The story of the proposed Capitol Hill landmark that somebody actually wants to be a landmark — UPDATE

The 1898-built Queen Anne Victorian home of a Seattle businessman that has survived through the changes of Capitol Hill at 15th and E Olive St. is lined up for purchase by a townhome developer. In a city scrambling to create more affordable housing and with a nearly 120-year-old house that has definitely seen better days, the trade probably seems worth it.

Neighbor and architect Jim Castanes disagrees and has launched an effort to have the Patrick J. Sullivan House designated for official city landmark protections. “We all love it in the neighborhood,” Castanes tells CHS, “plus its context on the corner is wonderful. It’s a nice little character area.”

UPDATE 12/20/2017 5:38 PM: “The bones are there.” The Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board Wednesday night voted for the Patrick J. Sullivan House to move forward in the city’s process to designate architecturally important historical properties for protection. The decision came despite protests from Ann Thorson who now manages the estate of her late aunt purchased the 1898-built Queen Anne-style Victorian and lived there until 2010. “In her declining years, my aunt couldn’t take care of it and allowed to dilapidate,” Thorson said, telling the board that she cannot afford to restore the house and would like to sell the property. She told the board it will cost $1 million just for minimal restoration and said she and neighbors believe the house is a dangerous “eyesore.” Representatives from historical preservation groups including Historic Seattle and Friends of Historic Belltown spoke on behalf of the nomination saying the house may be in poor condition but that it remains a showcase of “integrity” as one of the few remaining examples of its kind in the city.

The board Wednesday night sided with the preservation groups and voted to move the nomination led by a neighbor of the house forward for a hearing in the new year. A resident who spoke during public comment said she had toured the house and hoped to make an offer on the property with the intention of restoring the structure. She told the board she wasn’t able to put in offer on the $2.2 million listing — “the pricing was set for development not restoration.” Landmarks designation “would force a lower price better for restoration,” the woman said.

With buyer lined up, 15th Ave’s Patrick J. Sullivan House to be considered as landmark

Original report: Castanes believes protecting the house could be “a win-win situation” when people want density in this city — the house at 1632 15th Ave, Castanes says, has recently been home to five tenants living throughout the three-story, 3,600-square-foot structure.

But it has also been up for sale, listed this fall for $2.2 million by the head of the family trust that owns the property. Ann Thorson says she opposes the landmarks proposal prepared by Castanes.

According to a filing with King County for the property, Thorson has a “memorandum of agreement” with developer Michael Nelson of MRN Homes for the property. The memorandum does not specify a price agreed upon for the property. Nelson, according to the MRN website, has been “involved in purchasing, land development and remodeling of homes in Seattle since 1992.” Of the 11 upcoming projects listed on the MRN site, eight are for townhome projects. We’ve reached out to Nelson to learn more.

Most of the landmarks proposals CHS has covered over the past decade have been part of preemptive efforts by developers to, well, make sure the properties they are planning to develop aren’t landmarks. In the most recent example, the Broadway Bonney-Watson was fully rejected for possible protections in a decision that probably didn’t disappoint too many people but definitely pleased developer Mill Creek Residential. Landmarks status and protections to exterior and/or interiors greatly complicates the subsequent permitting process and, for many projects, would make a full redevelopment of the parcel impossible.

“I haven’t found many developers that want a property to be a landmark,” Castanes said.

On the other side, we haven’t seen many architects like Castanes, either. The Sullivan House nomination effort is an unusual one for Capitol Hill. One recent example might be the J.W. Bullock Residence which was approved as an official landmark in 2016 after owner Dr. Valerie Tarico put the property forward for consideration to protect it, she said, from any future development. “It’s something I’ve thought about for years,” Tarico told CHS at the time. “It’s a stewardship issue. This building was made by our ancestors that put a lot of care and precision into their craftsmanship. Buildings like this are not going to be made again.”

Unlike the Bullock house, the Sullivan property has seen better days and its nomination –let alone eventual designation — is probably a longshot. Still, Castanes said he is paying for and pushing the effort forward himself. He wishes other houses in the neighborhood demolished to make way for new multifamily housing had been protected earlier.

“There’s lot of houses that we wished we could act on,” Castanes said.

Even if the Sullivan House is rejected from the nomination process, Castanes says he hopes other neighbors are paying attention.

“I hope that people get more aware,” Castanes said. “There are buildings out there that deserver landmark status.”

The Patrick J. Sullivan House will go in front of the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board Wednesday afternoon (PDF). You can add your comments here by email. We’ve posted the full nomination packet here.


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3 thoughts on “The story of the proposed Capitol Hill landmark that somebody actually wants to be a landmark — UPDATE

  1. Castanes should be on the hook for paying for the renovations. This isn’t fixing some holes and adding some paint. This is completely rebuilding the house from the inside out for millions of dollars (on top of the millions to purchase the house). This doesn’t help Capitol Hill residents and hurts the owner. If the house had been any level of maintained this would be a different story. Forcing a community to save a building that has been in disrepair for decades is silly.

    • Historic architecture is one element that makes cities interesting and beloved. Paris comes to mind. Seattle continues to demolish its architectural heritage at an appalling rate. Yes, everything costs money. But once it is gone, it is gone forever. Read Jane Jacobs. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

      These early years of our twenty-first century will be remembered by future generations as destructive, and insensitive to the past, if we do not take action to preserve even those buildings that need work.

  2. Following the rationale of those not in favor of historic preservation, the Parthenon and Great Pyramid of Giza, Stonehenge and Notre Dame should be replaced by apodments.