Now showing: The Capitol Hill Developer Who Bought the Harvard Exit

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(Image: Landmark Theatres)

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.Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 11.36.44 AM

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.”

hbBut 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.”

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35 thoughts on “Now showing: The Capitol Hill Developer Who Bought the Harvard Exit

  1. Pingback: Capitol Hill’s Harvard Exit Theatre to close | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  2. I love local and sustainable, but it seems to me that those who bring those ideals to restaurants and shops usually seem to also be interested in obscene profits. The Harvard Exit brings way more to the majority of my Capitol Hill neighbors than another high-priced set of restaurants and shops. That is, of course, until those same people are finally priced out of the neighborhood.

    I am sure that the Amazon and MS employees who will replace them will be just fine with artisanal pricing.

    • Obscene profits? Other than MAYBE Dave Mienert, prove there is one restauranteur on the Hill that makes “obscene” profits?

      Rents are INSANE up here. Labor costs are going up. Good clean local produce costs.

      You want people paid living wage, right? You want clean air and clean water, right? Those things cost. You complain when you might have to PAY for those things.

      The problem is everybody got so used to deferring the real costs of things like growing food, or labor to somebody else.

      When you stop exploiting poor people suddenly you realize the real costs of things all along.

  3. Let me guess another stable for restaurants???? The Seattle restaurant bubble continues. When will the influx of farm to table type restaurants serving the same boring food come crashing down upon itself? Probably after the Fed raises rates next year so my bet is on 2016. So much dumb money investing in food and bars lately.

    • Uh. What else can go in up here? Think about it for five seconds.

      Amazon and online shopping is killing retail. The rents are insane on the Hill. Very few small start-up retail shops can make it anymore. Unless they are vanity projects Totokaelo with rich Microsoft millionaire sugar daddies.

      What else do you want? Another bank? Another chain drug store? A chain shoe store? Because those are the only other business models that can sustain themselves on these rents.

  4. I hate change! The entire world needs to adapt to my bubble and I can get really whiny when things aren’t ideal for my consumeristic pleasures! I would love to fantasize about how I’m going to hate what comes next, but more importantly how am I going to watch the next Colin Firth movie?! Gawd I hate things!

  5. Well…we sit and await pensively. I don’t see this as being another Melrose Market, but I wonder what exactly he has in mind. I’ll reserve judgement until the plans are revealed. The building has more windows than I thought it did, considering it’s use as a theater, so hotel/small conference/reception hall might work. It’d probably be Sorrento priced, but I think it’d be additive to the neighborhood.

    I

    • Thank you. At last someone who isn’t intent on assuming the worst, and not giving the developer even the tiniest shred of benefit of the doubt for not wanting to tear down a beautiful bldg. There are plenty of other ugly bldgs to rip down if that’s all he wanted to do.

  6. Thanks for the extra detective work, as usual! I am taking this additional info as a good sign — you gotta think the company responsible for Melrose Market will appreciate the beauty of that funky old building and, more importantly, the vibe it helps create on north Broadway.

  7. I’m glad to think the building will be preserved but I suspect this will become yet another place to get drunk on the hill, albeit a fancy one. I hope I am wrong.

  8. Ugh. I was kinda sad about being pushed out of the city with rent hikes forcing me further north every few years – but pretty soon it won’t be much of a loss. Everything that I miss will be gone soon anyway. Not to mention this is also displacing the amazing film maker/artist living upstairs.

  9. This quote:

    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.”

    I wonder, does 12th Ave. Arts help or hurt places like the Harvard Exit? Public assembly space that I’m sure can be rented out, as well as having more and better bells and whistles, I wonder if was part of the death knell.

    I can imagine, however, the biggest death knell has been the value of the property keeps going up, and perhaps the revenues from an art house theater just weren’t enough to cover expenses any more.

  10. Isn’t the City of Seattle demanding that all brick buildings be retrofitted? Were any of the development buildings involved in the Melrose Market area brick?

  11. Wow…As a resident of the neighborhood and a human being, I feel a little sick about this. I can only hope that the developer keeps the building intact…seems that we have a penchant in Seattle for tearing down anything with architectural aesthetics or a generational / historical ethic and putting up spit and toilet paper construction with no ties to the neighbor vernacular, culture or history…generally with 40 year or less projected life spans and little to add to the neighborhood. It also blows me away that this building is not protected by Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board…hopefully The Harvard/Belmont Historical District tie will mean something.

  12. It would be great to have an indoor food court at this location. Inexpensive food like Taco Time, Old Country Buffet, Wendy’s, as a balance to all the expensive overrated restaurants in the neighborhood that serve sub par food.

    • How would that work? With premium rents you wanna pay $10 for a shitty Taco and a shitty burger?

      You realize that the developer paid a massive amount for this space and will need to recoup that and there is no way even corporate fast food chains are going to pay the square footage for a space like that.

      You wanna know why restaurants are expensive on the Hill? Because rents are astronomical.

      You want your food cheap but you also want people to paid living wages and want the convenience and hipness of cool neighborhoods…. guess what? Something there is gonna give. And that thing is gonna be the “cheap” part.

  13. I wouldn’t be so fast to be relieved by his being involved in Melrose Market. First, Liz Dunn is the developer responsible for the look-feel of the project and she worked closely with Matt Dillon to find a number of the tenants. Secondly, Melrose Mkt changed that sleepy little neighborhood, for better or worse depending on your perspective. The loss of the building would be horrible but the loss of the Harvard Exit is devastating, really quite heart wrentching, it really is a symbol of what made Seattle wonderful and is irreplaceable.

  14. I’m surprised, but pleased, to learn that the building is within the Landmark District, and that therefore the Landmarks Preservation Board must approve any changes. Doesn’t this ensure that the building will survive more-or-less intact? Or am I missing something?

    The loss of the Harvard Exit is significant, but the loss of the building itself would be even worse.

    • it’s important to point out that the Landmark Preservation Board only needs to approve changes to the OUTSIDE of the building. If the new owner could leave the outside looking as it does now and turn the inside to apodments, it wouldn’t affect and rules from the landmark folks. It would really suck, and that’s an extreme example, but it’s possible to make quite a few changes to the building that none of us can do anything about.

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  16. I am very disappointed about the theater closing, as it’s my favorite one in the city. But I am pleased to see the building will be preserved and as someone mentioned delighted that it won’t be torn down to make room for a blasted apodment

  17. if I did not already know The Hill is dead, this would be proof. “developers carving up the heart of The Hill is what this is. My hood for over 26 years is gone. The relentless douchebag developers who feed like locust and then leave again are well represented by this Shapiro asshat. What’s happened to the west slope due to Melrose Market is more rich turdbuckets mixing with the skanky meth-heads . . . . love this concept being brought up to North Broadway, can’t wait.

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  21. Screw Landmark Theaters. Screw the buyer, Scott Shapiro. Screw Paul Allen for not saving it. Screw the Mayor, City Hall, and the Landmarks Preservation Board for not making the theater a Capitol Hill Historic Landmark. I’ve been going to Harvard Exit for 30 years, and I’m angry and very sad that it’s closing.

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