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East Pine Substation planned for landmarks consideration, expansion

In 1967, Seattle City Light was so proud of its new substation, it held an open house.

Seattle City Light is telling neighbors around the East Pine Substation at 23rd Ave and E Pine about an important planned project to expand and upgrade the critical facility. Architects and historical preservationists will also want to take note.

Here’s what the Society of Architectural Historians has to say about the 1967-era “fanciful” brick fence that surrounds the 8,000 square-foot facility and Fred Bassetti, the ambitious architect who designed it:

This complex and fanciful masonry fence recalled that of an Archaic Egyptian fortress, like the reconstructions of the Complex of Djoser at Saqqara (c. 2800 BCE) or the later Fortress of Senusret III at Buhen, Sudan (c. 1860 BCE). These ancient Egyptian sources had become topical in the mid-1960s. Gamel Adbul Nasser’s widely publicized Aswan High Dam project (1960–1970) was a centerpiece of his domestic program and an important symbol during the Cold War, representing Egypt’s independence from the West. The dam caused enormous environmental changes in the Nile Valley, and submerged the Buhen region when it was completed. Prior to its flooding, British archaeologist Walter Bryan Emery (1903–1971) began excavations of the site in 1957, and prepared detailed records of the remains. He included drawings of the Buhen fortress in his book, Archaic Egypt (1962), published by Oxford University Press’s mass-market Pelican imprint. Bassetti scheme has both corrugated walls and watch towers interspersed at intervals that are comparable to those found in the Senusret Fortress.

City Light says the expansion project is in its early design phase and “would improve electrical reliability to the neighborhood and area hospitals on First Hill and Capitol Hill by modifying/expanding the north and west perimeter walls toward the property line.”

The expansion will make room for future equipment upgrades and build-outs, according to City Light, including gate access and security as well as “seismic integrity” of the substation.

There isn’t a complete construction timeline yet but a community comment period is expected to begin sometime in early 2018 when the design reaches the “30%” milestone. Construction would begin in the second quarter of 2019 with completion expected sometime in 2020.

The expansion project will also include a trip through the city’s landmarks process. City Light says it plans to nominate the property for consideration. “If the substation is designated a Landmark, the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties will be applied to proposed changes to the substation and walls,” the project site for the expansion reads.

The Society of Architectural Historians will probably have a few things to say about the nomination:

In March 1965, architect Fred Bassetti appeared before the Seattle City Council to describe a new kind of public facility that he hoped to design for Seattle’s municipal power utility, Seattle City Light, in collaboration with landscape architects Richard Haag and Associates. His own firm, Fred Bassetti and Company, wanted to create a new type of electric substation, one that was not closed and inaccessible to the public, but was, instead, visible through a secure fence, and intended as an educational resource. Commenting on this unconventional effort, the Superintendent of Seattle City Light, John M. Nelson, observed that, unlike typical substations “designed to hide the electrical equipment and provide small neighborhood park areas,” the East Pine substation was “designed to play up the spectacular and dramatic appearance of the electrical equipment.”

“Bassetti rejected the typical cyclone-fenced utility compound, even one enshrouded in greenery, in favor of a facility that would be an engaging and instructive neighborhood addition,” they write.

You can learn more on the project website.


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3 years ago

As a close neighbor, I hope that SCL will be prepared to talk about what the build out would not only look but sound like. There is already a hum that has some of us closing our windows at night in the summer.

3 years ago

1967 is old enough to be considered for landmark status? Seems like there are many more older buildings that should get landmark status before this does. Will landmark status increase costs to add additional transformers to serve growth? If so then that must be considered as increased costs will be passed on to ratepayers, many of which will not want a higher bill to save some 1967 era Brick wall work.