First Hill group makes final push to stop preservation of Harborview art deco building

Harborview Hall, on the left, in 1935.

Harborview Hall, on the left, in 1935. (Image: King County)

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King County’s Harborview Hall preservation plan. Plans initially included leveling Harborview Hall for a plaza. (Image: King County)

It’s rare that a neighborhood group in Seattle would push for a historic building to be demolished, but the fight over First Hill’s Harborview Hall is not a typical one.

Members of the citizens advisory committee for Harborview Medical Center’s major institutions plan say they are on the ropes in a last ditch effort to have the art deco hospital building torn down to make way for some much needed public open space.

On Friday, a city hearing examiner will hear testimony over whether plans should move forward for a Harborview Hall preservation project.

A final decision is expected in the following weeks. Under King County’s plans, the hall’s 9th Ave facing facade between Jefferson and Alder would be preserved and much of the rest of the 11-story building would be rebuilt to include a 7-story addition.

Debate has gone on for years over the future of the 95,000 square-foot, 1931 hospital building. In 2011, CHS reported on Harborview’s plans to demolish the unoccupied building to make way for an open plaza as per the hospital’s overhaul plans. At the time, King County executive Dow Constantine also expressed an interest in finding a way to preserve the county-owned building.

In March 2012, the county selected Sabey Corp as its developer for a possible preservation project at Harborview Hall. Sabey soon got to work on proposing changes to Harborview’s “major institutions master plan” to allow for the adaptive reuse of the building. In October, the city’s Department of Planning and Development approved the preservation plans as a “minor” amendment to the hospital’s master plan. It’s that decision — that the changes did not constitute a “major” amendment — that the First Hill citizens group wants the hearing examiner to overturn. If the hearing examiner rules in favor of the citizen group, the county would have to resubmit their plans to the city.

John Dolan, a First Hill resident and member of the citizens advisory committee, has worked for years to have the original plaza plan re-instituted. Dolan said a plaza would go a long way towards giving patients and neighbors much some needed green space and keep the hospital from being so closed off from the rest of the neighborhood.

“It’s very sad and it doesn’t have to be this way,” he said. “I’m heartbroken that this has happened.”

The lack of green space isn’t the citizen advisory group’s only gripe with Harborview’s plans. According to the group’s appeal, Harborview’s planned parking capacity has not increased since plans to save the building were adopted. Since Harborview hasn’t used the building for years, the group also doubts claims that it could be used to further the cause of the public hospital. The county is including new green space as part of the preservation plan, but Dolan said it is a pittance compared to the original plaza.

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7 thoughts on “First Hill group makes final push to stop preservation of Harborview art deco building

  1. what a misguided effort, you can put a plaza anywhere, even in other places right by the hospital which itself already has plenty of open space. stop tearing down historic buildings for more empty dead space

  2. No kidding? Renovate it for low income housing. There’s a long waiting list and this is an opportunity. Open space would be great, but there are already plans for this and it doesn’t have the urgency.

    • That’s a great idea! But I wonder about the finances of doing that. When I was doing my medical training (eons ago!), I spent some on-call nights in Harborview Hall, and as I remember the spaces were very small….so a renovation into apartments would probably be quite expensive. Still, I think the possibility should be seriously considered.

      Does the building currently have landmark protection? I can’t imagine that process was not done sometime in the past.

    • Compact space would be a problem for any use, but I’m sure they could make some comfortable sized studios out of it by tearing down a few walls. It would be cheaper than building from the ground up.

  3. I agree, save the building. The open space and plaza west of the hospital overlooking I-5 is underused and often empty even on sunny days.

  4. I agree this sounds like a misguided effort. Seattle is losing too many historic buildings. I think affordable housing would be a great repurposing of this building.

  5. I’m sure that there are many positive uses this building can be put to. Hospitals (especially ones like this, built in the 1930’s) are very well constructed. In many other major cities, they are being re-purposed as housing or office space. Their lovely exteriors are being saved. If other space is available for the public, then use that. Knock down some ugly glass or concrete bunker building, not a vintage gem.