next big challenge to the Pike/Pine preservation rules will come in the form of an appeal brought by developers against a push to tighten the requirements for the incentive program. That hearing is slated to continue in February.

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40 thoughts on “Not much preserved when Pike/Pine preservation projects dig in

  1. It’s a total fraking scam. The current city council needs to be voted out and replaced with people who actually give a damn about Seattle and its history. It’s time Seattleites fought back against the onslaught of big business and corporate drones that sterilizing this once great city!

  2. I’m looking forward to the project’s completion when I can stop by the tanning salon late-morning, make a deposit at one of the four banks that will probably open within the development, and enjoy happy hour mocktails and jalapeno poppers at Applebee’s. All without leaving the block!

    • I know! It’s so exciting! Finally I won’t have to travel all the way to downtown Bellevue to get the experience of living in a corporate drone factory.

    • I think this development will be quite successful when all is said and done. The design….with internal passages and courtyards where there will be (hopefully) small, local businesses is very different and creative. Just because it will be new does not make it like Bellevue.

  3. Preserving the façade is better than nothing.

    That said, these mega projects need to start having smaller retail spaces that don’t require $400k buildouts that only banks and national chains can afford. I’d rather see some incentives on renting retail space to local businesses than just for preserving some bricks from an exterior wall.

    • I think the Motorworks pic is misleading because of its angle.

      What really matters is how these buildings are viewed from the sidewalk or street. And that’s where these facade preservations, while seemingly insignificant, are really important.

  4. I would not call Seattle the most pro-active place for earthquake engineering studies, building inspections which grade and rank the safest structures to those which should be demolished or brought up to code….like immediately.
    How much of the brick facade or unreinforced brick walls for these structures were of material which had degraded over the decades, couldn’t be saved nor should they be.
    That recent fire in the International District; the building which housed the infamous Wha Mee Gambling parlor in the basement and so many retail businesses on the ground level of that brick structure—so unstable that no one has been able to inspect the vacant upper floors of the building, not even on the ground floor.
    The Eitel Building at Second and Pike which is listed as an historic structure, far older (1906) than most of those buildings on The Hill; downtown, facing a busy pedestrian walkway; that corridor to the Pike Place Market–near derelict for decades except for ground floor tenants. The exterior brick and terra cotta surface from the second to the eighth floors—just there awaiting for a major accident when parts of the facade crumble off, falling on any hapless passerby who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. For this building, as with others in the city–several investors who almost purchased the structure with the intent of rennovation and repurposing only to be put off by the cost and enormity of the project.
    I too find some of the new buildings on The Hill to be very cooky cutter, too architecturally mundane, having little connection to the history nor the location where they exist. But unless there is a subsidy out there, somewhere, to award a developer, architect and general contractor the difference between what is economically feasible and what is pleasing to the eye—we’re going to see what makes economic sense for housing, that bottom line, the standard for design and construction.

    • Yes, by all means, let’s once again justify ridiculous conduct by hauling out the safety concerns. All citizens should be protected from any and all potential incidents, accidents and natural events (such as earthquakes). We should all wear helmets; we should ban all sports because they may cause concussions; and we should make very, very certain that we have cameras on all of our light posts so that we can allow those who claim to protect us watch our every move. Geez, how did those of us over the age of 21 ever manage to survive our childhoods?

      • Wow, you realize that earthquakes and buildings being safe have nothing to do with personal responsibility right?

        If the big one hit today (and it will hit, very likely within most of our lifetimes) Seattle would be RUINED. It would be the most costly natural disaster in the history of the world and this region would be set back decades.

        I am for preserving history, but we need to upgrade our city or we will have nothing when the time comes.

  5. “Also, without gutting the block, there would be no way to build the three-level underground parking with more than 200 stalls the developer is permitted to create for the project”

    Destroying a historic block for…parking. Why am I not surprised?

  6. Ah, strip mall Capitol Hill that’s exactly what draws in people. I’d like to thank the developers for turning Seattle into Bellevue.

