Africatown continues push for Liberty Bank landmark in Central District

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A small group attended the rally and march outside the old bank on Monday (Images: CHS)

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The bank in 1968

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.Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 10.10.25 AM

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 erin.doherty@seattle.gov.

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.

22 thoughts on “Africatown continues push for Liberty Bank landmark in Central District

  1. Not sure how much “spilling on the streets” there was – a grand total of 6 people including Omari attended the “rally”.

  2. It’s an extremely ugly nearly useless one story building in a commercial district just outside of downtown. There are many buildings around seattle that should be preserved, this is not one of them.

    • Agreed. As I have suggested before, commemorate the historical significance of the bank with an appropriate plaque, but let this fugly building go.

  3. I applaud their efforts. While the numbers are few, I appreciate those that did stand up to try and preserve something they believe in. Just because something isn’t really old, grand and ornate, doesn’t mean it’s not worth preserving. Fast forward 30 years and we may be grateful to have a lowly one story building providing some breathing room and light to an area that may be full of multi-story buildings.

    • Please think about what you are saying… This is an intersection that has seen multiple homicides and the last decade. What the neighborhood desperately needs is more people; normal, responsible people, “eyes on the street”. And here is Capitol Hill Housing, a non profit organization proposing to re-develop the lot as a mixed use, affordable housing project. Exactly what that intersection needs. Just because a vocal minority “believes” in something does not mean it deserves applause.

  4. I’m well aware of this area’s history. Every time I pass by, I still think of the owner who was gunned down in the restaurant at 23rd and Union. I think the proposed development that is slated for that intersection is a great idea and a step to revitalize the neighborhood. There are many development opportunities within that intersection and surrounding streets that can transform the neighborhood and provide a great sense of community. Hopefully without displacing its current residents. Is this the only spot in the general area that Capitol Hill Housing can build? Of course it’s not.

    You can disagree, but I will always applaud people who stand up and voice what they believe in – whether we feel they are right or wrong. Too many sit on their hands and not enough take action.

    • Two owners of the Philadelphia Cheese Steak restaurant next door were shot to death. First in 2003 and then in 2010. Followed by an arson in summer 2013 which ended the popular MedMix restaurant’s tenure there.

      Odd that the iconic and inspirational Liberty Bank building did not prevent these cold-blooded murders. I fear the blood-bath to come when this Africatown icon torn down.

      Omari Garrett, please save us! …or is this because his father was one of the founders of the bank.

      Omari indeed does many good works, but he also seems to be, well…, read his Omari’s own words and make your own decicion http://www.centraldistrictnews.com/2013/05/illegal-theft-of-liberty-bank-key-bank-branch-24th-and-union/

      I bet the people on the landmark committee are worried that Omari will smash them in the face with a bullhorn just like he did to Mayor Schell in 2001.

      Oh, this is precious, Omari also testified in court that he receives disability payments for “delayed-stress syndrome due to racism” and described himself as “a refugee of the African slave trade.” http://www.komonews.com/news/archive/4067121.html

      • Point of clarification– and not to disagree w/ any of your points– but the murder of the prior owner in 2003 had nothing to do w/ that location. I believe it was 2 or 3 in the morning and he was in a car in mid-CD neighborhood when he was shot.

  5. It’s a shame that those misguided do-gooders don’t realize that CHH is the real thing. They actually provide low priced housing for real working families, nowhere near market rates. Want some more working class, real people in the city? Let CHH clean up the toxic waste and make a nice building. The thing is that the building will otherwise just be a junky store.

    And what’s the “Indian Country”? That’s not got anything to do with this.

  6. Capitol Hill Housing’s development proposal at this site will address concerns that the community has identified. The City’s extensive community planning efforts along the 23rd Avenue corridor yielded a number of community desires for the area, including street level retail uses and affordable housing. The proposed development will include both of these community identified needs. Additionally, as this article points out, there is community interest in preserving the history and legacy of Liberty Bank on the site. To address this community interest, CHH hosted a focus group to understand how the community would like the bank’s history to be designed into the building and/or site. This focus group yielded a number of ideas that CHH will include in the design. CHH is continuing their community outreach effort by exploring the possibility of an advisory board made of community members who will guide the memorialization process so that it is in accordance with community desires. The proponents of landmarking were in attendance at the focus group and CHH staff have a standing offer to meet with them and discuss their concerns.

    It is important to note that there is broad general community support for the CHH proposal. At the most recent Central Area Neighborhood District Council (a council of community councils in the Central Area) meeting, the present members voted unanimously against landmarking the existing building for a variety of reasons, including that CHH is committed to incorporating the history and legacy of the bank into the new development.

    In terms of the specifics of preservation, as stated in the article, the site must possess integrity or the ability to convey its significance. This building does not meet this standard. Approximately 43% of the building’s exterior and approximately 95% of the interior have been altered. With the major changes to the building that occurred over the years, it no longer retains sufficient physical integrity to convey any historical significance it may have.

    If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to email Katie Porter at kporter@capitolhillhousing.org.

  7. Didn’t the board also consider Yesler Terrace for historical status? It’s just sort of a due diligence. I’d be pretty shocked if Africa Town wins this one.

    Still- filing for historical status is more mature than squatting at Horace Mann.

  8. Please everyone, can we stop referring to this area as Africa Town? It’s the Central District. Always has been, always will be. And can we stop giving Omari this stage he so desperately wants? I’ll remind everyone incase you have forgotten, Omari spent several months in jail for assaulting the Mayor of the City of Seattle. All he does is go around intimidating people. I fear the Landmarks Board is going to approve this building as a Landmark because they are afraid Omari will somehow brand them as racist if they don’t.

    Let’s all move on with life please everyone. In the end we are all just people trying to make it in this world.

  9. Omari needs a hobby other than being a pain in the ass. I might feel differently if he hadn’t disrupted so many community meetings by acting like a toddler throwing a tantrum. How much did his stunt at the Mann Building cost the taxpayers? He is the Central District Tea Party. He just wants to turn back the calendar. Omari, please take up knitting or home brewing or something like that to better occupy your time.

    • I wonder how many of these “activists” agitating for historical designation have any ability to launch, or even develop a business plan, for a successful business? Has Omari ever run his own (successful) business? (I’m serious– I don’t know– has he?) It’s real easy to spout off proposals for laws and restrictions that other people have to abide by, when you have no understanding or responsibility to work them yourself. You tie the hands of would-be business owners or property developers and nothing goes in there. Hopefully the Landmarks board expects to see some tangible, cost-effective alternatives from these “activists”. And what does it say about the memory & reputation of the 1st black bank in the area when the bldg is boarded up and empty behind ugly chain link fence? Yeah, that’s a great way to honor.

  10. I heard the Landmarks Board did the right thing by not voting to Designate this building. Such a ridiculous argument by the applicant. Can we all move on with life now? Such a waste of everyone’s time.

  11. Pingback: Central District landmark bid denied clearing way for Capitol Hill Housing development | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  12. Tear it down. It’s an eyesore among eyesores att he most crime-ridden intersection in the state. I live in the neighborhood and I want real businesses, beside a liquor store, nearby.