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February landmarks session packed with Hill history as three Pike/Pine properties up for consideration

An upcoming February Seattle Landmark Preservation Board meeting will be an extremely Capitol Hill affair with three auto row-era buildings up for consideration for historic protections.

The February 19th session will include the start of the nomination process for the E Pike at 11th Baker Linen retail and office building that is being lined up by developer Liz Dunn for a seismic overhaul and addition of two stories of office space above.

Meanwhile, the Pike/Pine packed February 18th agenda will also feature the first hearings on two buildings slated to be part of a planned affordable housing and homeless youth services project at Pine and Broadway from Capitol Hill Housing and YouthCare.

The large Booth Building at the corner and the smaller E.H. Hamlin Building have been part of Seattle Central’s South Annex facility. A three-way swap involving the school, Sound Transit, and Capitol Hill Housing will transfer ownership to the nonprofit housing developer. Officials tell CHS the closing date for the transfer is February 4th.

In the trade, Sound Transit swap its Site D near the west side of Broadway Capitol Hill Station entrance for Seattle Central’s Atlas property — a block south on Broadway. The plan was for Sound Transit to temporarily hold the Atlas property during negotiations with Capitol Hill Housing before ultimately handing it over to the developer for affordable housing. But Site D is smaller than Seattle Central’s Atlas property, so Capitol Hill Housing also was slated to pony up cash in the swap. School officials have said the plan is likely to create a new instructional building dedicated to the school’s STEM and IT programs on the Site D land.

Capitol Hill Housing, meanwhile, has plans for an eight-story, LGBTQ-focused senior housing project on the Broadway Atlas property.

And, at Broadway and Pine, CHH is linking up with YouthCare on a plan for a homeless youth center and housing project. That brings us back to the landmarks session.

A Capitol Hill Housing spokesperson said the landmarks process is part of “assessing what the project constraints might be.”

“We have held off beginning the design and entitlements process because of this indeterminacy but are eager to begin engaging neighbors and the community once we have a clearer understanding of the direction the project may be headed,” the spokesperson said.

Dating to 1906, the Booth building seems the most intriguing of the two nominations involving the Capitol Hill Housing project.

The “three‐story, concrete and unreinforced brick masonry structure” features a tower with “a shallow pyramidal hipped roof” and large “storefront openings at the first story.” “Originally designed with Mission Revival architectural features, changes over time have simplified and flattened the appearance of the façades,” the report submitted for the property notes. The first floor was completely remodeled in the 1960s when Franklin Savings and Loan moved onto the corner, according to the write-up.

“Developed by brothers William G. and John R. Booth, both doctors, as an investment property,” the building’s first tenants “comprised largely music, art, and dance instructors and schools.” This is when the building’s place in Seattle’s history comes to life:

In November 1914, music teacher Nellie Cornish established the Cornish School of Music in the Booth Building, in a one‐room studio on the second floor.19 Cornish had arrived in Seattle from Blaine, Washington, in 1900 and worked as a piano teacher. Her first studio had been in the Holyoke Building, in downtown Seattle at 1st Avenue and Spring Street.20 After traveling to Boston and Los Angeles to study teaching theory and arts education, she returned to Seattle determined to start her own school. By January 1915 she added a second room, and soon she had 85 students and an ever‐growing faculty.21 That summer, the Cornish School took over the entire third floor.22 The school continued to grow exponentially, with the curriculum including dance, drama, and speech as well as music. Soon classes were also spilling next door into the Odd Fellows Temple. Nellie Cornish had “an uncanny instinct for quality and originality,” hiring both known and unknown artists as faculty members.23 These included Calvin Cady, who had been her mentor in Los Angeles and considered music education a foundation for development of logic and critical judgement in children; artist Mark Tobey ca. 1922; and dancer Martha Graham for an intensive summer course in 1930.

Meanwhile, the street level tenants through the years also makes a fun read:

Originally three distinct storefronts serving individual businesses, the northern two spaces were combined in 1960 for Franklin Savings & Loan, and in 1964 the entire first‐floor space was taken over by Franklin. Franklin was located there until 1976, when Capital Savings & Loan took over the address. By 1981 the space had apparently been divided again, and Azuma Fine Art Gallery was listed at 1532 Broadway from 1981‐83. By 1985, a dental office occupied part of the first floor.

