If walls could talk inside the Gaslight Inn at 15th and Howell, they would’ve been saying “aw shucks” at Wednesday’s Landmarks Preservation Board meeting. With gushing support, board members unanimously approved landmark protections for the 1911-built bed-and-breakfast.
“It’s clear to me there’s a real sincere affection to preserve the cultural stories behind the house and behind Capitol Hill,” said board member Aaron Louma.
Gaslight owner Stephen Bennett, who nominated the building, told CHS he was elated at the board’s decision and recognition of the building’s important place in Capitol Hill’s LGBTQ history. Bennett said he’s looking forward to living out his retirement with the house and his bed and breakfast business.
“I don’t have any family or children, so I would like to leave it to a civic organization,” he said. “I want it kept in the community.”
The vote wasn’t entirely surprising after the board gave the building a unanimous first round approval in August. At the time, board chair Alison Walker noted how unusual it was for a property owner to self-nominate for a landmark designation and thanked Bennett for his efforts to maintain the 111-year old property.
In order for a building to be designated as a landmark, it must be at least 25 years old and meet one of six criteria outlined in the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Ordinance. The board determined that the Gaslight Inn met criteria C and D of the ordinance:
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.
D) It embodies the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, or period, or a method of construction.
The Gaslight’s reflection of Capitol hill changing role in the city over the past century is undeniably special, especially for the City’s LGBTQ history. Board member (and CHS contributor) Robert Ketcherside choked up when talking about the inn’s history as a place for families to stay while attending funerals during the 1980’s AIDS epidemic. “It’s the story of a rebirth of a neighborhood,” he said.
The 3-story, 7,700-square-foot house was built for $7,000 in 1907, a time when Capitol Hill was primarily the neighborhood of choice for city Seattle’s wealthy entrepreneurs. It was built by Paul Singerman, a business owner and philanthropist who was also a notable character in the Central Area’s Jewish history. By the 1920s, the building had become a rooming house — a precursor to the boom of multi-unit dwellings that would popup during the Great Depression.
Bennett bought the home in 1983 and got to fixing it up. Two years later, he opened the Gaslight Inn. Since then, Bennett said the house has assumed a somewhat iconic role in the neighborhood’s LGBTQ community, from its time as a refuge for grieving families, to its use for political events for Cal Anderson, the state’s first openly gay legislator, and Mayor Ed Murray, the city’s first openly gay mayor.
“We’ve been a part of the gay community, watching it change, and shift, and grow,” Bennett said.