  7. Seattle has always been for sale to the highest bidder. Witness all those godawful hotels from the World’s Fair that have been converted into godawful apartments — tons of well-made, attractive housing was demolished for that crap. We dug a giant ditch through the middle of the city for I-5, blew up the Kingdome, and cancelled the monorail project after 4 public votes because rich people didn’t like it. We didn’t expand electric bus service in the ’70s because people in Ballard thought the wires would spoil their views. The successful campaign to save Pike Place Market is pretty much the only one of its kind in Seattle’s history. Otherwise, every time some moneyed interest wants to burn part of the city’s architectural heritage down and replace it with a cardboard box and a TGI Friday’s, Seattle is only too happy to let them. Not that the alternative would add up to much in the way of meaningful difference. San Francisco still has most of its nice buildings, but it’s still basically a Disneyland for rich people.

    I always appreciate how software engineers and other high-powered yuppies move to nice places, drive up the rents, create a demand for overpriced crap and trendy furniture stores, then complain when all the character disappears. As far as that goes, I can say this for all the ugly shit that’s being built in Seattle now: those buildings will be the slums of tomorrow, so we can at least look forward to a little income stratification inside city limits. Unlike, say, New York City, or San Francisco. And when the Big One hits, the poor people will be the ones who survive. Unless, of course, those ugly plywood boxes do less well than we’re being led to believe, and the 100 year old buildings that have already survived three major earthquakes actually hold together pretty well.

    • I agree that cutting the city in half for I-5 was a mistake.

      Other than that, there are a lot of new jobs and thus residents in the Seattle metro area and new housing must be built. As urban living is finally popular again, the highest demand is for living in walkable urban neighborhoods like Capitol Hill. So, as people move into them (regardless of what walks of life), new housing has to be built. If it’s not built, then any new residents with a higher salary than an existing resident will displace the lowest paid. Displacement is a serious issue and nobody wants to be forced out of the neighborhood they call home. So the only solution is to densify. There is no other option. There is no option – people please don’t come here. People will always live wherever they want. Nobody owns the neighborhood. So as demand grows, densifying is inevitable. Or else Seattle will become San Francisco.

      Now, historic preservation can either try to build an extension of the preserved part of the building that matches it or that is in stark contrast. This is an example of the latter and works extremely well. Some of the most photographed spots of cities are where there is a stark contrast between two architectural styles. And as such this project is great.

      Last, about safety. The least safe buildings in any city are all old buildings that have not been seismically upgraded and especially if they lay on unstable soil.

      The most safe? You would never believe it. High-rises. You think I am making this up? Check this out:

      • “As urban living is finally popular again, the highest demand is for living in walkable urban neighborhoods like Capitol Hill. So, as people move into them (regardless of what walks of life), new housing has to be built. If it’s not built, then any new residents with a higher salary than an existing resident will displace the lowest paid.”

        Instead of assuming Capitol Hill is the main option for absorbing all new housing and that will never change, why can’t have the imagination to focus on making ALL of Seattle’s various neighborhoods more accessible/walkable? Capitol Hill has already more than exceeded the city’s density goals. There are many other neighborhoods that have far more capacity to absorb greater density. Fix the transit problem and it will create more alternatives while preserving the character that makes Seattle an attractive place to live in the first place.

      • I agree, it should not be just Capitol Hill. I hope that ST3 gets approved and light rail is extended to LQA, UQA, Fremont and Ballard on the same line.

      • i really don’t think that capitol hill is the only neighborhood in seattle where new construction and density is taking place.

        and just because we may have exceeded the city’s density goals doesn’t meant that we should just give up. if there are more options for density, especially when it replaces non-descript, single story auto-garages with very little character, why shouldn’t we as a community invest in it?

        or would you prefer that we clear-cut more of the remaining forests around seattle for tracts of cookie-cutter homes? personally, i say get rid of the crappy buildings and leave the trees.

  8. I don’t understand the sentiment of the author. Who would want to live in a old car dealership? If you want to put housing there, you would have to replace the building. Who care if it is 7 stories? Is that a problem? This is Capitol Hill we are talking about, a 15 minute walk from 50 story skyscrapers. Cap Hill is not the woods, it is the city. Cities grow, and they have buildings over 3 stories. Always have, always will.

