It was like layers of heavy, pore-clogging makeup pancaked onto a face. For decades, the artificial mask suffocated what lay beneath and deprived passersby of its true beauty. No more.
A four-month renovation project has successfully peeled off coats of stucco and metal paneling that concealed parts of the Colman Automotive Building building on Bellevue and Pine.
“It was just nasty metal corrugated siding,” said Michael Oaksmith, managing partner at Hunters Capital, the boutique real estate firm that is on a mission to further its investments in the neighborhood and preserve historic properties in the Pike Pine corridor.
In April, Hunters Capital acquired the building at 401 E. Pine for $3.85 million and set out to go back in time, to 1916 to be exact. That’s when the two-story building was developed by J.M. Colman, the Seattle man who made a fortune in timber and than diversified into real estate. Named after its developer, the Colman Building served as a garage for auto-related businesses and fit in perfectly amongst the car dealerships on Capitol Hill’s Auto Row.
In the 1950s, the building’s owner heaped a ton of stucco on the lower façade. The corrugated paneling came afterwards. For the next 60 years, the layers masked much of the first floor’s exterior. The second floor was spared and served as a hint of what was trapped below.
To free the original exterior, Hunters Capital consulted with the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, getting their advice on how to match the original architecture. Mallet Construction served as the lead contractor on the work, according to Hunters.
Contractors began peeling back the gray metal panels and stucco. In time, they exposed the beautiful brick columns and ornate shadow boxing beneath. They also revealed additional windows, which had been inexplicably covered up.
“From the state we bought it in, we actually uncovered 30% more glazing,” said Smith.
Then, the job shifted to rebuilding much of the woodwork by hand. Another challenge was fabricating new metal corbels underneath the cornice because three of the eight were missing.
In all, Hunters Capital said it spent about $300,000 on the four month project. That’s on top of the $3.85 million it paid for the building. “We are really excited with the building, inside and out,” said Smith. “We just feel every dollar we put in to it was a dollar well spent.”
The tenants agree.
“All of our customers, clients and Pine Street neighbors love the new façade,” said a manager at Area 51, the furniture store that has a lease on the building through 2015. “It’s a magnificent jewel to behold.”
The State of Washington also recognizes the building’s historic value. In October, it placed the building, renamed the “Colman Automotive Building” in honor of its roots, on the Washington Heritage Register of Historic Places.
Hunters Capital is not done yet. Oaksmith says the firm is eyeing several other properties on Capitol Hill to purchase and preserve.