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Save the Royvue! Residents rally to thwart sale of Capitol Hill building

A view worth the fight? A look across the Royvue courtyard (Image: Haley Blavka Photograph/Save the Royvue)

Seattle’s endorsement of rapidly adding thousands of efficiency sized housing units to the cityscape has some residents in Capitol Hill unconvinced that one size fits all. Tenant-led group Save the Royvue has escalated its effort to keep the 94-year-old building from succumbing to development plans that would significantly reduce apartment size. The growing assembly of advocates says the Royvue Apartments is fine the way it is and now seeks landmark protections to keep it that way.

Eugenia Woo with Historic Seattle is consulting with the group and shares their worry that “the city is losing its identity.”

“This city has always been known for its character and that distinguishes us. It’s ok to have good new designs but unfortunately most of what’s being built is not so great,” she said.

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The 1924-built, three-story building is planned to be overhauled to create 147 small efficiency dwelling units. Each microhousing unit “must have a minimum room size of 150 square feet and a full kitchen or kitchenette” to meet city standards. The plans will require the U-shaped building’s signature landscaped courtyard to be built over, according to plans.

Residents were surprised to find out the Royvue was being vetted for sale after they say they were misled by the owners of the building until earlier this month. One resident recruited the expertise of Historic Seattle and the Capitol Hill Historical Society to help stop the sale, beginning with a letter to notify Anew and the property owners of their intentions to Save the Royvue.

The activists argue that the building is one of the few apartment structures left in the area where families can comfortably live, and the building isn’t in need of improvements. “One thing about this building is that it has been well maintained by all the previous owners,” said Woo.

(Image: Haley Blavka Photograph/Save the Royvue)

Georgian revival style brick with a Tudor Style arched entrance defines the edifice of the Royvue, designed by Charles Haynes in 1924. A courtyard and garden lay hidden within the 34-unit U-shaped structure. Spanning half an acre of land, the Royvue is expansive with individual garages for tenants but what the space lacks in housing density it makes up for with its beauty and family sized units, according to residents. The Royvue was one of Haynes’s defining career accomplishments according to his obituary.

Ryan Darcey pays $2,500 a month for one of four two-bedroom units over 1,000 square feet. A recent transplant from San Francisco, Darcey works in the tech industry and says he gets it. “I’m not trying to be a hypocrite but there is a more judicious way to increase affordable housing,” he said.

“There’s got to be a more judicious way for determining which buildings to tear down. The increase in rent per square foot stands to be around three times as high if you look at similar projects from Anew Apartments,” Darcey said. “When you crunch the numbers, this proposal just doesn’t seem to be adding more affordable housing.”

The Capitol Hill Historical Society’s Tom Heuser has begun drafting the nomination of the Royvue for landmark status and protections  in a process which could take months to complete. The nomination process could cause Anew to delay their proposed project until after a decision from the landmarks board has been rendered, otherwise they risk buying a property they can’t redevelop.

“Once it’s gone it’s gone forever. I don’t understand how the city would even allow this plan to be proposed,” said one three-year resident who declined to be identified out of concerns about retaliation from her landlord.

Other Haynes designed buildings have undergone interior reconstruction for retail, such as Broadway Market and the Broadway East Pike Street building where You Frame It resides. “The Royvue is an exceptional example of both the builder Hans Pederson and the architect Charles Haynes both of whom were quite prolific throughout the early 20th century and played a significant role in shaping the built environment of Capitol Hill and Seattle as a whole,” says Heuser.

A view from above courtesy Google Maps

The building’s current ownership and the prospective new developers have not responded to our messages about the Royvue.

The development company, Anew Apartments, is led by Brad and Lauren Padden. The married duo has made a name for themselves by buying and converting vintage buildings to bear up to four times the capacity with micro units. Padden has said he aims to maintain neighborhood character while increasing affordable housing by retrofitting the inside of heritage buildings and leaving their façade intact. The Royvue residents however, are not convinced.

“They act like they’re the second coming of Christ,” said the three-year resident.

The building owners have not notified tenants of any plans to sell the building but the group isn’t waiting around. An online petition to Save the Royvue has gathered 1,300 signatures. Neither the development company nor the owners of the building have responded to the announcement to pursue historic designation of the Royvue. Their site has become a rallying point for the cause.

According to Woo, the Royvue should fare well in the landmarking process. The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods previously determined the Royvue matches the profile of other historic properties. Of course, landmarks status is only part of the battle — preserving the building for the longterm depends on what protections can be put in place and ongoing defense of the property.

Save the Royvue, meanwhile, says there are wider implications of allowing developers to convert any building they want. “Why does Seattle hate their buildings?” said the three-year resident. “I’m really scared to see what the Seattle landscape will look like in 10 to 15 years.”

This post has been updated to clarify the quote from resident Ryan Darcey and provide more details from our conversation with him. We appreciate his willingness to talk about the complicated situation. 