    • What sentiment, Jon? Trying to explain what is happening on the block and in the neighborhood. I won’t miss the big mostly empty BMW building. Documenting how and why of it all seems worth the effort, though, given how many questions I get asked about the project.

    • “Cities grow, and they have buildings over 3 stories. Always have, always will.”

      Well, no. There are tons of neighborhoods, centrally located, in huge cities, that have comparatively short buildings. Again, San Francisco and New York come to mind. Even Manhattan has Greenwich Village. Chicago is mile after mile after mile of townhouses. London. Paris. Rome. You see where I’m going here.

      Residential neighborhoods trend toward smaller buildings in many cities, because big buildings can feel oppressive.

      Also, a big building that’s ugly is hard to get rid of. The cost accounting of demolishing an ugly big building is pretty harsh. So the mistakes that get made on this scale tend to hang around. Like the giant ugly concrete condos that block out the sky on the west slope of Capitol Hill around Bellevue and Mercer. So these concerns are legitimate.

      It’s just not clear to me what a lot of “neighborhood advocates” want to save the neighborhood FOR, since most of them are just passing through anyway, and have already displaced everyone who actually grew up there. They just want to make sure the neighborhood stays “cool”? Why? So their real estate investments aren’t devalued? So they’ll be able to go back there after they’ve moved to the suburbs and take a walk down memory lane? I don’t get it.

      • …”Even Manhattan has Greenwich Village”…
        Greenwich Village buildings and density is huge compared to anything we have here on Capitol Hill. It looks more like Pioneer Square (if Pioneer Square took up the area of all Downtown).

      • “Greenwich Village buildings and density is huge compared to anything we have here on Capitol Hill.”

        That’s true. It is also farther from the Pacific Ocean, has a higher percentage of masonry structures, and more surnames ending in “r”. Interestingly, more basements than one would find on Capitol Hill, or in Pioneer Square. Fewer cars per capita. And a surprising number of single-glazed windows — but fewer Vietnamese restaurants compared to Capitol Hill, as correlated to both population and area.

      • I wasn’t trying to be sarcastic with you. I was trying to point out that you were comparing one thing to another that is really not related, in order to make one thing look more or less desirable than it really is. The cities you named are the way they are for numerous reasons that have no bearing on why Seattle is or isn’t the way you want it.

  9. Before Seattle or King County plan on extending any kind of mass transit service they both must appeal to that dysfunctional state legislature whose upper house is more or less controlled by conservative rural interests who listen to King County residents, not happy about a car tab tax increase to maintain or expand Metro Transit service.
    Before anyone has dreams of streetcars heading to Ballard/Fremont; that Toonerville Streetcar, aka The SLUT, might end up having to suspend service because of Metro Transit service cuts….probably the same fate awaits that as yet unopened streetcar line from Capitol Hill to King Street.
    Seattle and metropolitan King County are way overbuilt; without the legal authority to manage or sustain services independent of the state government. There is little wiggle room for the King County government, even if it were brought to a vote by county residents for the authorization of revenues required to support and expand any kind of transit service—not without prior approval of the legislature.
    Some of those sites on the Motorworks property; possibly so contaminated by asbestos, decades of petroleum spills, who knows what else that the structures endured over the decades?
    Interesting to note that the Bill’s Off Broadway building, once a paint shop (??)
    way back in the day, now has exposed brickwork on the west side of that building.
    Who knew that there were windows hidden by the adjoining concrete wall of that transmission shop next door? It looks like Bills makes the cut for retaining much of it’s structure into the new building which will rise on that site.
    Speaking of repurposed buildings; what is taking so long to rennovate the existing Capitol Hill Club building between Summit and Bellevue Avenues along Pine Street into that new location for Bauhaus Books and Coffee? There must have been some deferred maintenance by the previous tenants.

    • …”Speaking of repurposed buildings; what is taking so long to rennovate the existing Capitol Hill Club building between Summit and Bellevue Avenues along Pine Street into that new location for Bauhaus Books and Coffee? There must have been some deferred maintenance by the previous tenants.”

      According to gossip amongst those of near by, they discovered the plumbing and electrical was so bad it required gutting the place. But again that was said by someone else who supposedly spoke to someone involved with the actual project. Personally, I glance in while walking by and can see plywood structures of some sort.