Seattle Central began using the building in 1989 before acquiring the property in 1995.

Meanwhile, the board will also hear about the small E.H. Hamlin building east of the Booth on E Pine that served as the International Programs building for Seattle Central. The two-story, unreinforced masonry structure was built in 1919 for Triangle Electric, an automobile electrician company — and a name that will probably inspire the brand for a new Pike/Pine mixed-use project at some point. Over the years, the building was used as a repair garage before becoming home to a florist in the mid 1980s before Seattle Central moved in.

A more interesting story can be found in the third building on the February landmarks bill. Developer Dunn put Capitol Hill Historical Society members to work compiling a report on the 1916-built property originally created as “as an automobile showroom, garage, and service building”  by architect Sønke Engelhart Sønnichsen “in the Commercial or Chicago School style” —

The northwest corner of the subject building is curved, which is an unusual feature for a commercial building during this time period, particularly in Seattle. (Figure 9) This curved form recalls the corner entrance rotunda of the Carson-Pirie-Scott Building in Chicago (Louis H. Sullivan, 1899-1904), while at the same time foreshadowing building forms of the Streamline Moderne style of the late 1920s and 1930s. This curved corner entrance distinguished the building from the other automobile showroom and service buildings in the area and most likely attracted both the attention of automobile drivers and riders on the streetcar line that once ran along Pike Street. Sønnichsen reprised the curved building corner and entrance pavilion form in his design for the Bekins Moving and Storage Building a few blocks away at the southwest corner of 12th Avenue North and East Madison Street (1918, altered).

The report also notes the elegance of the structure’s facade:

The composition of the brick masonry at the corner pavilion is elegantly designed, and is representative of the overall composition and treatment of the brick masonry at the north and west primary facades of the building. Brick masonry pilasters rise vertically from stucco plaster plinths at the sidewalk level at each side of the corner pavilion.

The report also tells the story of the building’s first owner, Mary Liebeck, who arrived with her husband in Seattle in 1887 and divorced him by 1891. “By 1900, her occupation was listed as ‘real estate’,” the report notes.

As for the auto row part in this auto row history, the report notes that Henry Grant and his Seattle Automobile Company was the first tenants of the “custom-designed” building:

He found the ideal site at the southeast corner of 11th and Pike owned by Mary Liebeck. Together, they contracted with the Norwegian architect Sønke Sønnichsen to design the new building and filed the permit in October of 1915. Grant moved in the following April. The new building followed the latest design trends by emphasizing a more visible, showroom-centered space over the old livery-stable inspired design that emphasized service and storage. Hence it was 40% smaller than the 10th Avenue space because they had eliminated parking for customers. From this new location he continued to sell Maxwell as well as Chandler automobiles—having acquired the contract for the latter in October of 1915.

After a string of competing auto businesses cycled through the building, it began its next era in the linen business as the H. Commercial Linen and H.W. Baker Linen Company moved in. You can still see remnants of the advertising mural for the “wholesale manufacturers of hotel, hospital, grocery, and restaurant uniforms and other linens” today.

These days, retailer Retrofit Home and Cafe Pettirosso call the building’s street level home while offices fill the upper floors.

Dunn acquired the  building for $5.4 million in 2014. The building is one of dozens of unreinforced masonry structures across Capitol Hill and the city that require extensive and expensive seismic upgrades. Dunn told CHS last year that the project’s construction timeline hinges on the city’s passage of mandatory unreinforced masonry upgrade legislation.

Possible landmarks protections will also, of course, be a factor. We’ll know more on whether Dunn’s building and the two Capitol Hill Housing properties will move forward in the process. The board meets Wednesday, February 19th starting at 3:30 PM in Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Avenue, Floor L2, in the Boards & Commissions Room L2-80. You can also email your comments.


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1 year ago

The E.H. Hamlin building is literally a plain brick facade with nothing remarkable (in a design review, it would be called too boxy). Not sure what they are preserving here, the views of some neighboring building? It’d be interesting to know if there’s a historic significance to it.

The other two buildings are architecturally quite more interesting. More importantly, because the current zoning doesn’t allow to build anything like that.