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Effort underway to win landmarks protection for two Capitol Hill buildings steeped in history of REI and auto row

The building in 1937 (Image: Puget Sound Regional Archives)

The building in 1937 (Image: Puget Sound Regional Archives)

A White Motor truck

A White Motor truck

Earlier this week, we told you about a project to study, illustrate, and activate inspired by and as a reaction to change on Capitol Hill. Here’s another Capitol Hill neighbor ona mission. With its neighboring auto row structure already under consideration for possible Seattle Landmarks Board protection, the White Motor Company building at 10th and Pine — more recently The Stranger/Rhino Room building or the Velo Bikes building — that is planned to be part of the same preservation incentive-powered office development will come before the board next Wednesday to see if it, too, should qualify for the next round of deeper scrutiny as a possible Capitol Hill architectural landmark.

CHS typically climbs through the reports on neighborhood proposals — you’ll find the White Motor Company report prepared on behalf of the developer at the bottom of this post — but this time, we’re turning things over to Andrew Haas.

Inspired by the early good prospects for the Kelly-Springfield Motor Truck Company building next door and wanting to do more to save intact the last of Pike/Pine’s auto row structures, Haas is hoping to organize a large community response prior to the December 17th meeting of the landmarks board that will feature a hearing and public comment on the White Motor building. UPDATE: Kelly-Springfield, the home today of Value Village, moves to the next round in the process in early January.

UPDATE 12/17/14: Responding to issues surrounding the removal of historical, decorative elements of the building (covered here by CHS), two City Council members have sent a letter to the landmarks board asking that “the alterations” not “impact” the review of the building’s historical significance:

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.46.16 PM

Haas’s case for preservation and details on how you can weigh in on possible landmarks status is below.

Historic Preservation of Auto Row Buildings on Pike and Pine
— Andrew Haas

I am organizing to save a couple historic gems of Pike Pine’s auto row district, fix the broken landmark designation process, and stop the defacement of historic buildings by owners/developers trying to avoid landmark designation. As you are well aware, the bulldozers are destroying the heart and soul of the Pike Pine neighborhood. A showdown is about to occur that could be a major turning point. The Kelly-Springfield Motor Building and the White Motor Building, two of the finest remaining historic auto showrooms, are coming before the Landmark Preservation Board December 17th at 3:30 pm. Both buildings are located on 11th Ave between Pike and Pine on Capitol Hill. Last month the Landmark Preservation Board voted to recommend the Kelly-Springfield Motor Building, REI’s center of operations for 33 years, as a historic landmark. This is the first auto row building on Capitol Hill to make it this far in the process. This is our only opportunity to protect these historic landmarks from the wrecking ball and our best opportunity to set a higher bar for the redevelopment of the Pike/Pine neighborhood.

It is a shame the Pike Pine neighborhood was not designated as a Historic Landmark District like Columbia City, Ballard, and Pioneer Square prior to the current redevelopment gold rush on Capitol Hill. Instead we have ended up with historic preservation incentives that are hastening the destruction of the neighborhood’s history by granting developers lucrative incentives in exchange for preserving building facades. Without community, media, Council engagement, and leadership from the Mayor to demand a higher preservation standard, this neighborhood and much of the City will look like a movie set comprised of false storefronts backed by cheap, characterless, block-size developments in a few short years. These historic buildings are special and uniquely Seattle, not just because of the ornate facades, but also because of the vast interior spaces constructed of giant, old-growth timber.


The buildings

The Kelly-Springfield Motor Truck Company and the White Motor Company are outstanding examples of auto row area architecture and among the best remaining historic buildings left in the neighborhood. The buildings were designed by Julian Everett, a notable Seattle architect best known for being the designer of the Pioneer Square pergola. It was also home to two prominent long-term tenants that were both strongly associated with the economic heritage of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Kelly-Springfield, the primary supplier of early logging trucks, used the site as their main showroom for the Pacific Northwest. Both buildings were home to REI for over three decades as it transformed from a community coop for climbing gear to an iconic Seattle business with a global reach under the leadership of Jim Whittaker, the first American to climb Mount Everest. Lastly, the buildings have largely retained their architectural character both inside and out. Notable design details include the original wood brick floor, old-growth timber arched ceiling, and freight elevator in the Kelly-Springfield Motor Truck Company Building and the old-growth timber interior, windows, penthouse room and ornate ceramic tile exterior of the White Motor Company Building. They are irreplaceable pieces of the neighborhood’s economic, cultural and architectural history.

