Capitol Hill’s Hugo House makes mixed-use plans to stay on 11th Ave

(Image: Hugo House)

(Image: Hugo House)

Cramped in its longtime residence inside a 1903-built former mortuary, literary-focused Capitol Hill nonprofit Hugo House announced Monday that it has begun work on a plan to build a new center as part of a mixed-use development at the site of its 11th Ave home.

“What’s great about this new project is that Hugo House can operate as usual during the design phase and we will still be able to stay where we are after construction is completed —but in a new, more functional, efficient and community-friendly space,” Hugo House executive director Tree Swenson said in a statement.

The new development will include 10,000 to 15,000 square feet of ground-level commercial/retail space, as well as up to five stories of multi-family housing right across the street from Cal Anderson Park. Zoning in the area would allow the building to reach 65 feet — good enough for six stories (or more if you’re good with words.) Its location in the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District could open the project up to additional height if portions of the original structure were to be preserved. A 2013 hearing determined the former Manning’s Funeral Parlor should not be protected as an official city landmark.

UPDATE: We asked Swenson about her thoughts on being part of the Hill’s continuing wave of mixed-use development and Hugo House’s part in planning what comes next for the parcel. She was unassuming about any hopes of influencing the project beyond the future center’s home. The big decisions, she said, belong to the developers and the landowner.

“It’s only through their good graces that we’ll be lucky enough to stay here,” she said.

“I’m just grateful that we can stay.”

In the announcement, Hugo House and the longtime property owners of the more than 100-year-old building said they are now working with a developer to determine “the exact mix of uses as part of the design and permitting process.” The announcement notes the property owners have “generously supported all facility costs, including rent” for Hugo House throughout its history.

(Image: Hugo House)

(Image: Hugo House)

In early 2012, CHS reported on the selection of the poet Swenson as Hugo House executive director. The next spring, we talked with Swenson about Hugo House’s growing needs and the possibility the nonprofit would need to leave Capitol Hill in order to find a new home:

Though he never lived here, since 1997, this has been the Richard Hugo House. But the Capitol Hill literary nonprofit named for the White Center poet is starting to feel a bit of writer’s block about the increasingly cramped and uncomfortable confines for its growing organization inside the 1903 house at 1634 11th Ave. “We have some great plans for how we’re going to be able to serve the community better but we’re kind of maxed out on space,” new executive director Tree Swenson tells CHS.

UPDATE: Swenson tells CHS that her work would serve to show it — though she once was head of the Academy of American Poets — she, herself is not a poet.

With the new announcement, fears of a Hugo House-less Capitol Hill can now be put to rest.

The building in 1937

The building in 1937

The announcement comes as Capitol Hill prepares to welcome back another important cultural venue with the reopening of The Egyptian Theater now part of SIFF.

Meanwhile, a larger, revitalized Hugo House would play a key role in the Capitol Hill Arts District currently under formation. This fall’s opening of 12th Ave Arts will help give the program to promote, market, and create space for arts on Capitol Hill a near-term boost — even as the neighborhood’s real estate and development markets grow less and less artist-friendly. 12th Ave Arts, with affordable housing, theaters, restaurants, and nonprofit office space, may also provide a framework for what gets built on 11th Ave.

Hugo House says the “redevelopment” will begin in early 2016.

The full announcement is below.

Seattle, Wash., September 30, 2014 – Hugo House (hugohouse.org), a nationally-acclaimed non-profit that provides a “place for writers” through its classes, programs and services, today announced long-term re-investment plans that will help the organization continue to serve local writers and the arts community for decades to come.

Hugo House was founded in 1996 by arts supporters Linda Breneman, Frances McCue and Andrea Lewis, and is now led by a board and staff of literature-loving writers and readers from a cross-section of industries.  Located at 1634 11th Ave. along Capitol Hill’s Pike/Pine corridor and adjacent to Cal Anderson Park, the nonprofit’s current building and property belong to a local ownership team, which has generously supported all facility costs, including rent for Hugo House, since its inception.

