Why does *jseattle* think Capitol Hill’s Weatherford building is so ugly?

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(Image: CHS)

The story is as old as the recent development boom on Capitol Hill. A small, quirky building gets torn down. A new one goes up (often these days, the new one is four or five stories, often with ground floor retail). Longer-time residents bemoan the lack of architectural flourish in the new place as it quickly fills with people eager to live here. Those people, in turn, bemoan the lack of architectural flourish in the next lot that undergoes the process, and the cycle of life continues.

UPDATE: OK. OK. Ugliness is arbitrary. We’ve updated the post to reflect a cold, hard truth — the editor thinks The Weatherford is ugly. In true CHS style, we now risk throwing more wood on the ugly/not ugly fire with a brief survey featuring some of the most recently completed developments around the Hill. We’ve tried to be fair with imagery by using marketing photos or pictures from the CHS Flickr Pool. Please let us know your arbitrary ugly/not ugly thoughts.
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One of the newest cases is The Weatherford building at 14th Ave East and E John. The building had been the site of a Victorian-era home, albeit one which had been much modified over the years, which housed an antique shop. Before that it was the home of Ella McBride, a photographer, mountain-climber and all-around super-interesting person.


Back in 2012, the Seattle Landmarks Board decided the home straddled a line between being neither true enough to its original form nor modified enough to be considered a landmark, paving the way for Developer Murray Franklyn with an assist from architects Weber Thompson to level the place and put up the new 42-unit Weatherford Apartments.

Now that it’s been up and running for a few months, neighbors have compared it (unfavorably) to a cinder block orthodontist’s office — and worse.

The building went through the city’s typical design review process. The first meeting, December 7, 2011, drew four members of the community, according to city documents, though at least one of those four noted there was insufficient notice of the meeting. Some of their comments, such as calling for a rooftop deck, were incorporated into the final design. Others such as calling the design too timid didn’t seem to be reflected in later versions.

There was a second meeting September 19, 2012 after the design was modified. At that meeting, again there were only a handful of comments about the re-vamped design. Of those, only one suggested that the building’s design should be altered to better respond to the residential character of 14th Ave E. The others talked about landscaping and setbacks.

In the public record, there’s no mention of residents speaking out about things like color schemes or surfaces. Or cinder blocks, for that matter.

On the kind-of upside, the property has skyrocketed from an appraised value last year of $1.24 million to $5.74 million this year, so that should mean a very, very tiny reduction in property taxes for the rest of the Hill.

Representatives from Weber Thompson declined to comment. Representatives from Murray Franklyn also declined to comment.

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40 thoughts on “Why does *jseattle* think Capitol Hill’s Weatherford building is so ugly?

  1. What’s so unusual? The land owner got what they wanted (more money for the same amount of space) and in return we got an ugly building. What’s so odd?

    • The point is: quit your bitching, because there were two design review meetings, and few people showed up, and the ones that did didn’t say anything about how ugly it was.

      I hate it, but clearly not enough to skip work and give feedback, so I have to live with it.

    • Over the many years (50 plus) I’ve lived on Capitol Hill, witnessing of the decay of the old house signaled it’s demise.
      I attended the landmark preservation meeting and the development seemed to be “rubber stamped” in it’s own Seattle style.
      What a shame, I liken it to clear cutting along the I-90 corridor when significant boulevards are blighted.
      I saw Weatherford on 15th outside of Ada’s (an example of attentive growth) , but I contained myself.

    • Are you sure this building even has retail spaces? I thought it’s just the building lobby and apartment units on the ground floor. Nice try, though.

    • Sorry, I failed. Looks like there is at least that retail spot in the pic. I take back my snarky comment. :)
      I will say though, having some empty retail storefronts in the neighborhood means less bargaining power for landlords, which should bring rent prices down, no? Which is good for the cool, local, small business stores we all wish there were more of.

    • Actually, I misread the picture–when I went by on the 43 yesterday, I realized what I thought was white paper was venetian blinds (I think).

      This is another problem with the building–the apartments with the big windows facing out on John are terrible! If I lived in a place like that, I’d ALWAYS have the blinds drawn, so it would be like having no windows.

    • That unit (lower corner on John) is horrible, if you like any sort of privacy. And, not to shame anyone, but the people that live in there are super slobs. I walk by everyday, so it’s hard not to notice.

      I would say the building is bland, not ugly. It’s not visually offensive, at least.

  2. I like it. I run by it regularly and always think it looks cool. I like the big windows and the mixed media exterior. I think how light the units must be and how nice for the residents. It’s a well constructed building so it won’t get dated or run down easily.

  3. Takes all kinds I guess. I don’t think it’s ugly at all. It’s never going to be featured in Architectural Digest, but it is a well thought out example of a low maintenance, efficient, practical shared housing unit. You want ugly, look up the street at Group Health!

  4. Glad I’m not the only one that thinks the stone is an eyesore. I also always feel bad looking into the living space of those that live on the ground floor, but I’m a human next to a huge pane of glass, I’m going to look in!

  5. It’s a little stark but not bad at all. A million times better than Viva Cap Hill. I watch this go up and it seems like a very well constructed building. Not as slapped together as many are these days. The new development on 12th just South of John is also (the brown one with stained wood, nearing completion) very well put together.

    My only complaint is the building could have been taller. Being on mass transit lines and blocks away from the upcoming light rail station, they could have fit many more units above to keep sprawl down.

  6. The building looks great to me. Why has it been decided that this building is ugly? I think the author, Ari Cetron, should put up a photo of himself and we can decide if he is ugly or not.

