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CHS Video | Happy 100th birthday to Kelly Springfield (or, why they’re ‘tearing down’ the old Capitol Hill REI)

Though her construction began in 1917, she was actually born a year later so you still have time to get a gift. 11th Ave’s Kelly Springfield Motor Truck building is celebrating 100 years on the planet with a massive facelift. And, let’s be honest. Pretty much all that will be left of her is her face. Longtime CHS video contributor David Albright captured the 11th Ave changes of the former auto row facility, then REI, then Value Village in motion:

Kelly Springfield Motor Truck Building (1917-2017) from David Albright on Vimeo.

Critics call it facadism. Progressive architects — and others — point to the preservation of character and volume. While, indeed, not much is preserved when the preservation projects dig in, the neighborhood’s Conservation Overlay District’s incentive program has produced a handful of very large, more interesting than average developments across Pike/Pine.

The Kelly Springfield office + preservation project is on its way to becoming another one. But getting there looks more like a demolition than a preservation.

In return for agreeing to preserve the facade and street level dimensions of Pike/Pine’s so-called character buildings 75-years-old or older, developers can design their projects with a extra 10 feet of height to help offset costs of the preservation. City code spells out the facade requirements. “The portion of the structure that is retained is sufficient to give the appearance of a free-standing building,” the code says. And “all street facing facades of the character structure are retained.”

As you watch the building being ripped up for partial re-assembly, you might also want to note that this all comes with landmarks protections. In 2015 thanks to its 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,” the building was designated an official Seattle landmark — but only its facade. Now the home of The Stranger and the Rhino Room, the neighboring White Motor Company building next door’s landmark protection extend to its interior. Guess which one is being redeveloped.

The Kelly Springfield project is also unusual in that its extra height will go toward office space, not more apartments. The design board gave its blessing during the project’s review to the proposal to utilize the Pike/Pine Conservation District’s 10-foot height bonus incentive to build office space — not housing as the incentive was originally intended.

Last year around this time, you had your last chance to shop inside the old Value Village before the dusty creosote-soaked beams were torn out for good. This year, you can say goodbye to those old bones as you get ready for new ones to go up in 2018.

What Capitol Hill’s new Kelly Springfield office building will look like



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6 thoughts on “CHS Video | Happy 100th birthday to Kelly Springfield (or, why they’re ‘tearing down’ the old Capitol Hill REI)

  1. Perhaps my memory is faulty, but I seem to remember that when this building was landmarked the designation included some protection of the interior, especially the large old wooden beams that graced the structure. What happened to allow almost complete destruction of the building?

    • Bob, I’m going to outline the procedural elements of this project. I am currently a member of the Landmarks board and voted on Kelly Springfield — my opinions are public record in minutes, so I’ll leave them there.

      First, the Landmarks controls are stricter than Pike/Pine conservation overlay. So although it’s useful to discuss the incentive bonuses that the project was able to leverage, understanding of the final project must come from review of the Landmarks process (the next level deep would be understanding the strengths and limitations of Seattle’s Landmarks ordinance).

      The link on the city’s site for the Designation Report isn’t working, so I’ve posted the designation report to my Google drive. Anyone with this link can grab it until the error is corrected on

      Per the Designation Report, “The features of the Landmark to be preserved include: The exterior of the building and the site.” (As the article says, the neighboring White Motor Company building landmark includes interior.)

      The nomination of the landmark includes a scope of features to be considered, and then the vote for designation includes whether to include that same scope or a subset (not more than nominated scope) in the Landmark.

      There is an error in this article where “exterior” is interpreted as “facade”. The exterior includes the rear, sides, and roof. So as part of their project, evidence needed to be provided about why those were being modified, and the Landmarks board needed to vote to agree and issue a Certificate of Approval to the landmark.

      So in any landmark there are several key steps that members of the public should be aware of, and have the opportunity to participate in via written comments or spoken comments at the public meeting:

      – nomination (full board, wed afternoon/evenings)
      – designation (full board, wed afternoon/evenings)
      – review of iterations on proposal (architectural review commitee, fri mornings)
      – board briefing on proposal (full board, wed afternoon/evenings)
      – board review of final proposal and vote on Certificate of Approval for changes (full board, wed afternoon/evenings)
      – approve signed Controls and Incentives agreement between city and property owner, which defines which changes can be handled in administrative review or without review (full board, wed afternoon/evenings)

      Nov 14 2014 minutes nomination

      Jan 7 2015 minutes designation

      I’m leaving out the ARC minutes, but they are Available on

      Sept 21 2016 minutes, full board briefing on proposal.

      June 7 2017 minutes, approval and issue Certificate of Approval for changes

      Controls and Incentives were on the October 18 agenda but the minutes are not available online yet.

  2. I understand the heavy timber beams, columns, and trusses are being removed because leaving them in place is a hazardous working condition while work is being done below them. Imagine a piece of heavy construction equipment trying to navigate between columns every 20′ and not hit anything!! But later in construction, they will be brought back and reinstalled to their original structural purpose.

    • My understanding is that while they are removed from the site, the beams and trusses are also being cleaned and inspected for structural integrity, before they are put back into the structure.

    • That’s good news, kseattle! I guess my memory isn’t totally shot after all, because that’s what I remembered from the Landmark hearing on this building.