The Landmarks Preservation Board process can be a pretty stuffy procedure but the effort to see an important building in Black Seattle history designated spilled into the streets of the Central District on Monday afternoon.
Africatown leaders organized a rally and march to call for the city’s board to designate the former Liberty Bank at 24th and E Union as a landmark in Wednesday’s planned hearing on the property. CHS reported on the effort by longtime Central District/Africatown activist Omari Garrett to have the building home to the “first banking institution for African Americans in the Pacific Northwest region” given official city landmarks protection prior to its first review meeting.
Last year, Capitol Hill Housing announced it had tentatively agreed to purchase the building owned by KeyBank. CHH is now under contract to purchase the building. A CHH spokesperson said officials recognized the historical significance of the building but did not think it was architecturally significant.
“Our children are not on the street shooting each other because they don’t have a place to stay. They don’t have Black institutions to look up to, they don’t see Black bank owners,” Garrett told CHS in February. “Housing is not our problem in the central area. Our problem is identity and having cultural institutions in Africatown.”
The nomination was accepted in February by a unanimous 10-0 vote of the board, according to a representative from the Department of Neighborhoods. Wednesday’s meeting will take the process to the final step of potential designation. In accepting the nomination, a city representative said the board members were most interested in the third of six categories by which a potential landmark property is weighed:
a) It is the location of, or is associated in a significant way with, a historic event with a significant effect upon the community, City, state, or nation; or
b) It is associated in a significant way with the life of a person important in the history of the City, state, or nation; or
c) It is associated in a significant way with a significant aspect of the cultural, political, or economic heritage of the community, City, state or nation; or
d) It embodies the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, or period, or a method of construction; or
e) It is an outstanding work of a designer or builder; or
f) Because of its prominence of spatial location, contrasts of siting, age, or scale, it is an easily identifiable visual feature of its neighborhood or the city and contributes to the distinctive quality or identity of such neighborhood or the City.
While the building’s “cultural, political, or economic heritage” value is difficult to discount, the board also must account for the “integrity” of the structure and any changes made to the building over its lifetime that might detract from its overall status as a landmark. “In addition to meeting at least one of the above standards, the object, site, or improvement must also possess integrity or the ability to convey its significance,” the designation process description reads.
On Wednesday, the board will hear more about the 1968-built building’s integrity from the applicant Garrett as well as representatives for the current property owners, KeyBank, which shuttered its operations at the site last year leaving the building empty and fenced-off since. There will also, again, be an opportunity for public comment.
Landmarks Preservation Board Meeting
Wednesday, March 19, 2014 – 3:30 p.m.
Seattle Municipal Tower
700 5th Avenue, 40th Floor – Rm 4060
Email comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If the building does qualify to be protected, the Capitol Hill Housing spokesperson told CHS in February that the non-profit developer would not be able to develop the site. Plans call for a mixed-use affordable housing development with ground-level commercial space facing Union. The spokesperson also said any development would likely reach the 40-foot hight zoning limit.
Not all designations have resulted in scuttled development plans. While occasionally a landmark building may still be razed if the property owner can make an economic case for the demolition, another possible avenue is preservation. After the board approved designation of an art deco-style auto garage at 777 Thomas St last year, the developer has found a solution to build around and integrate the South Lake Union landmark, the Department of Neighborhoods representative tells CHS — following a lawsuit to fight the building’s designation.