Its owner says it is dilapidated, rotted in places, infested by bugs in others, and she had plans to sell it to a developer with plans to tear it down, but the 1898-built Sullivan House at 15th Ave and E Olive St. has new life after the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board voted Wednesday night 6-2 that the old house is worthy of its protections.
“We think it still is a castle on the Hill despite its poor condition,” said neighbor and architect Jim Castanes who was reduced to examining the house from afar using “a zoom lens and binoculars” but successfully led the effort to win the landmarks designation.
“The board has the power to keep the wrecking ball from this well-loved residence,” Castanes said.
In reaching their decision, board members focused on the old house’s “distinctive visible characteristics” of Queen Anne-style architecture as well as its prominent place at 15th and E Olive St. as one of the last of its kind in an evolving residential area of Capitol Hill. “You can see a lot of what makes it beautiful,” one board member said. “We are landmarking what exists today.”
A representative of Historic Seattle also spoke in favor of protecting the house during public comment before the vote.
Wednesday’s landmarks board session on the house was divided into two opening presentations giving the non-owners who nominated the property for protections as well as representatives for the owner who opposed those protections opportunities to make their cases for the house. While both sides agreed on the basic history of the home built by Seattle businessman Patrick Sullivan and his wife Joanna Sullivan, the owner’s representative David Peterson of NK Architects made the case that the Josenhans and Allan-designed home was not particularly exemplary of their work — nor were the Sullivans particularly important, nor was a Queen Anne-style mansion particularly rare. There are “turrets all over the place,” Peterson said. “Turrets down the street.” The board was not swayed.
CHS reported on the start of the nomination process in December as the property’s owner hoped to convince the board that her aunt’s old house and its apartment units were no longer worthy of preservation. Listing the property this fall for $2.2 million, Ann Thorson said she opposed the effort to protect the house. According to a filing with King County for the property, Thorson had a “memorandum of agreement” with a townhome developer for the property.
While landmarks protections can help preserve the city’s oldest, most impressive structures, the process doesn’t always work out. Last month, CHS reported on the demolition of the Galbraith House just blocks away from the Sullivan House at 17th and Howell as Sound Mental Health successfully argued that the property had become unusable due to safety and structural issues.
Following the landmarks decision, an attorney representing Thorson said it was too early to say what her client would do next or if there were plans to challenge the board’s decision. Following the vote, the property must be approved by the Seattle City Council for its final protections. That process usually takes around a year before a council vote. The property remains on the market.
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