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Capitol Hill’s Roy Vue ‘garden apartments’ move forward in Seattle landmarks process

A coalition of veteran preservation advocates and a relatively fresh-faced nonprofit dedicated to Capitol Hill history has won its first round in what is hoped might eventually be a series of victories establishing landmarks protections for important neighborhood buildings.

The Seattle Landmarks Board Wednesday night voted unanimously to approve the nomination of Capitol Hill’s 94-year-old Roy Vue “garden apartments” for protections of its historic exterior, interior and landscaping features. The 600 block Bellevue Ave E apartment building will now move forward in the process with the board set to make its final designation on the property in coming weeks.

Eugenia Woo of Historic Seattle praised the building’s “high level of integrity” and said it was crucial the Roy Vue be protected in its complete “garden apartment” vision “because the garden, the courtyard, and the building were integral to the whole design.”

The Roy Vue’s unique flipped “U” design with a garden courtyard sited away from the street is the equivalent of the “Seattle freeze” of the city’s historic buildings, one board member quipped, with a dignified wall facing Bellevue but a hidden jewel of a garden tucked away inside.

Bolstered by public comment from many of the Roy Vue’s current tenants in support of protecting the building they call home, the vote marked the first successful step in a collaboration between the Historic Seattle organization that has long been dedicated to preservation in the city and the Capitol Hill Historical Society as the neighborhood group made its first foray into the official landmarks fray.

Prior to Wednesday’s vote, Woo of Historic Seattle detailed the property’s historic virtues. The Roy Vue’s gardens are believed to have changed little during the building’s 94-year history. The landscaping was designed by Charles Malmo, a name many longtime Seattleites may remember. The company he founded went on to become the Malmo Nurseries which dotted the state until its parent company, Ernst Hardware, went out of business in 1996. Woo said the exterior of the building is also virtually unchanged from when it was built, except for some typical maintenance, and the replacement of many windows from wood frame to vinyl. She said that some units still have the original kitchen and bathroom features – with exceptions for things like appliances.

Advocates were prepared for the board to landmark the exterior and the gardens which would allow the building’s owners —  Roy Vue Associates, a corporation representing at least 14 real estate investors — to still gut the interior and dramatically increase the number of units.

A plan for to convert the building to microhousing was stopped by a campaign led by building tenants, neighbors, and preservation advocates earlier this year.

But the board was willing to at least entertain a deeper set of protections that could include portions of the building’s interior. Board members called the building’s overall protections a “no brainer” and a “great regional adaptation of the garden apartment style” before their vote.

Wednesday night’s nomination session included a rare doubleheader of “historic resource report” presentations as representatives from Seattle architectural firm The Johnson Partnership were on hand to present their findings on behalf of the building’s ownership. Their report focused on protecting the building’s exterior only. “The building is just part of the development of the neighborhood,” presenter Ellen Mirro said in her time in front of the board, adding that the building’s u-shape design around a central courtyard wasn’t particularly unique in Seattle.

Even with a November vote to designate the property, the Roy Vue could face future development. Earlier this year, CHS reported on the lawsuit filed over another Capitol Hill landmark designation over economic hardships the owner said the protections will bring.

Under city law, a building must meet at least one of six criteria to be considered a landmark. It can be either: the location of an historic event; it can be associated with a significant person; it can be associated with a significant aspect of cultural, political, or economic heritage; it can embody a distinctive architectural style; it can be an outstanding work of a designer or builder; or it can be a prominent visual feature of its neighborhood, or the city. Advocates presenting Wednesday night held that the latter three were likely the best case for protections on the building. Representatives for the ownership tepidly agreed. Its place in cultural history is less clear though some significant residents called the building home over the years including artist Linda Papaso who called the Roy Vue home for 48 years.

The Historic Seattle nomination (PDF) for the for the Roy Vue Garden Apartments building is described as “a collective effort of Historic Seattle, the Capitol Hill Historical Society, and Save the Roy Vue, a community-based advocacy group consisting of Roy Vue residents, neighbors, business owners, and property owners throughout Capitol Hill.”

The building will be taken up for final landmarks consideration by the board in November. If the Roy Vue wins the board’s final vote, the protections will move to the Seattle City Council for final approval.

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