To call the battle to save the Central District’s George Washington Carmack House a seven-year fight isn’t quite right. Last week, the one-sided end of the tussle came quickly for the more than 100-year-old mansion once home to George Carmack, the Seattle pioneer and prospector credited by most with setting off the Klondike gold rush:
When Carmack and his wife disposed of their holdings in the Klondike, they moved to Seattle where they took residence at the prestigious Hotel Seattle. Kate Carmack did not enjoy living in Seattle and returned to her northern home.  Carmack soon thereafter married a woman named Marguerite. Carmack eventually left the Hotel Seattle, but continued residing in the Pioneer Square area. From 1905 until 1909, he lived in a house at 3007 East Denny Way, which has since been removed. By 1910, Carmack moved to 1522 East Jefferson. According to Seattle City Directories, Carmack lived at this address until he died in 1922. Marguerite Carmack continued living in the house until the 1940s. A considerable amount of development has occurred around this house, which is still used as a residential structure.
By the end of last week, all that was left at the corner was a cleared lot. Despite being an official Seattle landmark, the Carmack House was finally torn down. The land is on the market for $1.43 million.
In 2015, the demolition was mostly an epilogue. The battle to save the house — documented by our now-retired site the Central District News — really ended in the years after the dilapidated 1902-built 16th and Jefferson mansion was designated for protection by Seattle’s landmark board in 2011. The property’s owner held out for a high price for the land, buoyed by the voracious appetite for development around Swedish’s growing Cherry Hill campus.
Crosscut describes what happened next:
Various neighborhood and preservation groups scrambled to figure out how to protect the house. Historic Seattle, the public non-profit, looked at buying it to fix and repurpose it (they bought and saved nearby Washington Hall), but the price to purchase the property was prohibitive. The city and the owner never finalized the so-called “controls and incentives” that spell out what a landmark’s specific protections are. So, the property owners remained free to do whatever they’d like. In other words, the Carmack House was an acknowledged landmark, yet never received actual protections. (Another case of this kind was the controversial Manning’s/Denny’s diner in Ballard, demolished in 2008 after being voted a landmark with no protections.)
UPDATE: We reviewed the minutes (PDF) from the 2012 landmarks board meeting where the controls and incentives agreement for the project were discussed. That day, the board voted unanimously to impose no restrictions on the property. Basically, the property was too expensive to preserve.
“Ms. Sodt explained that no controls were recommended on the Controls and Incentives,” the minutes read. “She said that the decision was not made lightly and is extremely rare and was based on information provided by the owner and Historic Seattle.”
According to the testimony recorded, the board believed “it was unreasonable to expect the house to be purchased even at assessed value and to invest 1.25 million dollars into it.” The minutes record that “the condition of the house was documented in the nomination report which included a police report of the architectural theft that had occurred” but that the theft was not a component of the recommendation for no controls.
Despite the 9-0 vote, the board and attendees at that May 2012 meeting were worried about the precedent. “Kji Kelly, Historic Seattle, thanked the Board and estate for giving so much time,” the minutes read. “He said that they worked on many scenarios and expressed concern that it could set precedent for developers looking for a way to get around landmark designation.”
Google Maps captures recent years passing by at the corner of 16th and Jefferson
In 2013, real estate investors bought the property and the “protected” old house. It’s illustrative of the true power of the landmark designation process that last month, with no group willing or able to pay the market price to preserve the old house, the Department of Planning and Development finally approved the demolition of the structure.
The demolition, of course, won’t end the debate over development in the neighborhood. CHS talked here with Squire Park neighbors pushing back on the Swedish growth plans. Though the Carmack House is gone, neighbors in the area continue to push back on the pressures of Swedish development plans and related projects in the area as the streets of Cherry Hill shift from old homes to multifamily and commercial developments.