One of Pike/Pine’s most recognizable auto-row buildings is likely to remain intact for decades to come thanks to a gush of neighborhood support and a key vote on Wednesday.
The Landmarks Preservation Board voted 8-0 to designate the White Motor Company building an official city landmark, citing its auto row-era roots and ties to one of the nation’s most widely known outdoor retailers. The landmark bid now moves to City Council for final approval.
“It is very easily identifiable, even to those not familiar with Capitol Hill,” said board member Deb Barker.
An early component of Seattle’s REI history and now home to The Stranger and the Rhino Room, the prominent terra cotta-faced building at 11th and Pine has stood above Cal Anderson Park since it was was constructed in 1918.
REI voiced support for White Motor’s landmark bid, but the outdoor retailer has not said if it has any future plans to become more involved with the building. An REI spokesperson would only say the company was following the landmarks process “with interest.”
A landmark designation, along with the recent landmark designation of the adjacent Value Village building, threaten to halt plans for a preservation incentive-powered development project by owner Legacy Commercial though appeals could be in the offing.
Members of the public spoke in favor of a landmark designation on Wednesday and the board had previously received dozens of letters in support of the bid. With relatively little deliberation, the board also voted to landmark the building’s third floor interior wooden beams.
During public comments, neighborhood activist Dennis Saxman voiced his support for a landmark status and accused the building owners of altering the exterior and interior of the building in order to weaken the case for preservation.
“It’s so obvious that a number of renovations were made to keep this building from being landmarked,” he said.
After a more in-depth board meeting in December, landmark board members barely deliberated on the vote, many convinced the building met multiple grounds for landmark status.
The White Motor vote comes on the heels of the board’s unanimous decision to approve the landmark bid for the adjacent Value Village building. Board members determined the Kelly-Springfield Motor Truck Company building held special significance in the neighborhood due to its history in the early years of REI and its place in the “economic heritage of auto row.”
It’s unknown what impact both landmark designations will have on plans to redevelop the two buildings into a 75-foot tall office building above street-level commercial space. Building owner Legacy Commercial had previously said the landmark designation would hinder their vision for the block.
During the Wednesday meeting, a Legacy representative urged the board to vote against landmark status, and said the wooden trusses did not meet landmark criteria as they’re not visible from the street and would likely never be open to the public.
The city significantly restricts the type of work that can be done to a landmark buildings and landmark interiors. Any construction or alterations to city landmarks usually requires approval of the landmarks board.
Wednesday’s vote marks a major win for advocates of auto-row building preservation, who lauded White Motor’s ability to showcase Capitol Hill’s history. Eugenia Woo of Historic Seattle said the building was an even more obvious candidate for preservation than the Value Village building.
Andrew Haas, one of the prime backers making White Motor a landmark, wrote multiple letters to the board in support of saving the building’s interior beams.
“With the recent destruction of several Capitol Hill historic auto row buildings, there are only a handful of structures with the distinctive trusses intact,” Haas wrote in a recent letter. “When the trusses are destroyed, the architectural and historic significance of these buildings is lost.”
Feelings towards the building from the inside, however, aren’t so romantic. The Stranger has complained for years about leaky ceilings and drafty windows. Even if the landmark designation derails plans for the building’s re-development, The Stranger staff harbor no ambitions to serve as city landmark stewards.
“Our lease is up February 2016. I think we’re leaving no matter what happens to the building,” said Stranger publisher Tim Keck in an email. “Frankly I’m a little tired of this building and nothing working ever.”
As a compromise that would also ensure the building remains fully intact, Haas had previously suggested the board support a zoning variance to allow Legacy to build a tower in the parking lot behind the building.
“Seattle needs to find a way to add density, while enhancing rather than destroying our historic neighborhood districts,” Haas said in his letter. “Enough with block-sized six-story buildings and facadism compromises that is destroying Seattle’s character, history and livability.”