Making a stand to stop the destruction

One-by-one, the historic auto row buildings have gone before the Landmark Preservation Board and been denied landmark  status. Last month’s unanimous decision by the Board to recommend historic preservation of the Kelly-Springfield Motor Truck Company building is potentially a turning point. In addition to recognizing that the building meets multiple criteria for preservation as outlined in the City’s Landmark Preservation Ordinance, the Board cited community comment in their decision to recommend it for protection. 

The December 17th meeting, which includes both a final decision regarding the status of the Kelly-Springfield Motor  Building and the first phase of landmark consideration for the White Motor Company Building, is the community’s best opportunity to change the trajectory of neighborhood redevelopment toward a higher standard. If we make our voices heard in large numbers, I am confident that these buildings will get protected and restored along the lines of Melrose Market, Elliott Bay Book Company and Oddfellows Hall. The vast interior spaces would make exceptional performance spaces, artist studios, marketplaces, work spaces and maybe even a movie theatre. We need to take a stand against “historic preservation” facadism along the lines of the Mercedes dealership, BMW dealership, and the building that was home to Bauhaus Coffee, a neighborhood institution for over a quarter century.

Stopping developers from defacing their own buildings to avoid landmark designation

The owner and developer of the Kelly-Springfield Motor Building and White Motor Building have already prepared designs for a giant redevelopment of the site capitalizing on the “historic preservation” incentives. The Landmark Preservation Board is the last hurdle before they can proceed with the project. Last year the owner removed ornate, ceramic rosettes from the White Motor Building façade and replaced the historic windows on the Kelly-Springfield Motor Company Building (see attached before-and-after photos). I strongly suspect this action to erase the elements that make these buildings special was taken prior to going before the Landmark Preservation Board because it is well known that the Board is unlikely to recommend preservation for buildings that have been substantially altered. The missing cornice of the Pineview Apartment Building (part of the Bauhaus redevelopment), for example, was the Board’s primary justification for not recommending landmark status. Other buildings that were also defaced before the review process include the Ames Building on Second and Stewart and the Store and Loft Building at the corner of Eighth and Lenora. It is an outrageous abuse of the process that needs to be brought to the attention of the people of Seattle and stopped.

A higher standard for neighborhood redevelopment 

Let’s demand better for Seattle. The conservation overlay historic preservation incentives have clearly been a failure. Working with the developers to makes some minor adjustments in a second phase of this process is not nearly enough. Throw this give-away to developers in the garbage and form a Capitol Hill Landmark Preservation District to retain the remaining auto row era buildings and brownstones intact along with the neighborhood character.  Once a preservation overlay is in place, vacant and under-developed properties can be up-zoned  to meet the housing demands of a growing City for affordable housing. We need an overhaul of the development regulations to promote real historic preservation and infill development, while at the same time creating disincentives and regulatory barriers for developers to knock down entire city blocks leaving just the shell of historic buildings, if anything at all. It is possible to have both character and density if the community is engaged in the process.

Making your voice heard

Your assistance spreading the word and a comment letter or email is essential. It only needs to be a couple sentences long, so please take five minutes to do this now. Describe why these buildings are important to you and note which landmark preservation criteria they meet (see below). Also consider attending the Landmark Preservation Board meeting this December. This meeting is the best opportunity we have to shift the trajectory of redevelopment and historic preservation in the neighborhood. If these buildings that clearly meet multiple Landmark criteria are denied, then all the other ones will fall as well. If we win, it will set a precident for the preservation of future auto row era buildings that come before the Landmark Preservation Board. We need to set the bar much higher and stop the abuse of the landmark preservation process. The battle date has been set for December 17th.

