New Sunset Electric apartment building shows Pike/Pine preservation rules in action

Sunset Electric stands tall among its neighbors -- for now (Images: CHS)

Sunset Electric stands tall among its neighbors — for now (Images: CHS)

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The old building in its "poster wall" days (Image: CHS)

The old building in its “poster wall” days (Image: CHS)

You might scoff at Capitol Hill’s abundant “preservation” development projects when you see the thin brick facades that end up getting preserved. But if the newly opened Sunset Electric apartment building at 11th and Pine is any indication of preservation projects to come, saving seemingly superficial portions of “character structures” can translate into something more substantial.

Sunset Electric is one of the first major projects to open in Pike/Pine that used the city’s 2009 preservation incentive program, which allowed Sunset’s developers to build a fifth floor of residential units in exchange for keeping parts of the original 1926-built facade and maintaining parts of the old’s building’s internal dimensions.

Preserving the two-story facade allowed for a spacious vaulted foyer and for four vast commercial spaces to utilize second story windows that wrap around the building — a part of the project in keeping with the prior use of the building over its early years as part of Capitol Hill’s auto row.

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The incentives give developers the option to build bigger projects if they preserve certain character structures within the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District. The city council is slated to revisit the rules next month to rein in giant projects and increase demands on developers while opening up the projects to greater flexibility in how the space in the new buildings is put to use.

What would have happened at the site without the preservation incentives available is open to debate. Developers CHS has spoken with say that many of the properties would likely have been scraped clean and started fresh to save on the labor intensive preservation efforts and techniques required to keep old masonry standing even as giant parking pits are dug within feet of the old walls. Others point to Liz Dunn’s projects like Melrose Market which was built without the Pike/Pine incentives as examples of what can be done without developer giveaways. All points are moot — the incentives are here to stay for the foreseeable future. And even Dunn is putting them to use in her latest project on 11th Ave. Meanwhile, another preservation-minded development is about to break ground on E Pike in coming weeks while yet another is about to be completed on 14th Ave.

IMG_0359At the pedestrian level, the preserved facade prevents the building from being too overbearing and some added design elements make the structure feel relatively consistent with the rest of Pike/Pine. Encased in distressed metal, Sunset’s superhero-esque lightning bolt logo was made to look like it came from the building’s original 1916 manufacturing tenant.

Developers decided to scrap plans for a community bulletin board on one outside wall of the building, a proposed nod to the buildings longtime use as a poster display for local musicians. Overall, the new structure bares little resemblance to the original timber-laden warehouse space when viewed from a distance. At the sidewalk level, some of the old feel of the warehouse remains.

One of the first things you notice upon stepping inside Sunset’s front gate is you’re still outside, sort of. The open air lobby and atrium takes cues from the building’s industrial past. Wire mesh panels, exposed steel beams, and reclaimed wood from the original structure are used throughout the partially-covered lobby. Cat-walk hallways criss-cross over the 7-story atrium, adding to the building’s industrial aesthetic.

IMG_0325The Arizona-based The Wolff Company purchased property in 2012 for $6.7 million and began redeveloping the old poster-clad building. Sunset was designed by Seattle architects Weber Thompson. The team will open another major Capitol Hill preservation project in Pike Motorworks at Pike and Harvard in 2015. Wolff is a CHS advertiser.

Four of Sunset’s 92 units are already occupied. CHS got to tour of a few of the apartments, which include some commanding views of Capitol Hill (and at least one lucky tenant will get a direct view, at least for a little while, into The Stranger offices across the street). Reclaimed wood from the original structure was also used inside the apartments for sliding doors and a few built-in desks. One bedroom apartments range from $1,700-$3,200 a month.

Prior to Wolff’s purchase of the building, another developer bought the property for $2.9 million in 2006 and began moving the project you see today forward. Its development began the public design review process way back in summer of 2009. Five years later, this early piece of the conservation district is ready to begin a new life as the latest waves of change continue to flow through Pike/Pine.

33 thoughts on “New Sunset Electric apartment building shows Pike/Pine preservation rules in action

    • those prices actually aren’t all that unreasonable considering location, the fact that it’s new constuction and also having increased construction costs around preservation of the ground floor.

      if i were to rent out my 1 bedroom place i’d have to charge $1800/mo to cover the mortgage, hoa dues and property taxes. and my building was put up in ’92.