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22 thoughts on “Save the Royvue! Residents rally to thwart sale of Capitol Hill building

  1. Kudos to the activists are spearheading this effort, and I really hope they are successful in getting the Royvue landmarked. Someone has to stand up against the rapacious developers who ONLY care about making money.

    But if it is landmarked, will that provide protection for only the exterior? Or can the interior also be included? If not, wouldn’t that mean the developer would be allowed to go ahead with plans to install microunits?

  2. It’s nice to see that they’ve found something to rally behind, however if they truly want to prevent properties from being bought and developed, then I suggest they purchase them themselves.

  3. The underlying problem is that Seattle uniquely allows see 150sq ft apt units in the first place. It’s astonishing to think that I could turn a 900 sq ft unit into 6 with a communal kitchen.

  4. Landmarking can protect any number of things. It’s almost completely certain the facade will be protected (tho there weren’t plans to destroy that anyway). The ideal situation for residents it that the courtyard and interiors are also landmarked in some way, otherwise development plans could continue with minimal interruption.

  5. As someone who has spoken with the residents and surrounding community who have formed the coalition Save the Roy Vue, I think what the tone of this article gets wrong is the residents vs. developer mentality. Most say yes, they don’t want to the developers to succeed with their plan but it’s not just about losing their leases. It’s about their love and respect for this building’s architecture (inside and out) and the garden courtyard that made them want to live there in the first place. The story is about an overwhelming response from neighborhood groups and historic preservation advocates, organizing against a development that would rip the cultural and historic fabric of the neighborhood, destroy an iconic building, and set a precedent that could lead to the destruction of many more historic brick apartment buildings in Capitol Hill AND Seattle.

  6. I was waiting for this comment. That wasn’t a direct quote from me and it makes me sound like a selfish “techy” in the negative way many people ascribe the term. Some things for you to consider:

    1) This is not about me. I don’t expect anyone to have sympathy for the residents at Roy Vue. I would only hope people care about the historic building itself and realize yours might be next. See comment above from “Historic building? Yes, please!” for the general sentiment of residents in this building. That’s all you should really take away from what I have to say here…

    …but, just to set the record straight since there’s a lot of context missing from this article and I’m already specifically mentioned…

    2) I’m an independent video game developer and have been working out of my apartment for 2 years w/o a proper salary so I can start my own studio.

    3) I heavily invested in a local brick and mortar retail business that I own w/ my partner. We specialize in supporting the community by selling work made by local artists.

    4) I live with my partner, so it’s not just me in here.
    We moved into a 2 BR that was out of our price range so we could potentially start a family in the next couple of years. Who knows when we’re ever going to find another 2BR in Seattle. Maybe never again at this rate.

    5) We have a very modest brick and mortar retail location w/o any storage for our inventory, so one of the bedrooms is dedicated to that until we are forced to find another solution.

    6) Cost per sq ft right now is $2.36. These new proposed microhousing units will be around $6.80 per sq ft. Again, this isn’t about protecting ourselves, it’s about protecting everyone that will be forced into a market w/ those rates at the cost of sacrificing buildings like the Roy Vue.

  7. There are PLENTY of 2 bedrooms under $2500 in Seattle

    Here’s a 2 bedroom in White Center for $1400:

    What does owning a local retail business have anything to do with this? Weird.

    Since you’re using your apartment to conduct business, I have to assume you’re also writing off that expense.

    You say “it’s not about me” then proceed to make it all about you.

    Let’s all shed a tear for the guy who’s going to lose his tax deductible 2 bedroom apartment!

  8. I’m sorry that’s all you’re taking away from my attempt to add context to the quote in the article and your comment attacking my specific situation.

    All I truly care about is this historic building and ensuring the housing market here in Seattle caters to the needs of the community at large.

  9. Good question, Bob. Interiors can be included in landmark protections, as can the site (so the courtyard could also included). This is the “controls” piece of the landmarks process.

    First the building is nominated; then if that is approved, it moves to a designation hearing. If the building is designated, the Landmarks Board then creates controls on the property (what can’t be changed) and incentives (to help compensate the owner for potential loss of development value).

    Controls are determined relative to the building’s shape – a place that has been gutted on the inside but maintained outside might only have its exterior landmarked, for example. In the case of this property, the units and site are well cared for and seemingly aligned with the original plans, so they would be more likely to receive protections (and that’s what we’re hoping to help achieve).

  10. Wow, those apartments at Anew are really nice. A huge step up from aPodments.

    I own a 580 sqft condo and feel like I have way more space than I really need.

  11. My comment was to AbleDanger. Justin, there seems to be a bug….when one clicks on the “reply” button to leave a comment to a specific post, the comment does not appear under that post, but instead at the end.

  12. Hey Justin…..are you still working on getting back the button which requests an email if there are responses to a thread?

    • It’s an off the shelf feature for WordPress but seeing a few issues with the decidedly not of the shelf setup for CHS. Hoping to restore functionality. Are comment replies nesting properly again?

  13. The Anew developers are thoughtful, visionary individuals who respect tradition. I have no doubt that they will take that into consideration in executing this project. All one needs to do is to visit the sites they have already developed, and rest easy.