The buyer of the historic, 1925-built building home to the Harvard Exit movie theater is a Capitol Hill developer and real estate investor who owns some of the most interesting properties in Seattle’s inner city.
CHS has learned that the real estate investment company owned by Scott Shapiro, the developer who helped create Melrose Market, is purchasing the three-story masonry building that has been home to cinema since the 1960s.
Shapiro has not yet returned messages from CHS sent in recent weeks but construction permits filed with the city and people involved with businesses and organizations in the area have confirmed the involvement of Shapiro’s Eagle Rock Ventures. There is no public record, yet, of the sale. UPDATE: CHS received a text message from Shapiro’s number after posting this article: “no comment.”
CHS has not been told what comes next for the building after national chain Landmark Theatres moves out in January but it will most likely involve significant upgrades and changes inside the 90-year-old building.
The paperwork filed for the property at this point describes only a renovation of the “existing building” and “alterations” to the structure to “update business and assembly occupancies.” We’ll let the pros parse the language but as far as we understand it, this indicate changes for the building’s current use as a theater.
Beyond the cultural loss of “one of the first ‘art’ theaters in town,” E Union’s Central Cinema owner Kevin Spitzer points out in CHS comments the loss for Capitol Hill cinema from a land use perspective. “Creating a new public assembly hall is harder than you might think,” Spitzer writes. “A large open space is hard enough in this real estate market, then the public safety bits such as fire and seismic protections for large crowds. It is a lot of work to put together so the loss of an existing assembly hall is that much more painful.”
But the loss for film could be a gain for north Broadway. Shapiro was part of the team that developed Melrose Market, now legendary for its small and local focus and a model for historic reuse. “It’s a great retail and restaurant establishment,” Shapiro told CHS at the project’s second anniversary in 2012. “It just grew organically by having a really unique building.”
The old brick building home to the Exit is within the Harvard-Belmont Historic District:
Located on the west slope of Capitol Hill, the Harvard-Belmont Landmark District is significant to the City of Seattle as a well-preserved, essentially residential neighborhood which retains its individual identity as an area of fine homes built by the city’s leading financiers, industrialists, merchants, and businessmen in the early years of the twentieth century. The combination of urban and almost pastoral qualities, the tree-shaded streets, the several open vistas, and the wooded ravines to the northwest, all create a neighborhood of outstanding and enduring character. In order to recognize, preserve and protect the significant assets of the Harvard-Belmont area, residents initiated the process by which their neighborhood became a preservation district and the Harvard-Belmont Landmark District was approved for designation in 1980.
“A Certificate of Approval issued by the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board is required prior to the issuance of any building, demolition, street use, or other permits for proposed work within the district that is visible from a public right-of-way,” the city says of the protections afforded to buildings in the area including the Harvard Exit’s home. “This includes exterior alterations or additions to any structure, new construction, and the addition or removal of major landscape and site elements such as retaining walls, gateways, trees or driveways.”
There have been “no proposals for alterations at this time” and there are no upcoming meetings with the landmarks board for this property, city representatives tell CHS.
Not all of the developer’s projects have been preservation-focused. More recently, Shapiro tore down an old bodega to build this mixed-use micro-apartment development on 12th Ave. We’re pretty sure that nobody would have argued that the old Capitol Hill Market was worthy of anything more than the wrecking ball (or really, a Seattle Fire practice and, then, demolition by backhoe).
Shapiro is also owner of the longtime home of the music and nightclub Chop Suey at 14th and Madison. “We’d like to see it succeed and continue to use that space for music and things the community can enjoy,” he told CHS as the club business went up for sale. The club appears to be currently winding down its operations. And it has nothing to do with Starbucks. Probably. We’ve also talked with Shapiro in the past about why there aren’t more hotels in the neighborhood. “There have been a lot of apartments… There aren’t enough hotels in the mix,” Shapiro said.
It’s unclear from the 11 or so words in the documents for Shapiro’s “alteration of existing mixed use building” permit if something involving lodging could be in the mix. But at this point, there is nothing indicating plans for housing development involving the property.
Beyond the theater chain’s exit, the longest running tenant of the building is also making plans for what comes next. “A social club focused on women’s history, the arts, education, and community service,” the Woman’s Century Club has met in the building since 1926. Wednesday, the group said it holding one last goodbye party in the space later this month. “The building is protected as an historic landmark, but the new owner plans a major renovation and new uses,” the invitation reads.
“We invite you to come to our December meeting, and join with Club members in celebrating the building and its long history as part of Seattle.”