There is no shade thrown more darkly than the criticisms leveled at an old building brought up for landmarks review by a developer who wants dearly to demolish it. Seattle’s Landmarks Preservation Board Wednesday night unanimously rejected the nomination of Broadway’s 1961-built Bonney-Watson Funeral Home calling the modern-style building underwhelming, boxy, and, well, depressing.
“We think this building is not a landmark and we’d like you to agree with us,” Jack McCullough, legal counsel for the company under contract to purchase the property and develop two mixed-use buildings on the site, said, calling the building a “most ordinary and uninspiring example.” David Peterson, who prepared the nomination report for the developers called the building “disappointing” and said it was his belief the building doesn’t meet any of the city’s landmark criteria:
a) It is the location of, or is associated in a significant way with, a historic event with a significant effect upon the community, City, state, or nation; or
b) It is associated in a significant way with the life of a person important in the history of the City, state, or nation; or
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; or
d) It embodies the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style, or period, or a method of construction; or
e) It is an outstanding work of a designer or builder; or
f) Because of its prominence of spatial location, contrasts of siting, age, or scale, it is an easily identifiable visual feature of its neighborhood or the city and contributes to the distinctive quality or identity of such neighborhood or the City.
The landmarks review process was triggered by the Bonney-Watson company as it prepares to sell its valuable Broadway for redevelopment by Mill Creek Residential. City landmark protections could have required significant changes to plans to redevelop the property.
Mill Creek Residential and the architects at Weber Thompson are readying plans for two six-story buildings to flank Cal Anderson Park atop the site, extending a pulse of “transit oriented development” south from Capitol Hill Station. Both buildings will be 65 feet tall. The north building, on what is now a parking lot, is planned for 134 residential units, 5,500 square feet of space for commercial uses and 114 vehicles. The second building, on what is now the site of the funeral home, will include 87 apartments, 3,000 square feet of residential and 23 parking spots. Cars will enter and exit onto Nagle Place.
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The project’s first attempt to get through the early design guidance stage of Seattle’s design review process fell flat in November. Board members asked the developer to come back after presenting them with a laundry list of changes they want to see before the project moves on to the next phase — including doing more with the opportunity to create a welcoming connection between Broadway and Cal Anderson Park.
The 1961 architectural creation of the Bain & Overturf firm was originally planned to be a much more grand addition to Broadway with a modern style and plaza area. Things changed, according to the information submitted as part of the landmarks nomination process:
However, Bain & Overturf’s final design varied considerably from the earlier proposal. As built and as it appears today, the building featured only a two story front elevation, massed as simple boxy forms rising towards the street, and clad with “marblecrete” over CMU walls at the first floor, and exposed cast-in-place concrete at the lower level. However, the perimeter driveway feature from the 1912 building was retained, as was a clock tower feature, although the latter was a freestanding Modern-style structure marking the corner of an associated parking lot across Broadway to the west. In the final design, a flat-roofed portico supported by attenuated columns over the perimeter drive became a primary element expressed on the exterior of the building—glazed to form a strip of windows at the east or rear elevation, then turning to form an open colonnade on the north elevation, then wrapping around to the front of the building to serve as an openwork garden cover and main entry porch.
Bonney-Watson’s Seattle history dates to 1868. In 2013, CHS talked with CEO Cameron Smock about the history — and future — of the funeral home. When Smock joined Bonney-Watson as a funeral director and embalmer nearly 30 years ago, he told CHS, the company handled about 600 deaths annually at its Broadway location. In recent years, that number had dropped to around 350 as demographics shifted and traditions changed. A higher percentage of services also shifted to cremation, Smock said — a lower cost alternative, “This neighborhood has changed dramatically,” Smock told CHS at the time. “Our business was built on the families who built their families on Capitol Hill. Many of them have left.”
“If the building had been built off the original design, I would support it,” one member of the landmarks board said, agreeing with the other members that it is unworthy of protections and, ultimately, a depressing example of Capitol Hill architecture. “I’m glad I’m alive and I didn’t have a service there,” she said, inspiring a round of gallows humor before the final vote.