Essential links:

Where to submit comment letters by Dec. 16th (make sure to address both buildings or send separate comment letters for each):    

Sarah Sodt — — Pike/Pine coordinator (we’ve update the contacts per a message from the Department of Neighborhoods) – Seattle City Councilmember overseeing historic preservation and development issues – Councilmember Bagshaw’s staff lead on this issue

December 17th Meeting Details:

Landmark proposal and history of these buildings:             

Landmark designation standards:

In order to be designated, the building, object, or site must be at least 25 years old and must meet at least one of the six criteria for designation outlined in the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Ordinance (SMC 25.12.350):

a) It is the location of, or is associated in a significant way with, a historic event with a significant effect upon the community, City, state, or nation; or

b) It is associated in a significant way with the life of a person important in the history of the City, state, or nation; or

c) It is associated in a significant way with a significant aspect of the cultural, political, or economic heritage of the community, City, state or nation; or

d) It embodies the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, or period, or a method of construction; or

e) It is an outstanding work of a designer or builder; or

f) Because of its prominence of spatial location, contrasts of siting, age, or scale, it is an easily identifiable visual feature of its neighborhood or the city and contributes to the distinctive quality or identity of such neighborhood or the City. 

Make your voice heard. Together we can save these buildings and take back control of our neighborhood’s and Seattle’s future.

Thank you,
Andrew Haas

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19 thoughts on “Effort underway to win landmarks protection for two Capitol Hill buildings steeped in history of REI and auto row

  1. Letters can be paper or electronic.

    Electronic letters should be sent to

    Mailed letter should be sent to:
    The City of Seattle Landmark Preservation Board
    PO Box 94649 Seattle, WA 98124-4649

    Please get them in as soon as possible.

  2. Any city rich enough to preserve the facades of old buildings as a price of putting up new buildings can afford to provide shelter for folks sleeping under freeway bridges.

  3. I haven’t read all the arguments for preservation, but two that seem important to me are

    (1) the White building is beautifully visible from the public park, so protecting its facade is extra valuable

    (2) these buildings are *south* of the park, where the *sun* is, so putting a tall box on them makes the park a lot less pleasant (and the grass less healthy) even if we protect the facades.

    • Except I think the end of the park you wish to protect is turf instead of grass.

      I would just hate to see something as mismatched as the Sunset Electric building. Definitely keep the facade, but any good Architect should be able to stick a few floors above that looks just like the bottom of the building so it just looks like a taller version of its original self. Think, Macy’s downtown. It doesn’t have to be ugly and it doesn’t have to be super tall.

      • You mean synthetic turf? (Dense live grass *is* turf.) I thought that was only the playfields? OK. Anyway, sunlight still useful for the trees, shrubs, people.

        I don’t think you can just make something a taller version of itself if it was well-proportioned in the first place. You can do it well or poorly — having the load-bearing columns not line up is a terrible choice, IME.

      • tell that to the folks who built UP on the Macy’s building downtown. they added stories to the top of the structure with little trouble.

      • Completely disagree about Sunset Electric. That’s easily the best new / adaptive-reuse construction in Seattle.

        The subdued, dark floors look great by themselves. The clear distinction between the old and the new draws your attention to the original brick building, proportioned as as it was the day it was built.

        While expanding upward did work for the Bon Marché building, it cannot and should not be applied everywhere. The original Sunset Electric building was a garage. Garages are short and squat, without upper floors. Expanding the brick upward would ruin the lines of the building.

      • Calling the Sunset project ‘adaptive reuse’ is a bit of a stretch. The entire building was gutted and only the exterior walls retained before infill. It’s definitively ‘façadism’ (albeit certainly not the most unsightly example in the area).

  4. Andrew, thank you SO much for taking the lead on this effort. I plan on being there for the December 17th hearing, and am hopeful that the place will be packed with Capitol Hill-ites who care about historic preservation.

  5. Letters sent. I hope others will find the time to draft quick appeals. Public participation is so important in these things and regrettably it’s often quite low.

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