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Auto row history and Seattle Central housing development future behind Broadway landmarks hearing


As it seeks a partner in its plans for affordable housing, Seattle Central will take the auto row history of one of the two Broadway properties it is pushing forward toward redevelopment in front of the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board next week. The board will weigh just what architectural features if any should be protected in the one-time Stewart Warner service station and its neighbor the old Eldridge Tire building in the 1500 block of Broadway between Pine and Pike. Today, the structures are home to a burger joint, a taco joint, and a hair stylist.

The board will consider the buildings for nomination Wednesday afternoon.

Landmarks board: 1515 Broadway and 1519 Broadway

Seattle has a relatively robust and busy landmarks system but the process is as much about development as it is preservation. Seattle Central is moving the properties through the review as a prelude to redevelopment and a requirement of the permitting process for buildings from before 1940.

The protections on landmarked buildings are documented here. Redevelopment of a landmarked building can still be approved as can a host of modifications, upgrades, improvements and, yes, demolition. The properties could also eventually utilize the Pike/Pine Conservation District’s preservation incentive program that grants extra height in exchange for preservation of a character building’s streetfront facade and for maintaining the basic dimensions and scale of the original character structure in the development’s ground floor design. Check out the Kelly Springfield office and preservation project on 11th Ave for the most recent example of an incentive-boosted project moving forward.

Seattle Central is moving ahead on plans to develop the two buildings up for review Wednesday along with another its long-held Broadway properties as mixed-use project that would bring new affordable housing to the area near the school. In December, the Capitol Hill school released a call for developers to make their bids in “letters of intent” for leasing or buying the land — the Stewart Warner/Atlas Clothing/Eldridge Tire/Broadway Café buildings in the 1500 block of Broadway, and the South Annex/ International Programs building at Pine and Broadway — for redevelopment “commercial purposes and/or housing, including a potential affordable housing element.” The college said this early step in the development process is part of its potential acquisition and development of Sound Transit “Site D” property adjacent the westside Broadway entrance to Capitol Hill Station. Last spring, Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange told CHS that creating faculty housing on Capitol Hill was a major priority. “Most faculty and staff cannot afford to live on Capitol Hill,” she said. According to Edwards Lange, the average faculty member at SCC makes around $57,000 a year.

Someday, the two buildings up for review on Wednesday will likely be part of affordable housing — or long gone. Back in the early 20th century, they were part of Capitol Hill’s auto row. Here is the description from Seattle Central’s nomination packet for 1519 Broadway, the more interesting component of the duo:

The subject building was constructed by the Eldridge Buick Company in 1925 for a tire and service shop. The architect was A. H. Albertson, and the builder was Stewart Construction Co. Eldridge Tire used the building for ten years until 1936, when it was leased to Broadway Tire Service. The building was conveniently located near the main Eldridge Buick dealership located on the same block at 802 Pike Street, and accessible through the alley. By 1944, Davies Chevrolet Co. had located its repair shop there. In 1960 Lyle Auto Cleaning was briefly located in the northern portion of the building, while the southern portion was vacant. In 1963, a taxi service purchased the building, but was only in operation at that location for a few years. By 1966, Hasson Shoe Repair occupied the southern portion of the building, and Mel’s Barber Shop occupied the northern portion. In 1970, Sam’s Barber Shop had replaced Mel’s. Today, the northern portion of the building is still occupied by a barber shop. The southern portion was converted to a restaurant by 2010, when it was occupied by the Broadway Café. Today the tenant is Tacos Guaymas.

The Mission Revival-style building and its surprisingly formal porte-cochére opening to the surface parking lot hidden within has the more colorful history and provenance of the two candidates. Its 1515 Broadway counterpart, today home to burger joint Freddy Jr.’s, was a more workmanlike component of the auto row past:

The subject building is a one-story mill construction building with brick masonry exterior walls measuring approximately 60 feet by 120 feet. Stylistically it could be identified as a vernacular retail building, although it is currently used as a warehouse and a restaurant.

Seattle Central’s report writer was apparently not impressed.

But impressions don’t stop every building involved in the landmarks process from getting its report. The write-ups are the second best part of the process as far as CHS is concerned. You can see the full reports for both projects embedded below.

You’ll learn interesting things like this — even in boring old 1515:

The building was constructed in 1912 as a factory, and has undergone significant alterations over the years. By the 1930s the building had been divided and was being used as a battery and auto repair shop. A fire in 1942 required significant repairs. Interior alterations were undertaken in 1963 for use as an upholstery shop, and in 1969 the building was again used for auto repair. In 1993, the southern portion of the building was remodeled for restaurant use, and the existing storefront façade was installed at that time.

But the best part of both reports are the details around the life of Arthur Symons Eldridge, the man who paid for the 1519 building to be constructed in 1925. Eldridge was born in 1873 in Flint, Michigan and, reading between the lines, seems to have bounced around a bit at a young age — withdrew from “mechanical engineering at Michigan State College” due to “extreme eye strain” only to end up in the Pacific Northwest as a wholesaler in business with his wife’s brother-in-law. “Eldridge left the business almost immediately, suspecting it would not be profitable.” Good call. Eldridge ended up then in the Philippines after landing a job with a major building contractor before contracting. “While in the Philippines, Eldridge contracted malaria and in 1909 departed for Victoria, British Columbia, and then Florida to recuperate.” He returned to Portland, started his own engineering and construction business, and made a fateful purchasing decision:

Eldridge got into the business of selling Buicks by first being a Buick owner. Around 1909, he went to purchase a new Buick in Portland and was told that there was a problem with supply and distribution. He drove to Seattle to investigate, found that Buick sales were flagging, and saw a business opportunity.35 Eldridge made an arrangement with Portland’s Howard Auto Co. to incorporate the Buick Auto Co., and in 1912 established sales and service in Seattle at 905 Pike Street, a 16′ x 40′ showroom with an upstairs shop.36 In his first year in business, he sold 88 Buicks— eleven times more than were sold the year before he went into business. In 1913, the Howard Auto Co. expanded the Buick division to Yakima Territory, and then further to Wenatchee and Spokane.

Will his story be part of a new Capitol Hill landmark? Maybe. But it probably won’t be because he sold those 88 Buicks. The three “bays” — “The northern and southern bays are enclosed retail spaces, and the central bay is an open porte-cochére allowing cars to access the parking area,” the parapet once “capped with red quarry tile rooflets,” the “single line of turquoise tile” still there hidden under beige paint, those elements of Broadway, we’re guessing, will be much more important.

Can’t make Wednesday’s meeting and want to comment on the properties for the landmarks board? Send email to the Pike/Pine area coordinator —

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