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Why save Capitol Hill’s Roy Vue? ‘A lot more to it than just the number of units’

An effort to extend landmark protections to the Roy Vue building marks the Capitol Hill Historical Society’s first foray into preservation, but it won’t be the last.

“This is a sign of our involvement in the community,” said Rob Ketcherside, vice president of the society and a CHS contributor on Capitol Hill history. He said the nearly two-year-old group is hoping to do more such work, as long as members of the all-volunteer organization can find the time for it.

“It’s not about trying to control every property in the city. It’s about holding on to the heritage properties we have,” Ketcherside said.

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One of those properties, in the historic society’s opinion, is the Roy Vue Apartments at the corner of Bellevue Ave E and E Roy. In April of this year, plans came to light to which would have transformed the 34-unit building into a 147-unit microhousing complex by gutting the interior and building over the garden courtyard. Building residents organized quickly, and pulled in help from Historic Seattle to thwart the microhousing effort.

Since then, the owners of the property, Roy Vue Associates, LLC, have applied for landmark protection for their property but that nomination has yet to be pursued. James Stubner, registered agent for the partnership, did not respond to requests for comment.

Often, such applications from property owners can be a prelude to redevelopment or major renovations. Developers like to know early on if the property will be considered a landmark, and the extent of the protections it might have, in order to reduce risks inherent in developing a building: They don’t want to spend piles of money developing a plan, only to have an 11th-hour landmark designation undo that work.

Ketcherside, a former member of the board, is confident that in the case of the Roy Vue, the nomination will be approved.

“This is going to be a slam-dunk for a landmark,” he said.

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 (either locally, statewide or nationally); 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 (that designer or builder does not necessarily have to be famous); or it can be a prominent visual feature of its neighborhood, or the city (like the Space Needle, or the pink elephant on Denny Way).

One of the aspects likely to be considered are the building’s associated gardens. The Roy Vue is a U-shaped building, with extensive landscaping in the central courtyard, a type of building that had been fairly popular for a time.

“We feel that it’s important, and representative of a lot of these in town,” said Eugenia Woo, of Historic Seattle.

In the case of the Roy Vue, Woo said the gardens are believed to have changed little during the building’s 94-year history. Some plants have likely died and likely been replaced with new versions of the same variety, but much of the landscaping design remains the same.

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 noted the exterior of the building is virtually unchanged from when it was built, except for some typical maintenance, and the replacement of many windows from wood frame to vinyl.

The Roy Vue was built by Hans Pederson, a prolific contractor who also built Washington Hall, the Ballard Bridge, the King County Courthouse, and in Olympia, the home of the state Supreme Court – The Temple of Justice.

What happens next with the building depends on the wording of the Landmarks Preservation Board, assuming they agree the building deserves protection.

Ketcherside said the most likely scenario would be for the board to landmark the exterior and the gardens. If that were to happen, the owners could still gut the interior of the building and dramatically increase the number of units.

Woo said they are asking the board to preserve the interior as well. She said that some units still have the original kitchen and bathroom features – with exceptions for things like appliances.

Woo acknowledged that some might be concerned about a missed opportunity to increase the housing stock, particularly with affordable rental units at a premium. She noted however, that the number of new units added doesn’t necessarily mean they will be affordable. Also, she said, there can be value in preserving larger units, both for historic reasons, and for general livability.

“There’s a lot more to it than just the number of units,” she said.

The meeting to consider the Roy Vue is set for October 17th.

Landmarks Preservation Board: Landmark Nomination for the Roy Vue Apartments

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2 thoughts on “Why save Capitol Hill’s Roy Vue? ‘A lot more to it than just the number of units’

  1. Great point…not to mention the eviction laws and taxes come first before any profit in the end. You really need to do both the stock market and rentals to make it worth you time spent and legal expense. I really wish this was more of a open dialog, rentals/homes will be gone with a low return in Seattle.