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Thanks to auto row and REI roots, The Stranger building to join neighboring Value Village as protected landmarks

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.

White Motor's third floor woodwork inside The Stranger offices.

White Motor’s third floor woodwork inside The Stranger offices.

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.”

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18 thoughts on “Thanks to auto row and REI roots, The Stranger building to join neighboring Value Village as protected landmarks” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. A HUGE thanks to Andrew Haas, who spearheaded the effort to get both of these buildings landmarked. And also to the Landmarks Board, which turned aside the desperate arguments of the developer to disallow landmark status. Chalk one up for the “good guys”!

    • Really Wes? It’s worn for wear but “garbage”?! Garbage is most of the new crap they’re building out of particle board and industrial brick panels. This spot just needs some TLC and these gorgeous buildings will shine. “Garbage”. Unbelievable. Incredibly ignorant.

  2. One win and many battles for the heart and soul of the neighborhood to come. Capitol Hill is one of the best urban neighborhoods in the country, and it is worth the fight to “save” it. Get involved to make it better. Make your voice heard to protect historic buildings, raise the bar for new development, demand that the city addresses the affordability crisis , and maintain and grow the bohemian/queer/arts/punk/goth/diverse/inclusive culture that is the essence of Capitol Hill.

  3. The hill is dead. Long live the hill. Preservation efforts such as this contribute to the affordability crisis and cultural decline of the neighborhood. This city should make efforts to preserve it’s heritage; our cultural, architectural, ecological, sociological… but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that resisting change in small or large part is not expensive and that the preservation of buildings will have negative impacts on efforts to preserve a culture that has long been harbored by affordability.

  4. No surprise about The Stranger. They’d probably prefer the whole block be micro-housing. Those dolts have no sense of place or community – only their own snobbish opinions.

    Hooray for those working to preserve the distinctive architecture of the Pike-Pine corridor. Unfortunately some of the totally lame face preservation tricks being used to get extra development are thwarting the the real work that is being done.

    However the “affordability crisis” and “cultural decline” have nothing to do with preservation efforts. There are greater forces at play. And mis-attribution of these problems to those working to slow or mitigate the effects of gentrification – including preserving landmark structures – is simply wrong. The work of activists like Saxman and Haas should be applauded and supported.

    The Landmarks Preservation Board made the right call.

  5. This is great news. Whatever happens in terms of development, I hope that Value Village can maintain this space or another nearby space. Many of us on the Hill shop there regularly and appreciate the great bargains! It’s great to provide more low income housing on Capitol Hill . Let’s be sure that the folks moving into this housing have a place to shop!

  6. Wow, the White Motor Car Company of Cleveland, Ohio….those near hand built and almost Rolls-Royce quality touring sedans, the “Great Leslie”, Professor Fink—that Great Road Race—New York to Paris, the long way around. Who could forget, back in the day, when I was younger of walking through the REI when it was so Seattle-centric, when you had a membership number that was low but not founding member low.
    A good reason to keep both buildings and a must stay for Value Village which is as iconic and more necessary than the goods and services offered across the street at the Crypt.

    • I also remember shopping at the OG REI; the creaky wooden stairwell lined with black-and-white nature photos (were they Ansel Adams’?), playing in the tents that filled the basement, and the clerks feeding me honey-flavored lemon drops from the bulk food bins while I waited for my parents to finish shopping. Sorry to go on an old-timey tangent but it’s comforting to me that the strong arm of progress on Capitol Hill has spared us some historical interiors. We need to have insides to share with the next generation instead of just another facade.

  7. The obvious win-win solution is setbacks. Build a tad behind & above. After that, perhaps three more tiny footed levels, back behind that, those tallest small floors will make up for the orher lost footage. Time to stop being an outpost, Seattle. This needn’t be an either/or choice.

  8. This is great news for the preservation of Seattle’s ever-shrinking stock of terra cotta clad buildings. We’ve seen the willful removal of terra cotta to “save” a building from being landmarked (shame on you Stewart and Second – that EIFS cladding adds nothing to the cityscape) and the destruction of too many of these unique buildings (remember Pande Cameron?) The White Motor Building truly is a landmark in all sense of the word – now put pack the rosettes that were removed!

  9. That’s good news! Wish that could have happened for the so many other places I loved that were unceremoniously demolished and replaced with unremarkable glass condos.

  10. Andre Haas is right. Preserve these buildings to the nines and allow the developers to build a highrise 20-something story building in the lot behind that cantilevers a little over the historic buildings.

    Also, allow (mandate) a 25+ story building at the corner of B’way and Denny where the post office is. Keep the post office in the new building.

    Add to that, a 20+ story building where the police station is at, to be built by Capitol Hill Housing with rents no more than $1,000 /mo. Three opportunities to absorb density and address other critical issues WITHOUT encroaching on quaint streets outside of Capitol Hill’s business districts. Common sense.

    Thank you Andrew Haas for your efforts. Well done!!!

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