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.
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.
At 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.
The 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.