  7. It looks like a Fire Station in Ann Arbor. I have seen more creative designs on dog houses. The fact that it holds the Weatherford name is a travesty.

  8. I work in architecture and most design professionals in the city do not hold Weber Thompson’s work in very high regard. The only reason Sunset Electric turned out pretty good is because the neighborhood and the Design Review Board hammered them to re-think the design numerous times. They are known as more of commodity architect.

  9. You need to take a critical look at the design review board. They are too pro developer, pro architect. Not willing to take a critical look at the design

  10. wait till you see the fiasco at Mercer and Malden. The architect works next to me in Pioneer Sq. HIDEOUS and smashed into a small corner lot. No wonder the neighbors are pissed.
    (B9 Architects, 2nd ave btwn James and Cherry)

    • That corner has buildings spanning decades of vintage. The neighbors (and I’m one of them) are thankful the main home is being preserved and aPodements are not going in like they did a block away. The row houses will be tight but better than the alternatives. They should fit in just fine.

  11. Unfortunately any building strafed by all those power lines would look bad. Probably no better developer/ design team even bid on it. All in all, it’s another piece of hideousness that will endure for 15 years.

  12. This article feels misdirected, there are dozens of uglier buildings going up or newly completed, and most of them are not as well constructed as this building, and are just coated with a flashy paint scheme to appear friendlier. So why was this picked out, because someone decided that cinder blocks are inherently ugly? That a building needs a bright color scheme? Or that a simple form is just too boring?

    I don’t think the work is a masterpiece, but I was glad to see a design that was formally simple, and avoided cheap color tricks on a hardiboard facade. Not beautiful, but at least it feels somewhat modest and composed.

    My personal vote for ugliest building would be the dual-tone yellow box at 12th and east olive street, one block north of octo sushi. Or maybe the black hardi board box next to schema workshop architects on 12th. What about the brown wedge at Madison and 12th? All much “uglier.” It would be nice if the author would be a little more clear and constructive about what his criticism is.

    • So, we should be happy with “not beautiful” and “modest but composed”? Yes please, let’s settle for “ok” or “fine”, why strive for more? And you do realize that “ugly” and “beautiful” are opinions? And this article was discussing the opinion of many (including the editor here) that this building is ugly. Not sure how pointing out a prevalent opinion can be misdirected. It would certainly be nicer for those who don’t care about such things if those of us who hate seeing new apartments on the Hill that look like suburban grocery stores, would just shut up; but sorry, it ain’t happening. Lack of passion is how we end up with this gas station apartment (my opinion), and the others you mentioned (which I agree with you on).

  13. It sort of looks like a well lit Juvenile detention facility. “Juvie hall” is what we call it.
    Cold and ugly is in and the hipsters live in their virtual world most of the time so its perfect for them!

  14. I live down the street, and I think I judge these things a bit different. From the ground level, I don’t think it’s bad. It’s big windows are somewhat inviting and less sterile and dun-colored than say, The Lyric.

    Would I prefer an old Victorian? Sure. But urban density is the destiny of all popular neighborhoods, and I feel like this one could have been worse.

  15. From the picture it looks like the CMU is left untreated, unsealed etc.. I think the blight of that facade is the CMU – there are ways to paint/texturize/vary sizes/bond pattern etc.. that could have helped it out. Otherwise its a pretty well scaled and from the picture, detailed facade.. missed opportunity IMO (until of course the graffiti artists figure out how to defaces such a ripe opportunity)

    I think the only two buildings with design integrity in the Capitol Hill area are the 19th & Mercer project and Sunset Electric – most everything else looks like it was designed with a cost focused spreadsheet. Unfortunate really because we are gonna live with this stuff for the next 25 at least.

  16. I don’t like the dark grey, red, and orange. Other than that, the building is ok.

    There are many ugly buildings, old and new. Vertigo, near the Capitol Hill library, is ugly and was mentioned right here on this blog when it was converted to condos.

  17. My problem with most of the new construction isn’t that it’s ugly, but that it isn’t even interesting enough to be ugly. It’s non-descript. It’s flat and plain and minimalist and inoffensive. It’s Ikea. To be ugly requires sufficiently risky design choices, which are sorely lacking. A few colors is as far as any of these go along that road. I’d welcome a truly ugly building because it would mean that at least somebody was trying to do something unusual. As it is, we’re just getting instantly forgettable, generic, interchangeable buildings all over town that, true or not, feel like they’ll be replaced in their turn, but within 10 years, not the 100 of the buildings they replaced. We need to require more art of the architects, and lots of us need to start attending these design reviews to say so.

    • The problem with “risky choices” is that they have a very high failure rate (at least in terms of visual awareness). I would much rather have a city composed of Scandinavian sensibility than a bunch of quirky, highly dateable, and ridiculously designed experiments. Architectural narcissism is unpleasant to live with.

  18. The weather ford is UGLY because of the MANAGEMENT. The WORST apartment I’ve ever lived in. As the first year of The Weatherford is coming to an end we are noticing a LOT of the first tenants are leaving. We’ve spoken to some and they all agree they feel harassed here by management. We are sent threatening emails almost weekly condemning tenants for not following the “rules” as if this is a dorm room. The manager has even mentioned watching the security cameras more than once looking for offenders. The garage was broken into recently and a residence’s car was broken into as well. The email did not apologize, but rather criticize the tenants for leaving valuables in their cars. Paying $200 a month for a parking spot in a garage should be secure I think. The neighborhood feels unsafe, especially at night. I do NOT recommend living here and I honestly feel sorry for those who still have to finish their leases. The management makes this building UGLY!