      • I think it would surprise a lot of renters who are frequently railing against greedy developers, just how much taxes add to rents. My little house wouldn’t sell for anywhere near what one of these apts would sell for, and I’m sure it’s assessed for way less on the tax rolls; and just prop taxes alone are almost $400/mo. It looks so reasonable when you’re constantly seeing it expressed as how little more each ballot question would add to the typical property’s tax assessment. Would not surprise me to see a typical unit in a newer bldg on CapHill costing $500/mo just on taxes alone.

        • Yep. My 2-bedroom condo is around $2400/month total, of which $600ish is HOA (which is basically just maintenance costs and management overhead for the building) and $400ish is property taxes. (On the plus side, of what remains, about half is principal, which means in theory I get it back when I sell, not that I’m planning on selling any time soon.)

  1. The thing with the grey coloring is that during most of our overcast days here in Seattle, it helps the newconstruction ‘disappear’ or blend into the sky.

  2. The patterning of residential windows is excessively busy and competes with the fine detail of the transoms below. The uniformity of color is oppressive. The top portion totally dominates the base. Missed opportunity.

    • Someday we’ll look back and think “where the hell did all this cheap looking metal siding come from?!” It is literally on every single new building and it looks so cheap and flimsy. The design review board needs to step their game up BIG TIME

    • …You must be an architect.

      I just walked by this project. The impact of the horizontal windows is really striking against the vertically-oriented base. It brings the visual weight and building height down, which architects are NEVER inclined to do in multifamily. The overall effect is surprisingly airy and respectful of the original facade’s era. I think Weber Thompson and Wolff hit this one out of the park.

  3. I don’t want to hear any complaining about this building.

    No residents or business were displaced, instead a beautiful building was repurposed. One that sat empty for years and was a target of vandalism and tagging.

    Also, about the dark grey upper part of the building, that’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s not supposed to draw attention to the new part, but rather focus the attention on the wonderful red brick of the original facade. Bonus points for this building have a lot of natural light and a beautiful courtyard.

    • I agree. I think it’s a nice contrast between the warm, earthy and detailed brick and the simplicity and sleek modern look of the metal above. I am generally not wild about a lot of modern/contemporary buildings, but I think this one does pretty well. Love the stair too!

      Interesting article, but could stand a little editing here and there.

    • Have to disagree here. I think it draws attention by how tall and top-heavy it is. If it was 1-2 stories of grey metal on top, maybe you could argue that it blends in. But 5 stories of grey metal is a totally different story. All that metal siding screams “look at me!”

      • The materials and grey color (which I don’t mind that much), would feel lighter if pulled back slightly from the edge of the building to create a visual separation between the old and new. I think simplifying the windows or adding some variation (varying shade of a slightly lighter grey, perhaps?) between floors could have broken up the uniformity. But what do I know? I’m not an architect nor a developer, just a long time resident with an appreciation for design.

  4. This building looks awful. Just about as warm and inviting as the jailhouse downtown or a prison. Terrible blight once you look up past the brick. Preservation fail case study right here.

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  6. I’m generally not fond of modern buildings, but I think this one looks great! I especially like the preserved brick façade, and also the inner courtyard with landscaping….very classy.

    It’s nice to see a new building without the small, “pasted-on” balconies for each unit. My understanding is that these are included in many new buildings because their square footage is included in the total “open space” which is required by code, thereby allowing developers to include less open space at ground level. Can anyone confirm this? The problem is that the balconies are usually too small to be useful….it is rare to see a tenant outside on one of them….and they give the buildings a cluttered, tacky look.

  7. Love it. A nice addition to the neighborhood. The industrial warehouse look is in keeping with the area with its clean lines and metal facade above the brick. The courtyard makes for a pleasant living experience. It looks much nicer than the beige box atop the Packard building.

    The reality that few will even notice the upper stories unless they walk peering up towards the sky.

    I’m not sure what others are expecting. Perhaps 6 stories of plaster work flanked with cherubs?

    • I agree the rental rates in new builds is extremely high. They are really getting out of hand. I make a decent living and if I had to pay 2k for rent I would be working strictly to pay rent and not much else.

      That being said, I’d much rather pay rent here than the “Viva Cap Hill” disaster of a building that has even higher rents.

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  11. Sorry, but NO. Sunset Electric is not a preservation success story. Although they did a good job of keeping the original brick facade, what they built on top of it is discordant and hideous – it’s a black eye on a gorgeous old building. Why can’t these developers use colors, details, and materials that compliment the original. It looks like they were just lazy about the design and stuck a gross grey box on the top.

    FAIL.

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