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Destined for overhaul and preservation as part of mixed-use development, Harvard Ave’s Knights of Columbus building considered for landmarks protections — UPDATE

For a century, it was almost exclusively Catholic men called Knights who were allowed to freely roam the lounges, smoking room and bowling alley of the Knights of Columbus headquarters on the south edge of Capitol Hill. They could work out, or attend Glee Club, dinners, and public speaking classes. Women could not be members. They hung out in the Ladies Parlor.

If everything goes according to plan, by 2021 or so, people of all types will be able to roam the three-story steel and brick masonry, Renaissance Revival-style building. The new owner, SRM Development, a Spokane-based developer of multifamily and commercial properties, hopes to refurbish the historic building through adaptive reuse.

Wednesday afternoon, Seattle’s Landmarks Preservation Board will consider the nomination of the building for historical protections during a public meeting and presentation.

A presentation, public comment, and vote on the nomination of another early 20th-century Capitol Hill property, Conover Residence, also planned for today was postponed at the request of the new owners, the nonprofit Jewish Family Services. They’re hoping to do additional research and respond to items raised in letters of public comment by, among others, Tom Heuser and Rob Ketcherside of the Capitol Hill Historical Society as well as the former owner. Jewish Family Services plans to demolish the Conover Residence to make way for a new, larger multi-family apartment building plus a parking garage and was required to submit a landmark nomination because of the age of the building and need for SEPA review.

By contrast, SRM, the new owners of the Knights of Columbus building, are actively pursuing landmark status, which helps its chance of getting the board’s stamp of approval. “The building’s also in great shape, and has not too many changes made to it,” says Heuser of the Capitol Hill Historical Society group. “So I’m not worried about it.”

UPDATE 3/7/2019: Nothing to worry about. The board advanced the Knights of Columbus nomination Wednesday with a 7-0 vote.

SRM, who purchased the combined lots of 1409 Harvard Ave and 704, 706 and 722 E Union Street for a total of $18,5 million last June, also nominated the KOC building for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places and hopes, if approved, to qualify for a federal tax credit.

Architect Susan Boyle, a former member and chair of Seattle’s Landmark Preservation Board who prepared the Seattle landmark nomination and the National Register reports, calls the building “one of Seattle’s important Catholic institutions.” She says it meets the criteria “because the KOC was part of a national organization, which lends it more significance.” The Knights of Columbus established their first order in Washington State in Seattle in 1902.

She also said that the history of the local chapter is interesting in a national context because of its “progressive tolerance.” “As Catholics with Irish roots, they knew a lot about discrimination.”

Although they never and still do not accept women and have become one of the nation’s largest funders of discrimination against gays and lesbians, historically, the Knights have a progressive reputation built on their opposition to the KKK and work in fighting injustice and discrimination. Later, they established a popular education and training program for returning soldiers of all genders, religion or ethnic backgrounds.

As the new millennium approached, popularity and membership waned. Eventually, the Knights of Columbus, Seattle Council 676 decided to sell the building last May. After the sale, a group of family and friends who’d been playing pick-up basketball in the building’s gymnasium had to look out for a new meeting spot.

It is unlikely SRM plans to keep the gymnasium as a sports facility in its rehab project, though the project will likely include an overhaul of the 33,708-square-foot Knights hall which will require significant seismic work. Representatives of SRM Development did not respond to multiple requests for comment about their plans.

What’s clear is that the group is planning to sandwich the original four-story building between two new, multifamily residential buildings in place of what are today two surface parking lots. The new buildings, designed by Runberg Architecture Group, will include a seven-story residential building of approximately 130 units and construction of a five-story residential building with about 30 units, as well as parking for 176 vehicles.

Current zoning allows for 65-foot structures, but if the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability plan and associated upzones are approved in a final vote by the City Council March 18th, the height limit would be increased to 75’, which would allow for one extra story.

The project value is currently estimated at 30 million. Design Review documents indicate that SRM hoped for a possible opening in 2021 for the Knights of Columbus building. That might be optimistic.

The landmark nomination is just the first step in a long process. If the building makes it through this round, another three await, starting with a designation hearing. Then, the Board will have to flesh out with the owners how exactly the building and its architectural features need to be preserved. Only after this agreement can the owners introduce rehab-plans for review. Stay tuned.

The Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board meets Wednesday, March 6th at 3:30 PM in Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Avenue, Room L2-80. Public comment is allowed or can be provided via email.

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