The bell tower of 14th Ave’s Progressive Missionary Baptist Church is boarded up, shingles are missing from its roof, and bricks appear to be crumbling away from its walls. While lights were on outside the building this week, demolition plans for the church at the corner of 14th and Spring have been filed with the city. The corner’s future appears to be townhouses — 22, to be exact.
CHS briefly reached Rev. Curtis Taylor of the Word of God Church that owns the old house of worship by phone last week. He told us he couldn’t talk about the property now due to medical reasons. According to city documents, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections has accepted the demolition application filed by Taylor last month. The project is under review and a permit has not yet been issued.
Included in the filings is a preliminary site plan for a complex of 22 three-story townhouses. The project is being developed by the church, according to city documents.
According to the county, the building has stood since 1907. In the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, the masonry church suffered serious damage but continued to host worshippers through this summer.
UPDATE: From our review of city records, it does not appear the property has ever been part of a landmarks review process which could end up being part of the requirements before action is taken on the property:
In order to appropriately assess potential impacts to historic resources during SEPA review, DON has an interdepartmental agreement with DPD to review properties that are proposed for development actions but that may be eligible for landmark designation.
As noted under “SEPA Review” earlier in this CAM, a property owner may find it advantageous to determine eligibility for landmark designation in advance of submitting development proposals. If an applicant submits documentation from DON that a property (or a building or other object on it) does not appear eligible for landmark designation, he/she may be subject to higher SEPA review thresholds.
If the building is not currently a landmark and land- mark eligibility has not been previously determined or documented, the DPD land use planner will ask the project applicant to prepare information that will assist the DON Historic Preservation staff and DPD in mak- ing a determination about the building’s significance. The determination to refer a project to the Historic Preservation staff will be based on the following:
- whether the building is over 50 years old
- whether public comment suggests that the building has historic significance
- the historic building survey or inventory identifies the building
The building is not listed in any historic building survey records we’ve found but the first two elements seem to hold some promise that the structure could be referred for further assessment.
UPDATE 10/7/2016: Here is an interesting twist. According to a city official, church properties aren’t subject to the typical processes used to assess old structures in the city.
Here is a statement provided to CHS by Sarah Sodt, Acting City Preservation Officer for the Department of Neighborhoods Historic Preservation Program:
When a property such as this is owned by a religious institution and is proposed by that institution for demolition, we do not require a nomination as a part of the development process – as per the Washington State Supreme Court ruling in 1996 (First United Methodist Church of Seattle v. Hearing Examiner for Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board, 129 Wn.2d 238, 916 P.2d 374 (1996)).
In the case cited, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled to deny Seattle’s landmarks board its designation of the 5th Ave First United Methodist Church for the city’s protections program. In a legal battle that was waged for a decade, the church fought the 1985 landmark designation with hopes of taking up an offer from developer Martin Selig to build a highrise at the site while moving the congregation to a new church. “The church was spared demolition through a special deal reached with developer Nitze-Stagen reached on May 20, 2007,” Historylink reports. The church structure remains and is now known as the Daniels Recital Hall as construction of The Mark, a 660-foot office highrise, rises above the property.
UPDATE 10/7/2016 x2: The Historic Seattle organization has weighed in on the situation:
We’re also saddened to hear about plans for demolition of the historic church. In Seattle (and Washington state) religious properties are treated differently than publicly or privately owned properties because of a 1996 State Supreme Court ruling that the First Amendment prohibits any law (such as the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Ordinance) from impeding the free exercise of religion. A religious property can still be landmarked but only voluntarily. The Capitol Hill Blog has also updated its post to address this issue of Church vs. State.
We’d like to note that there are many churches in Seattle that are designated landmarks and cared for by good stewards. From an advocacy standpoint, saving religious properties require different strategies.