Beginning in 2016, the property ownership team, which consists of long-term Hugo House benefactors, will re-invest and redevelop the current aging property, providing Hugo House a modern, flexible space that can better accommodate current and future growth. During the transition, Hugo House will remain open, holding classes, readings, events and programs at locations in Seattle-area neighborhoods. Hugo House also plans to keep all existing staff during the transition.

“Hugo House was established 20 years ago with the idea of creating a place for writers,” said property owner and co-founder Linda Breneman. “Richard Hugo said ‘writing is hard and writers need help’ – for anyone who takes on that challenge, Hugo House is a writer’s greatest ally. This has been the vision from day one and we trust this re-investment ensures Hugo House will continue serving local writers for many, many years to come.”

“What’s great about this new project is that Hugo House can operate as usual during the design phase and we will still be able to stay where we are after construction is completed —but in a new, more functional, efficient and community-friendly space,” said Tree Swenson, Hugo House Executive Director. “Our board and staff members will be involved in planning the new space, and we’re committed to making it even more welcoming and suited to the busy, multi-faceted programming that Hugo House presents.”

Named after poet Richard Hugo, who came from blue-collar, Seattle roots, Hugo House serves thousands of writers each year. Class offerings have grown by 77% over the last two years. In addition, the number of seats filled increased from 1,261 (2012-13 academic year) to 2,084 (2013-14).

“While we love the quirky spaces and well-worn feel of Hugo House, the building’s configuration constrains how we are able to serve our growing base of writers,” said Swenson. “In addition, the amount of energy and time it takes to maintain an aging facility detracts from our ability to serve our mission.”

She added, “As demand for our offerings continues to grow, this is a natural next step for our organization. We’re incredibly excited about having a more versatile space that is better suited to Hugo House’s vibrant present, and even more vibrant future.”

Hugo House’s Exciting New Chapter

The property owners have selected Seattle real estate investment firm Meriwether Partners as project developer. They will determine the exact mix of uses as part of the design and permitting process.  Bids for the project team, including an architect and contractor, will be issued in the next few months. The new development will include 10,000 – 15,000 sq. ft. of ground-level commercial/retail space, as well as up to five stories of multi-family housing.

Before the current location closes, Hugo House plans to hold a community celebration for the years of accomplishment and thousands of people whose lives have been changed during Hugo House’s 17 years in its current space.

Lending Support for an ‘Arts and Cultural District’ on Capitol Hill

The redeveloped property is anticipated to add momentum to the neighborhood’s recent effort to spur an ‘arts and cultural district’ on Capitol Hill, which is currently represented by the new 12th Avenue Arts Building, Northwest Film Forum, Velocity, Annex Theater, Photographic Center Northwest and several other nearby arts organizations.

“Our hope is that this new project will help advance a strong ‘arts and cultural district’ on Capitol Hill and it’s one of the main reasons we decided to re-invest at our current location,” added Breneman. “All of the surrounding amenities, including proximity to the new light rail system and First Hill streetcar, further support that decision.”

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12 thoughts on “Capitol Hill’s Hugo House makes mixed-use plans to stay on 11th Ave

  1. Could the redevelopment of Horizon Books into Ada’s Technical Books on 15th be any kind of a model for the re-development of this site?

    • I love Ada’s (wish I had more time and money to spend there) but I imagine that’s way too modest (in terms of height and total square footage) for what the developers / landowners want.

  2. good enough for six stories (or more if you’re good with words.)

    I can’t let this clever little quip go past without acknowledging its brilliance in the context.

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  8. Keep in mind the building you live in now was not there 10 years ago. It was built by “big development” cashing in on the condo boom of the pre-bust mid 2000’s. You wouldn’t have your space if not for big development building that condo building of yours and you willingly buying a unit from them. You lack any credibility to moan about the apartment building going up which will now block your view, you poor thing. The building you live in now changed the character of the street corner it’s on for good. Did you moan then? Probably not. Find something more global to bitch about.

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