109-year-old church slated for demolition on 14th Ave

(Images: CHS)

(Images: CHS)

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.

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27 thoughts on “109-year-old church slated for demolition on 14th Ave

  1. Couldn’t the developer incorporate elements of the building into the design? Why does it have to be torn down? Masonry can be retro-fitted. Seems like a cop-out. In England, many churches have been de-consecrated and converted into apartments or “flats.”
    When will Seattle stop with its blind destruction of its architectural heritage?

    • I’m guessing that all those churches in England must be built as sturdily as the Christian Science church next to 7 Hills Park… This brick thing on 14th has been slowly crumbling & collapsing since long before I moved to this town a decade ago. It’s sad to see it go, but also a bit relieving to know that the poor building is finally being put out of its misery.

  2. This makes me so sad – although it’s not surprising. The church has been in poor repair for most of the 20 years I’ve lived nearby. There may not be anything of the structure that could realistically be saved/used in a new design.

    I would hope, however, that development on the church property would be low-income, or elder housing – or something that would provide housing for those who are increasingly priced out of the neighborhood.

    I hope the stained glass windows are able to be saved/re-used somewhere else.

  3. It’s a beautiful building on a lovely piece of land. I’ve passed this for years hoping someone with the means and desire would save it. I hope elements can be retained and used elsewhere. It can help create something really special.

    Sad to see this replaced with 22 stacked shoe box townhouse that are taking over this stretch of 14th Ave.

    • I’m fine with religious institutions going away as well. It’s unfortunate in this case that this one is so old and somewhat historic, but then – the church itself didn’t even bother taking care of it.

  4. I wonder if the church has to pay the same kind of taxes on a land development project like this as anyone else would… Churches being involved in real estate development should mean a revocation of their tax exempt status.

    • dor.wa.gov/docs/pubs/industspecific/nonprofit.pdf: “Washington’s laws and rules restrict the manner in which property qualifying for exemption may be used. Generally, commercial activities cannot be conducted on the property. For example, if a nonprofit church receives a property tax exemption, the portion of the church which is used to sell books will not be exempt because it is used for a commercial activity. The property will be placed on the tax rolls if nonexempt activities are conducted on the property, and taxes will be due from the date the nonexempt activity begins.”
      Isola already bought the parking lot for $2.75 million and paid $48,955 in excise tax.

  5. Obviously the church has paid no property tax up until now. I wonder about all the non profits that buy, sell and own property and property tax. In some cases it just seems to make no sense. If the church is selling the townhouses to private owners, then the new owners certainly would have to pay property tax. The other thought is that if they do sell, will the money go into the pockets of whoever is in power in the church, or will it be used to build another church? It is a shame to lose the building. The design is so much more pleasing than the new construction in most of Seattle.

  6. My question is who gets the money from the sale of this property, which I assume will be a nice sum? Is there any watchdog ensuring that the funds actually go to a non-profit, whether a legitimate church (questionable concept I know) or another non-profit, rather than individuals affiliated with same. And on what basis does a medical condition in an otherwise conscious individual from commenting on the matter. Something does not smell right here. Perhaps there is a place for a bit of investigative journalism to find out where the money went for the land purchase?

    • So Jeff are you saying that a private owner could use the property as a church, pay no property taxes for years and then close the church and sell the property for personal profit. I may not like the laws that allow that situation, but it may be legal. Under that scenario, I would think that once the building is boarded up and no longer being used as a church, the owner would begin owing property tax. Churches usually seem to have a board and non profit that owns the property. I believe that it would entail a little more complexity to dissolve that type of ownership and transfer of assets. Under either scenario, ti would be interesting to know how it is being handled.

  7. I’m sure whatever replaces this building will be better than what’s there now. Most of these new condo buildings are so classically beautiful, they will really stand the test of time 109 years from now. Too bad I won’t be alive to see all that amazing historic design.

  8. noticed this this church on my way home a few weeks ago. I parked my car and walked around it. The lights were on and no one was home. I knocked on the front door, and then I knocked on the side door. I wanted to walk in and sit on a pew and imagine the people who had been in the Sunday worship service. The stained glass windows were mesmerizing.

    I wish I had a home where I could use these windows. I am saddened. I have always wanted to live in a church or make one into a community center.

  9. I’m a big time urbanist, build-up-not-out, upzone the heck out of the city kind of guy, but this is not good. Maybe, as genevieve said, the church is so run down that nothing can be done to save it. But if not, then it should be saved. Not my call, of course, but we really have very few buildings this interesting or this old.

    We have a city full of relatively boring houses that many people feel must be preserved or at the very most, replaced by bigger houses. When it comes to balancing preservation versus density, I can’t but think we are screwing up big time.