      • Last night I wanted my fix and I rediscovered Kaladi Brothers. I hope Bauhaus comes back soon but happy to have other options.

  10. It’s interesting to see the shift in sentiment in these comments compared to the last post about this project (, where everyone seemed kind of bright eyed and bushy tailed about it, even though the projected pictures of the project on that post very clearly showed that preservation means saving three bricks from the original archway. What changed?

      • You do realize that rent is a product of supply and demand? The *only* way for rent to go down is to build more. On the Amazon campus there is a 12 story building with a similar brick facade (actually an entire brick building) preserved. It looks amazing. This could have easily been 12 stories too. For every story not built due to a zoning limitation some group of existing residents will be forced out. That’s what people are actually against and the only way to stop it is to build more and build higher.

        No, I don’t work for some developer, I’m just seeing how San Francisco is being gutted of its original population due to zoning restrictions and I don’t want to see that in Seattle. Let’s make sure everyone can afford to live here or else it will become pretty boring pretty quickly.

      • Anton, I agree with you. I was just being sarcastic. Many people here believe than stopping construction will magically make urbanites (mostly working for Amazon) decide to live in Ballard. Rent control, preservation, height limits… NYMBYism will use anything to prevent people from moving here.

        Of course that’s not happening, you nailed it in your previous comment. If we don’t build houses for the people that want to live here, someone will be priced out.

        My 2cents.

      • Very few, if any, people want to “stop construction.” But new development should be done in a careful, thoughtful manner….with good architectural design, quality materials, and landscaping…..unlike what is happening today all over Capitol Hill. And at least in the purely residential areas, the new buildings should be in scale to what already exists. It is possible to accomplish these goals and still increase density in our neighborhood, if we can avoid the “gold rush” mentality that is driving recent development.

      • Oh, the beloved “out of scale” comment again.

        First, one of the main things that makes architecture look interesting is when you see a bunch of buildings next to each other all with varying heights. When all buildings are of the same scale and especially height then you get a “tabletop skyline” and Vancouver, for example, which is trying really hard to protect views, be liveable, etc, approved taller buildings to avoid this very tabletop skyline they got due to height limits.

        Second, increasing density without scale means smaller units. I actually like this, as smaller units are more affordable and allow a variety of income classes to live in a neighborhood. I think this should be done. But we shouldn’t only have small units. Having some buildings which are slightly out of scale will be good for the neighborhood. Nobody is talking about building skyscrapers on Capitol Hill here. But if there were a few 8-10 floor buildings scattered it would look good (definitely would look more playful). I think this is what Vancouver is doing with their Broadway. And on our own Cap Hill there is actually a very old brick building that is about 9 floors I think (near Summit and Bellevue I think).

      • I lived and worked in San Francisco during those giddy boom years of the mid to late nineties. Roommate services proliferated in the city, there were early arrivals camped out to obtain the first of numbered rental applicatons hoping to luck out and be chosen for an apartment that was not yet over the top for monthly rent, just there as housing, close to transit or came with the most coveted of options–not the view, a designated parking spot.
        A catering friend, in the restaurant business in the city, a San Franciscan native;
        we share development stories between this city and the one on The Bay. Bidding wars for the few housing units which come on the market, those which a well paid software engineer might envision as a home and prepared to suffer being house poor. A near Aspen like quality to the frenzied housing market as the very, very rich move the very rich down the property ladder forcing the rich to move into real estate territory formerly the domaine of the upper middle class.
        While I don’t know if so much of the creative teams moving into San Francisco from Silicon Valley environs might leave the Bay area, side stepping Oregon for a new home and career on Puget Sound I wonder if all that money and real estate pressure might do something for Oakland, which has been relegated as that trailer park north of The City, across the Bay, by using the sheer force of that money and housing demand to clean up Oakland turning gang turf and zip codes known for urban violence into new areas for safe, affordable housing?
        Either way if Seattle doesn’t increase density by redeveloping marginal areas or building up—the same real estate pressure for housing will send rents and housing prices beyond the reach of many, especially those of the middle class with the desire to start families and live in the city.