Writers in residence: Hugo House’s future is six stories

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The design for the future Hugo House Writers Center (Image: Weinstein A+U)

When the Richard Hugo House building gets demolished next year, the literary heart of Capitol Hill will beat on in a temporary space until the “place for writers” rises like a phoenix in a new writers center in 2017.

But those metaphors won’t be fully mixed until the 11th Ave mixed-use development the new Hugo House will be part of goes through what should be its final design review Wednesday night.


1634 11th Ave
Land Use Application to allow a 6-story, 80 unit apartment building with a 10,300 sq. ft. community center (Hugo House Writer’s Center) and 1,500 sq. ft. of retail located at ground level. Parking for 95 vehicles will be located below grade. Review includes demolition of existing structures (11,000 sq. ft.). / View Design Proposal  (9 MB)    

Review Meeting: December 16, 2015 6:30pm, Seattle University, 824 12th Ave, Admissions & Alumni Building
Review Phase: REC–Recommendation  See All Reviews
Project Number: 3020067  View Permit Status  |  View Land Use Notice

Planner: Katy Haima


The intersection of development and Capitol Hill arts organizations rarely ends well. The Hugo House is proving to be an exception as a 90-unit, six story project planned to replace its 11th and E Olive home has put the nonprofit at the center of the development. With apartments above, the new Hugo House will give new meaning to writers in residence.

“The personality and character all centers around Hugo House and the owners desire to create a nicer than typical project on the Hill,” said Brian Oseran, a principal with developer Meriwether Partners. “We spent a lot of time understanding what that organization does and what their needs are.”

Activities at the Hugo House run the literary gamut, from writing workshops for adults and teens, to author readings and performances, to book launches. Expanding classrooms and performance spaces were top priorities, said Hugo House executive director Tree Swenson.

The new 10,000-square-foot space will include six classrooms, offices, two performance spaces, and space for writers to do their thing. “We want it to make sure it’s a place that feels warm and welcoming to writers,” Swenson said.

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The new building design has been mostly well received. Along with the Hugo House, a small cafe will be the only other ground level commercial activity at the building. The Weinstein A+U designs also calls for a real brick facade (not just the pasted on variety), a mix of “open one-bedroom,” one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments, and underground parking for 94 cars. The placement of the Hugo House development’s parking garage on 11th generated significant discussion by the board during the project’s first review.

(Image: Hugo House)

(Image: Hugo House)

Meanwhile, demolition of the old Hugo House looms in 2016. Though the old House fell short of qualifying for landmark protection, the one-time mortuary will be remembered fondly.

23 years ago, Frances McCue, Andrea Lewis, and Linda Breneman bought the 1902-built mansion directly across Cal Anderson Park as a home for their budding organization. Through a partnership with Ted Johnson, a former Microsoft executive, Breneman is retaining ownership of the property, likely securing Hugo House’s future for years to come.

“Their desire to help us secure a permanent location is an extraordinary gift to Seattle,” Swenson said.

Next summer, Hugo House will move into a temporary location that has been secured but won’t be announced until January. Swenson said it is within a 15-minute walking distance from the current location.

The rise, fall, and resurrection of the Hugo House will be captured in a documentary by cofounder and former Hugo House resident McCue. Where the House Was will feature Hugo House history, including stories of ghosts and famous poets who passed through, like Sherman Alexie’s bathroom painting and Seamus Heaney’s tea napkin.